The second-generation Volkswagen Touareg has gone on a diet and become more efficient

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When the first Volkswagen Touareg was launched in 2003, it was the outrageously torquey V10 TDI that grabbed the headlines, along with its poor ride quality.

The first model sold in huge numbers, reaching over half a million homes worldwide. This Mk2 model, also based on the new Porsche Cayenne, is lighter, roomier and more economical.

The most popular Touareg model will be the 245 3.0 V6 TDI

The secret to the original Touareg's success lay in offering BMW X5 levels of space and performance at a significantly reduced price. And that’s a recipe on which this all-new model seeks to improve.

The big news concerning the new Touareg is its weight, which has been reduced by fully 10 percent across the range. At the same time, however, the new Touareg is roomier, more economical, better equipped and, says Volkswagen, better than ever to drive, thanks to its new range of engines and brand new, lightweight steel suspension.

The new Touareg model is only available with a 3.0 V6 TDI, which is available in two states of tune and comes complete with an eight-speed auto ’box and BlueMotion Technology pack, both of which are standard across the range. That monstrous V10 TDI was been replaced by a 4.2 V8 TDI, while a petrol hybrid model was also available, but both are now defunct. 



Volkswagen Touareg rear

Although you might not think so, judging from its proportions, which remain sizeable, the central engineering achievement with the new Volkswagen Touareg is its loss of weight compared with the previous model.

All versions weigh at least 203kg less than before, some as much as 222kg less, which is genuinely impressive considering the wheelbase is some 40mm longer, providing more space inside the cabin, specifically in the rear seats. 

The central engineering achievement with the new VW Touareg is its loss of weight

More impressive still is the Touareg’s fundamental rigidity, which has risen by more than five per cent, making it one of the stiffest vehicles in its class. This, in turn, has allowed Volkswagen’s chassis engineers to design an all-new steel suspension system that, they claim, dramatically improves both the Touareg’s ride and handling and is 43kg lighter than before.

VW has also completely redesigned the four-wheel drive system, again not just for increased off-road performance (more ground clearance and better approach/departure angles) but also more efficiency. 

The Touareg’s exterior design is noticeably less of a leap forwards. The conservative styling brings the Touareg up to date with the rest of the Volkswagen Golf-faced VW range and helps to disguise its size. It’s certainly not radical, but it does look neat, modern and inoffensive. 

The CD factor has also dropped from 0.38 to 0.37, thanks mainly to the redesigned front end.

Bi-xenon lights are a costly extra, but seeing as they include ‘curve lighting’ which enables better vision when cornering at night, plus LEDs, it is probably an extra worth having. The Touareg exceeds current pedestrian protection laws, thanks mainly to its new, deformable plastic front bumper.

At the back, part of the tail-lights are integrated into the tailgate to create a look that is distinctive, if a little plain. The tailgate spoiler improves both looks and aerodynamic performance, reducing lift when travelling above 50mph.


Volkswagen Touareg interior

Thanks to that 40mm increase in wheelbase, there is notably more room inside the new Volkswagen Touareg than in the previous model, particularly in its rear seats – to the extent that there is now a genuine sense of luxury to the interior in terms of its proportions, even if the design remains fairly simple at heart.

What’s not in question is the flexibility that Volkswagen has engineered into the Touareg’s cabin. The rear bench seat slides so you can trade load space for leg room, and with the rear seats down there’s a generous 1642 litres of load space. You can also specify an automatic-opening tailgate to make access to the boot that much easier if required.

VW has engineered iimpressive flexibility nto the Touareg’s cabin

What’s disappointing, however, is the absence, even as an option, of an extra pair of seats in the rear. The Touareg remains strictly a five-seater, which will limit its appeal with a certain audience, namely the school run mums and dads. With the BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes, Volvo and Audi rivals all offering seven-seat SUVs, we can’t help but think VW has missed a trick here – especially as there appears to be enough room for an extra pair of seats in the boot.

Up front, the dashboard has been redesigned with mild success; it looks clean and functional but is hardly a thing of beauty to behold, despite featuring a new eight-inch touch-screen radio/sat-nav system and a decidedly upmarket new ignition key that twists, for some strange reason, in both directions to start the engine. 

Equipment levels are reasonably generous, with three trims to choose from - SE, R-Line and R-Line Plus. Entry-level models get 19in alloy wheels, permanent four-wheel-drive, bi-xenon headlights, lots of chrome exterior details, a rear diffuser, electric windows, electrically folding and heated door mirrors, cruise control, parking sensors and automatic wipers on the outside as standard. Inside there is dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, manually adjustable front seats, and Volkswagen's 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav, DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and a 60GB hard drive.

Upgrade to R-Line and you'll find 20in alloy wheels, a sporty bodykit, panoramic sunroof, keyless entry and start, sports suspension and a heated steering wheel fitted, while the range-topping R-Line Plus includes 21in alloy wheels, a 360-degree camera and electrically adjustable front seats. 


