What is it?
Given the relentless association of big SUVs with prestige and 'premium-ness' it’s a pleasure to come across an unpretentious model, especially when it has several key advantages over most peers — excellent space, comfort, and comparative lightness.
This is the cheapest version of the refreshed Touareg you can buy – a 3.0-litre SE diesel with only 201bhp, instead of the 258bhp available in other V6 models, but it’s by no means a poor relation. It comes with all conventional luxuries, such as an infotainment system that includes DAB radio and a full navigation system, plus two-zone climate control, bi-xenon headlights and 19-inch alloys. For its place in the range, the SE is a well-rounded car.
Read more: 2017 Volkswagen Touareg to go upmarket
One reason why the VW Touareg is so good is that it that it provides the underpinnings of the pricier Porsche Cayenne, the profitable cornerstone of the Stuttgart-based company’s modern era, and VW has used this mid-life refresh to round off some of the car’s rougher edges and make it more civilised.
The Touareg has an imposing a shape made mostly of steel, which still manages to undercut Land Rover’s latest full-size aluminium crop on weight, possibly because it doesn’t make quite such big claims about robustness for full-on off-roading duty as its British rival, and it offers only five seats.
It has very generous interior and boot space — and especially spectacular kneeroom — yet still avoids being truly cumbersome because its actually quite compact, with an overall length of just 4.8m from headlights to towing eye.
What's it like?
Everything about the Touareg is generously proportioned. The seats are wide and inviting, without offering quite the commanding position of a Range Rover or Discovery, because the body’s windowsills are that little bit higher.
The interior is durable and built of good quality materials, with chunky switches for the heater and lights that can be operated even with gloved hands (perfect on frosty winter mornings). It stops short of being luxurious, though, much in the way of a Golf.
The diesel engine surprises you with its refinement; there’s a little grumble at high revs but little else to disturb the occupants. The eight-speed auto (a conventional ZF unit rather than a twin-clutch affair) offers no paddle-shift, but has both Sport and Manual positions available through the imposing central lever.
It delivers its generous maximum torque from 1200-3200rpm – in other words, across the entire useable rev range – so the gearbox is a set-and-forget item, especially since it has the intelligence to hold indirect gears to hold the car as it heads downhill, and changes down if you toe the brakes.
It has plenty of performance, too. The 0-62mph sprint is very brisk at 8.7 seconds, and the car will cruise as fast as you can go in Europe, on a relaxed top gearing that sits close to 40mph/1000rpm.
For a big and tall car, the handling is easy and accurate. The steering is very car-like – light and precise – and even in SE spec and on softer springs, the Touareg deals well with the weight transfers when driven fast through S-bends. The brakes feel very powerful, too.