From £36,0407

Facelifted SUV gains new tech and enhanced interior, but is it enough to challenge its luxury rivals?

‘Flagship’ is a term typically assigned to cars of luxury and class: when we see it tagged onto a press release of a new car, we expect a certain level of refinement and quality.

It's perhaps slightly incongruous in the context of a Volkswagen – the people's car – but its large SUV, the Volkswagen Touareg, has been a quiet mainstay of the Volkswagen range since 2002.

Revised front grille appears less busy than before, with the black finish catering to European tastes.

Even so, it has always been a slighly more affordable and level-headed alternative to the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne, despite sharing plenty of technology with the latter.

Now, five years after the launch of the third-generation Touareg, Volkswagen has given its brand-defining SUV a an update so it can keep pace with its rivals, which have also been thoroughly refreshed recently.

Much of the technological revisions are software related, with the facelifted Touareg gaining the previously optional Innovision Cockpit infotainment system as standard – 12.0in and 15.0in digital displays are available. There’s greater flexibility in the software, with upgrades made to HD map data and a new voice-control system with more conversational functionality.

So is this ‘new’ SUV set to boost the 1.13 millions Touareg sales, or does it fall short of its German and Swedish rivals? Let's find out. 

Volkswagen Touareg 2023 rear three quarter

As surgeries go, the Touareg appears, on the surface at least, to have been in for a light nose job – and yet it’s not just the front that has gained sharper looks. 

Indeed, the more noticeable revisions are the new LED matrix headlights and the lightbar across the grille. Lower down, the front aperture has gained larger inlets which are said to improve efficiency. At the rear the LED theme continues, a with another lightbar running across the back of the boot lid. 

I'm not convinced by the illuminated VW logo: it looks a little too Volkswagen ‘ID’ in this flagship setting.

Naturally, its proportions haven't changed, so at 4902mm long, 1984mm wide and 1695mm tall, the Touareg is one of the lower and more athletic cars in the luxury SUV class.

The powertrain line-up is familiar too. There is a pair of 3.0-litre V6 diesel engines with 227bhp and 282bhp, and a 335bhp 3.0-litre V6 petrol. All of those are exclusively available in Black Edition trim.

Alternatively, you can have a plug-in hybrid in more subdued Elegance trim, which combines the same petrol V6 with an electric motor and a 14.3kWh battery for a total of 375bhp. If you like your Bloody Mary with more heat, there’s a range-topping ‘R’ variant, which gets the same powertrain but boasts 455bhp and more aggressive styling cues.

As standard, the Touareg is suspended using steel springs. Our test cars were equipped with the optional (£2370) two-chamber pneumatic alternatives (the Bentley Bentayga,Cayenne and Lamborghini Urus use a three-chamber system). As before, rear-wheel steering is an option.

Volkswagen Touareg 2023 interior dashboard

This being the flagship model in Volkswagen’s range, it gets an upmarket interior layout to suit. Now fitted with the larger 15in infotainment display as standard, the Touareg immediately feels more premium and high-tech. The digital instrument cluster looks better integrated than the curved screen in the BMW X5 and is clearer and less cluttered to boot. 

Using the touch-operated central screen is straightforward, with the menus and applications well-configured for easy-use. The graphics are good, too, and it responds well to inputs. 

Haptic buttons are a little sensitive to inputs, with the steering wheel looking a bit cluttered with various switches.

However, as has become synonymous with Volkswagen’s electric range, the touchscreen has too much to do. The touch-operated sliders for the temperature control are annoying and make it near-impossible to adjust on the move. 

And while the larger screen elevates the interior’s feel, the interface is so big there is nowhere to rest your thumb or hand when using it while driving – and it feels a little too far away from the driver for our liking.

Although Volkswagen has proclaimed it wants to move away again from haptic controls, things have to get worse before they get better, it appears, because the updated Touareg has gained the corporate VW steering wheel, complete with touch-sensitive controls.

Despite the usability issues, the cabin feels refined and reassuringly solid thanks to great use – and positioning – of soft-touch materials. The ‘Vienna’ leather on the dash and centre console accentuate the premium feel. There is plenty of head and leg room front and rear and a vast boot. The panoramic roof only adds to the roomy feel of the interior, too. 

The seating position feels surprisingly car-like for a large SUV, but has a great level of adjustability to find your preferred spot. Higher might seem the natural direction for your seat considering the vastness of the dashboard which is orientated towards the driver.

Volkswagen Touareg 2023 rear three quater wide

The 3.0-litre V6 diesel in our test car felt very much in tune with the Touareg’s size and weight and suited the car exceptionally well. Boasting 282bhp and 442lb ft torque, there is more than enough punch and more.

Only at lower speeds do you detect a bit of gruffness from the engine, but that soon fades into the background once up to speed. Even around town it's smooth, melding nicely with the eight-speed automatic gearbox. 

You can have you Touareg in petrol or plug-in hybrid guise, but the 282bhp V6 diesel is the pick of the bunch.

Sure, in some instances the powertrain can feel a bit unresponsive: the gearbox takes a moment to find a gear when more forceful pedal inputs are applied. 

