From £36,0407

The new version of the big 4x4 is now Volkswagen’s flagship model. Is the Touareg up to the task, and can it challenge its luxury rivals?

You might have noticed that the Volkswagen Phaeton – one-time vessel of a mighty 6.0-litre W12 engine shared with Bentley – is no longer on sale.

Its culling from the range in 2016 more likely passed you by entirely, such was the glacial rate at which people bought them and the model’s resulting rarity.

Vast front grille is integrated with the headlights. Chrome finish caters to Chinese tastes and European buyers will have the option of a black finish

Either way, it’s a development that promotes the subject of this week’s road test to nothing less than flagship status for one of the world’s largest car makers. We’re talking about the third-generation Volkswagen Touareg, which Volkswagen describes as a new high-water mark for the brand in terms of design and technology.

Concerning the tech, it’s difficult to disagree, because you might say that this SUV borrows a chassis from Porsche, elements of its driveline from Lamborghini, suspension componentry from Bentley, semiautonomous driving features from Audi and, as an option, a new Innovision Cockpit infotainment system, with displays measuring no less than 12in and a Tesla-esque 15in.

And yet perhaps the most interesting element of this new Touareg, which arrives 16 years after the original, is that it has been styled for China, not Europe. Perhaps that’s understandable, given SUVs now account for almost half of sales in the largest market for new cars globally.

Back to top

It’s why the Touareg comes bedecked with status-enhancing chrome (although European buyers will have the option of black) and why it’s even larger than its predecessor, in length surpassing the ‘five-metre barrier’ to which designers on this side of the world so diligently adhere.

As if to cement the fact that this is now what we used to call a soft-roader first and foremost, the Touareg isn’t available with a low-range gearbox for the first time. Fewer than 5% ordered it last time out and Volkswagen has got the message.

Superficially, it would seem there’s plenty going for this car, but does it have the luxury to compete with an Audi Q7, the dynamism to tempt BMW X5 owners or the style to bear comparison with the Volvo XC90? Let’s find out.

Volkswagen Touareg First drives