First DriveThe newest version of Volkswagen's flagship SUV shares much with the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne, but it's taking a different route to head upmarket
First DriveLowest-powered diesel Touareg offers decent performance with refinement, though pricing means you might as well go for the extra punch.
What is it?
Volkswagen’s recently facelifted flagship 4x4, with its intriguing 10-cylinder turbodiesel engine.
VW facelifted the Touareg back in March and, as part of that update, replaced some 2300 individual parts. Among the new parts were the new VW corporate chrome grille, new door mirrors, new headlights, new leather upholstery, reshaped front seats and a redesigned instrument binnacle.
The main event with this particular 4x4, though, is still its mildly comic-sounding V10 diesel engine, which produces 309bhp at 3750rpm and an indecent 550lb ft of torque at 2000rpm.
There are only 12 cars currently on sale in UK that develop more pulling power than that; five of them are made by Mercedes-Benz and Maybach, two by Audi, two by Bentley, one by Bristol, one by Koenigsegg and a little known one by, err, Bugatti. With one exception, they cost at least three times as much as a Touareg V10.
So, four years after it first appeared, VW’s big daddy 4x4 still has a raison d’etre; it still offers you more tractive power-per-pound-spent than any other car on the road. Almost.
What’s it like
Big, gruff, and surprisingly brisk – but only up to a point.
First things first, behold the harbinger of all that urge. It’s a Touareg, sure, and looks much like the five-pot oil-burning models you see every day at the school gates. Some special styling touches set this one apart though; sporty bumpers front and rear, side skirts, a rear roof spoiler and 18in alloy wheels.
Inside, there’s piano black trim, some big, comfortable leather chairs, and a basic cabin layout that will be familiar to anyone who’s driven a Porsche Cayenne, VW Phaeton or Bentley Continental GT, but none the worse for the comparison.
Stir the sleeping behemoth under the bonnet into life, and it quickly adopts a tappety, chugging idle. The Touareg V10’s engine sounds very much like a marine diesel, in fact; all that’s missing is the swoosh of propellers and the bubble of churned up water. It all seems very incongruous from a brand-new, £60k SUV.
But does it feel so weird out on the road? Well, no; once you get used to the gentle throb of the engine, the Touareg V10 is actually a surprisingly relaxing and easy car to drive.
It’s big, but not overly so for this kind of car, and although the steering wheel’s a generous size, it’s quick to act just off the dead ahead, making the Touareg easy to dodge in and out of urban traffic, and to tilt around corners.
Body control’s pretty good, again with the caveat that this is a big, heavy SUV. It weights 2602kg unladen; that’s 344kg more than a V6 Touareg and within a portly passenger’s mass of the Land Rover Discovery we weighed back in 2004.
Thankfully though, the range-topping Touareg comes with VW’s CDC adaptive continuous damping control as standard and, in sport mode, it keeps the car from rolling and pitching excessively at the eyebrow-raising speeds you can easily attain with a liberal application of the throttle.
And you should expect to raise your eyebrow pretty regularly if you drive the V10 Touareg with any urgency at all. The rate at which it’s capable of stepping away from a standstill belies its two-and-a-half tonne heft, and although the accelerative shove seems to tail off significantly at higher engine speeds, there’s still enough of it left on the motorway to blitz most executive saloons.
Should I buy one?
We like the Touareg V10. It’s not the most socially acceptable 4x4 on the planet; it’s not particularly refined; it’s not frugal (think 19-22mpg everyday, gulp); and it hasn’t got the most desirable badge on its nose for a £60k luxo mud-plugger.
But it is an incredibly unseemly place in which to find hot hatchback humbling performance, and even if you’re no big fan of the absurd, it’s hard not to find that single, redeeming attribute attractive.
Unfortunately, we can’t recommend it. Four years ago we could; what prevents us from doing so today is, ironically enough, Audi’s 4.2-litre V8 TDi Q7, a 4x4 with more power and torque than the VW (from fewer cylinders), better economy, lower CO2 emissions, better residual values and a lower base price.
If you can overlook all that, maybe there still is a place in your life for the V10 Touareg, but that doesn’t make it an advisable buy. Time has moved on, and so has the market for premium SUVs, leaving this peculiar VW, with its two-valve-per-cylinder monster V10, hissing and growling away behind.