Volkswagen Touareg side profile

Don’t be fooled by the Volkswagen Touareg’s weight (2155kg as tested) or by the fact that it has a mere 260bhp (badged 262) 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine beneath its high-set bonnet.

True, 260bhp may not sound like much with which to propel a two-tonne SUV, but it’s the torque that counts in cars such as this. And torque is something the Touareg has in abundance – 406lb ft of the stuff, to be precise, all of which is developed with as little as 2000rpm showing.

Initial step-off is extremely impressive for a vehicle this big

Initial step-off is extremely impressive for a vehicle this big, and the acceleration doesn’t fade until well beyond three figures. Zero to 60mph takes a scant 6.9sec in the V6, while even the 0-100mph time is below 20 seconds.

Even the stop-start system works largely without you noticing it, the engine only restarting when you release the brake. After five minutes you get used to it; after 10 minutes you appreciate the system’s worth.

Instead, the money conscious buyer looks instead to the lower powered 3.0 TDI, which produces 204 bhp and 295lb ft of torque. In our view, the economy and emissions benefits do not offset by the relatively lacklustre performance compared to the 262 model, especially as the price differential between the two is small.

The regenerative braking system is slightly more intrusive on the move, in that you can occasionally feel a sense of drag – as if you are driving through light treacle – when the throttle isn’t being applied, but again you get used to it.

The fact that it helps to improve economy by several miles per gallon over a long journey is well worth the acclimatisation period. The strength and feel of the braking system itself is harder, if not impossible, to fault. The high asking price means few people buy the hybrid, but for a niche of buyers it can make sense.


Volkswagen Touareg cornering

VW is proud not just of the Volkswagen Touareg’s weight loss but also its much-improved dynamic composure, and it doesn’t take long behind the wheel to realise why. On the move, the Touareg feels nimble and agile in a way you simply wouldn’t expect from a vehicle as big and cumbersome looking as this. 

Apart from its higher-than-usual driving position, in many ways it feels much like a slightly bigger Volkswagen Golf on the road. Even body roll – the normal bane of the large off-roader – is mostly kept in check. This, plus the soft damping, creates a well-resolved ride with decent levels of bump absorption, although there is still some noticeable body rock over bigger disturbances in the road surface.

The Touareg feels nimble and agile in a way you simply wouldn’t expect

As for the steering, it’s almost spooky how well resolved it feels. Here more than anywhere, VW’s engineers have surpassed themselves, somehow managing to provide the Touareg with light, crisp, accurate steering that allows you to place it on the road with much the same precision as you would a Volkswagen Golf. As an on-road off-roader, it’s hard to think of any rival, at any price, that is more convincing.

In practice, even the regular model has more ability off road than most owners would dream possible; we failed to get it stuck on several occasions.


Volkswagen Touareg

Against its rivals, the Volkswagen Touareg TDI does seem to represent pretty decent value, given its excellent levels of performance, space, equipment and economy.

On average we recorded 31.8mpg fuel economy from the 262 3.0 TDI, and this included a fair amount of high-speed cross-country driving. Ambling along a motorway it’ll do close to 35mpg, which is impressive for a two-tonne 4x4 that’s as quick as this. The official average isn’t too far away at 38.2mpg.

Equipment levels are strong on all three trim levels

The economy champion of the range is the 204 3.0 TDI, but its official figures are only marginally better than those of the higher powered unit. 

Depreciation has been good for the Touareg. It should still retain almost half of its value after three years and 36,000 miles, which is only very slightly below the equivalent BMW X5.


Volkswagen Touareg rear quarter

There is much to like and not a whole lot to dislike about the new Volkswagen Touareg. It’s such a cohesive development over the already strong previous model that it’s genuinely hard to find anything serious to criticise other than its slightly plain, five-seat-only cabin. 

For those buyers not looking for seven-seat capacity the Touareg gets many things right. It drives nicely, with a comfortable ride without the levels of body roll associated with large SUVs. The steering is light and crisp, while there’s excellent performance from all the engines, helped in no small part by the excellent eight-speed gearbox. 

There is much to like and not a whole lot to dislike about the Volkswagen Touareg

It’s spacious, too, with plenty of room for five people in a nicely appointed, if a little dull, cabin. The boot’s a good size, too – shame there aren’t a couple more seats in there.

And as large SUVs go, the Touareg is reasonably green – it won’t drink fuel at the rate of some rivals, while VW’s Bluemotion technologies help to keep emissions reasonably low – from the diesels and the petrol/electric hybrid.

On top of all that, there are generous equipment levels. It is the best-value car in the class and arguably the least pretentious. Most importantly, it is a pleasant, comfortable place in which to cover a lot of miles.

It falls slightly short of the sharp responses of the BMW X5 or the all-round on and off-road ability of the Land Rover Discovery. But the Touareg offers a different rather than less complete balance of SUV qualities, and for many it will be all they could need or want.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Volkswagen Touareg 2010-2018 First drives