There are a few modes to choose from too. Sport helps to dial up performance, removing some of the lag experienced in Normal mode; although the latter feels smoother in all environments.

At motorway speed noise isolation is very good. Find a coarse road and noise levels from the large 21in wheels rises somewhat, but not enough for it to tarnish the overall experience. 

A short spell in the 3.0-litre petrol plug-in hybrid only made our recommendation for the diesel clearer. It's smooth enough in town and on sweeping b-roads, but there was a lack of cohesion between the engine and electric motor. 

More forceful pedal inputs warranted a more noticeable jolt as the powertrain sought to find a lower gear. And with 31 miles of electric range, it's quite a way behind the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid's 46-mile figure. 

Volkswagen Touareg 2023 ride handling

Our Black Edition test car was equipped with self-levelling, height-adjustable air suspension as standard, which delivers excellent ride quality, with a composed and gentle feel to the way the Touareg irons out lumps and bumps.

On its big 21in wheels, the Touareg can't entirely disguise the 'sproingy' noise and feel you typically get with air suspension, but still took the sting out of severe road imperfection and a aggressive looking potholes.

Latest Touareg isn’t a car that encourages an enthusiastic driving style but its behaviour in corners is well rounded, composed, safe and utterly predictable.

The four-wheel steering feels entirely natural while also giving this big SUV a turning circle comparable to a Golf. It has fine body control and while you wouldn't call it sporty, it gives you the easy confidence you want from a car like this.

How about off-road? Well, the Toureg’s ability to plough through mud and ruts is admirable. Of course, a Range Rover Sport or Land Rover Discovery will deliver more off-road technology and ability, but for a soft-roader, the Touareg does well.

Around a short course in the grounds of Castle Combe race circuit, the off-road modes came into their own, compensating for the lack of a low-range gearbox or a proper locking differential.. 

And the adjustability in the Toureg’s ride height enabled it to rise and crest over some seriously beaten up terrain. Its large approach and departure angles also proved their worth up steep inclines. 

Volkswagen Touareg 2023 hero front

Once upon a time the Volkswagen Touareg was seen as good value for money and was adroitly positioned to undercut key rivals from Audi and BMW

But it is arguably no longer the value proposition it once was: the entry-level 228bhp V6 TDI in Black Edition trim starts from £67,780. That’s right in the ballpark of the BMW X5 30d.

It’s worth mentioning that some dealers are offering as much as £5000 in deposit contribution on Black Edition models when purchased on a personal contract plan (PCP). 

Our 282bhp V6 TDI Black Edition came in at a hefty £72,665. That’s dearer than an entry-level S-Line Audi Q7 and about the same price as a base model Cayenne with Adaptive Air Suspension fitted as an option.

During our 32-mile test route around Wiltshire, which included predominantly B-roads and rural lanes, we averaged 30.7mpg in the diesel. With more motorway use, you'll see closer to the quoted 34.4mpg.

If you’re planning on using the car’s off-road potential or towing, and cover fewer than 10,000 miles annually, VW recommends fixed servicing intervals. The majority of owners will drive their Touareg almost entirely on the road, and for greater mileage, the Flexible Service regime is suggested, whereby the various sensors establish whether a service is required and alert the driver via the on-board computer.

The Touareg retains its three-year/60,000-mile mechanical warranty as the pre-facelift model, with a year’s subscription to European breakdown cover thrown in as a bonus. 

Volkswagen Touareg 2023 final verdict

Combining the ego-free, functionality-first design ethos that defines a modern Volkswagen with the aura of style and lavishness that every successful luxury car needs is proving a very tricky task indeed for VW, especially with some of its modern tech hang-ups sneaking in.

Roomy, refined, easy to use and well stocked for off-road capability, the Touareg covers many of the bases required of a large SUV well. But, while its infotainment technology and features are impressive, it lacks the alluring desirability of a fully formed, £70,000 luxury family car.

It fulfills its role as a luxury flagship SUV, but its price might be a sticking point for some.

To look at, it’s smart if derivative; to travel in, it’s spacious and pleasant, but lacking material richness; to drive, it’s competent but plain – and a bit sluggish at times. The luxury SUV segment isn’t short on cars that are more inviting to drive and to spend time in than this. The hybrid versions' all-important electric range has fallen behind rivals' too.

Most of those things were true when this third-generation Touareg launched, and while the facelift tweaks have kept the tech and style up to date, those things are still true today. Broadly speaking, the Touareg is a respectable effort but is just a touch too anonymous to earn a really telling recommendation.

Sam Phillips

Sam Phillips
Title: Staff Writer

Sam has been part of the Autocar team since 2021 and is often tasked with writing new car stories and more recently conducting first drive reviews.

Most of his time is spent leading sister-title Move Electric, which covers the entire spectrum of electric vehicles, from cars to boats – and even trucks. He is an expert in electric cars, new car news, microbility and classic cars. 

Sam graduated from Nottingham Trent University in 2021 with a BA in Journalism. In his final year he produced an in-depth feature on the automotive industry’s transition to electric cars and interviewed a number of leading experts to assess our readiness for the impending ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars.

Volkswagen Touareg First drives