Volkswagen's third generation Touareg is a large luxury SUV that in this updated form is now smarter looking, better-equipped and more efficient. As before, this car's dynamically better than you expect it to be, both on road and off it. True, it can't offer more than five seats, but then neither can key rivals like the Lexus RX or Porsche's Cayenne. If you're looking at one of those contenders in this segment, then this under-rated Touareg offers a very complete package with a value proposition that could prove hard to resist.
Large luxury SUVs tend to be more about style than substance. Here's one that's different, the much improved version of Volkswagen's third generation Touareg. The original version of this car, launched in 2003 and named after a North African tribe, represented the Wolfsburg brand's first venture into the luxury SUV market and that '7L' design struck a chord with quite a few buyers in this segment. The second generation '7P' version, introduced in 2010, was less successful but Wolfsburg regained momentum in 2018 with that model's successor, the third generation 'CR' design we look at here. Five years on from launch, this MK3 Touareg was significantly updated, to create the car we're looking at in this Review. As with the pre-facelift model, it use the same MLB Evo platform you'll find in Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghini large SUVs. And, unlike them (also as before), it's actually quite at home off road. As before, the idea is to provide an appealing compromise between the extreme 'SUV'-ness of, say, a Toyota Land Cruiser or a Jeep Grand Cherokee. And more paved-surface-orientated large SUVs like the BMW X5 and the Mercedes GLE.
Not too much has changed beneath the bonnet. Most versions of this third generation Touareg use 3.0 V6 TDI power mated to an eight-speed automatic Tiptronic gearbox and 4MOTION all-wheel drive. This unit puts out either 231 or 286PS. In the perkier variant, 0-62mph takes 6.1 seconds, and the top speed is 146mph. A 340PS 3.0-litre V6 TSI turbocharged petrol engine with 340PS is the alternative and you can also talk to your dealer about a 381PS PHEV eHybrid version, which offers a 14.1kWh battery. That battery is also shared by the top variant in the range, another PHEV, the Touareg R, which puts out 462PS. Whichever powerplant you choose, pulling power is a Toureg strongpoint, the 286PS 3.0 V6 TDI unit developing up to 600Nm of torque, which will make it ideal for towers who'll particularly like Volkswagen's handy 'Trailer Assist' technology that facilitates simple slow-speed manoeuvring. For on road use with this MK3 model, Volkswagen has (for top variants) developed an active all-wheel steering set-up and a roll stabilisation system with electromechanically controlled anti-roll bars. Plus there's two-chamber air suspension too, a set-up you can control via various driving modes. These range from 'Eco' and 'Comfort', through 'Individual', to 'Snow', 'Sand' and 'Off-road Expert'. Select the right setting and you'll be able to go surprisingly far off the beaten track. That'll be further aided by a centre differential lock with asymmetric dynamic torque distribution that acts as a transfer box for the flow of forces between the front and rear axle. A maximum of 70%t of the drive force reaches the front axle and up to 80% can be sent to the rear axle.
This third generation Touareg has been lightly facelifted, with larger lower front bumper air ducts and revised headlights with can be embellished with Volkswagen's IQ Light HD matrix system, incorporating up to 19,216 micro-LEDs per unit. Base 'Elegance'-trimmed models get chrome exterior trimming, while sportier 'R-Line' spec swaps that for a black-themed look. There are revised tail lamps too with smarter graphics; and they're connected by a light bar, in the centre of which is an illuminated Volkswagen logo. Smarter wheel designs of between 19 and 21-inches complete the changes outside. As before, this MK3 Touareg is an imposing thing, nearly 4.8m long, nearly 2.2m wide and over 1,7m high. Under the skin, as before, sits the Volkswagen Group conglomerate's MLB Evo platform (shared with the MK2 Audi Q7, the Audi Q8, the Bentley Bentayga, the MK3 model Porsche Cayenne and the Lamborghini Urus) There are fewer changes to this updated third generation Touareg inside. As before, the cabin isn't quite up to Audi and Porsche levels of quality, but it feels very nice indeed and is dominated by what Volkswagen calls its 'Innovision Cockpit', this set-up standardised for this facelifted model. It includes a 12-inch instrument display paired with a 15-inch central infotainment screen. The latter has had software and functionality updates which have brought more advanced HD map data, plus an updated voice control system and wireless 'Apple CarPlay/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. Otherwise, everything's as you were. You sit more commandingly than is the case with some other large luxury SUVs, surrounded by mood lighting, beautifully stitched finishing and a cool, classy Teutonic ambiance. Detail differences with this improved model include higher-capacity 45W USB-C charging ports and smarter cabin ambient lighting. As before, the Touareg offers only one rear seating row. But if that's OK for you, you'll find a comfortable back seat with sliding and seat reclining options - the backrests recline in three stages back to an angle of up to 21-degrees for greater comfort on longer journeys. And the relatively low height of the centre transmission tunnel means that three adults can be accommodated without too much discomfort for the occupant who's drawn the short straw and gets stuck in the middle. Luggage space is huge, with a 1,051mm load area length and a maximum load capacity of 810-litres (seats up) or 1,800-litres (seats down).
