Essentially, this is about as no-frills as the Touareg gets. Black plastic cladding around the lower bumpers and side skirts means it isn’t quite as gaudy-looking as its pricier rangemates, although the lashings of chrome on the nose haven’t gone anywhere. Overall, it looks more tastefully understated than its flashier siblings, which seems more in keeping with its historically restrained image.
The interior, meanwhile, remains as spacious and functional as ever, with loads of front and rear passenger space and a capacious, family-friendly 810-litre boot. At the same time, however, the already modest amounts of technological and material wow factor that pervaded the interior of the high-end Touareg R-Line Tech we road-tested two years ago have been toned down even further.
Instead of leather upholstery, you have to make do with cloth, while the colour palette is decidedly more monochrome. The Innovision Cockpit has been done away with, too, so instead of a 15in infotainment touchscreen and 12in digital instrument display, you get a 9.2in touchscreen and analogue dials. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing: the dials are impressively clear and easy to read, while the smaller display is easier to interact with while you're driving and certainly doesn’t want for any graphical sophistication.
Unlike our road test car, with its optional 21in wheels and two-chamber air suspension, the Touareg SE rides on 19in alloys as standard, while its front and rear double wishbones lie beneath passively damped steel coils. There’s no four-wheel steering or active anti-roll bars, for that matter. This is a far more honest, less complicated strain of Touareg.
It’s also a Touareg with a comparatively firmer ride – one that can be prone to a degree of side-to-side restlessness and fidgeting at low speed. This is most prevalent between 20 and 30mph, but the car begins to breathe far easier as soon as you move up to open road speeds. With smaller wheels and fatter sidewalls, you’re reasonably well isolated against bumps and ruts, too, although obviously not quite so far removed as you would be in an air-sprung Q7 or Volvo XC90. Not that that comes as much a surprise, given they're considerably pricier.
The Touareg SE is comfortable and largely refined on the motorway, with only the faintest fluttering sound permeating the cabin as the wind whips around the door mirrors. There’s a bit of road roar too, and you can detect and hear surface changes, but not to such an extent as to severely compromise the car's abilities as a long-distance cruiser.
It’s not totally against the idea of being hustled down a fast B-road, either, but it doesn’t egg you on to really push it. Its control weights are all very sensible, with its steering allowing you to accurately navigate corners while simultaneously conveying a sense of steadfast handling security and predictability. The car remains impressively flat through faster bends and grips well. In fact, it almost feels like a very big Golf - which is probably the point.
Its 228bhp V6 diesel engine seems potent enough in the real world, with modest amounts of mid-range shove on tap to get you up to speed in a brisk enough fashion to make us question why you’d want to opt for the 282bhp unit.