Most MK3 model Touaregs are bought with the 3.0 V6 TDI diesel engine and there are three trim levels - 'Elegance', 'Black Edition' and the top Touareg R PHEV petrol performance variant. Prices start at around £67,500 for the V6 diesel engine in 231PS form - there's a premium of around £2,700 to get it in 286PS guise. The asking figures range up to about £80,000. Options include electrically adjustable front seats featuring a special pneumatic massage function with no fewer than eight programs. The intensity of the massage functions can be continuously adjusted via individual air cushions. Natural light comes in through the optionally available panoramic sliding roof - the largest offered by Volkswagen. The transparent roof section is 1,270mm long and 825mm wide (inner dimensions), and the front half can be continuously opened and electrically moved back by almost half a metre (495mm) and raised. Meanwhile night driving can be more pleasant thanks to an optional LED ambient light system. Using the ambient light, the atmosphere on board the Touareg can be personalised via 30 different light colours whose brightness can be adjusted. There's also an optional night vision system using a thermal imaging camera. Camera-driven safety innovations include 'Front Cross Traffic Assist' - which responds to traffic crossing in front of the car. For autonomous driving, there's 'Traffic Jam and Roadwork Lane Assist' which offers partly automated steering and lane departure warning up to 37mph, plus autonomous acceleration and braking.
Don't expect too much here. This is, after all, a large luxury SUV that in 3.0 V6 TDI form carries a substantial 2,070kg of kerb weight. Let's get to the WLTP figures. Expect up to 34.9mpg on the combined cycle and up to 213g/km of CO2 from the V6 diesels. The top Touareg R petrol PHEV manages 94.2mpg on the combined cycle and up to 54g/km of CO2 and can offer an all-electric driving range of up to 28 miles. As for servicing, well as usual with Volkswagen models, there's a choice of either 'Fixed' or 'Flexible' maintenance packages. You'll choose the 'Fixed' approach if you cover less than 10,000 miles a year and with this, the car will typically be looked at every twelve months. If your daily commute is more than 25 miles and your Touareg will regularly be driven on longer distance journeys, you'll be able to work with a 'Flexible' regime that can see you travelling up to 18,000 miles between garage visits - or every two years, whichever is sooner. The TDI engines many customers will choose, like most modern diesel powerplants, get a selective catalytic reduction filter to cut down on nitrous oxide and, as with similar rival units, are designed around the injection of a urea-based solution called AdBlue into the exhaust gas stream to help clean up emissions. The liquid used is stored in a 12-litre tank mounted at the rear beneath the boot and this will need topping up as part of regular servicing.
As long as you don't need seven-seats in your large, luxury SUV, this Volkswagen is still a hard option to ignore if you're looking for an appealing balance between style, speed and 'SUV'-ness, with reasonable pricing and running costs that suggest more modest means. True, it doesn't have the brand cachet of some of its illustrious rivals - but perhaps that's no bad thing. For this car's loyal band of buyers, the Touareg's unpretentious approach is, after all, one of its biggest draws. It's a pity though, that so few of them know exactly how capable it is in the rough stuff. Of course a cynic might ask in what way a Touareg is class-leading and it would be tough to pinpoint one. Its chances of success reside in managing to convince enough people enough of the time that it covers the required bases competently. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it's not meant to. Think of this car as an artful exercise in managing compromises instead. It's still well worth your attention and with prices now overlapping with some smaller upper-mid-sized SUVs, its value proposition speaks for itself.