Car Test   R0329
March 2003
First Drive VW Touareg
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Our test car had straw-coloured carpet, yet within twenty minutes it was mud-plugging its way up a river bank, emerging from 60cm of water. This defines the incongruity of this latest addition to the build-‘em-tall, four-wheel drive brigade that’s currently capturing increasing sales.
   You can’t blame VW for wanting to cash in on the fashion – for fashion it is, with the PR people cheerfully admitting that 90 per cent of all Touaregs will never have their impressive off-road prowess put to the test. For this is a serious off-roader, distinct from the SUV ‘soft-roaders’ that are proliferating at present.
   We did sample it on the rough-stuff and were actually more impressed with the car’s behavioiur off-road than on it. However, we must immediately qualify this remark by saying that the V10 diesel (with air suspension and variable ride control, plus a host of other features) is a pretty impressive operator on road; but so it ought to be, with a price tag on the high side of £50,000.
   The Touareg starts at around £30,000, with a V6 3.2-litre petrol engine which we also drove, in auto-guise, although there’s a manual version too. This is a perfectly acceptable performer, with 220bhp powering it along briskly and quietly.
   The driving position is fine, although there are more control buttons on the wheel than some cheap cars have on the entire facia. The commanding view is obstructed aft, by head restraints that can’t be recessed into the backrest. Double sun visors facilitate driving into an evening sun, however. The leather option for the seats is a sensible (washable) idea, but we felt they needed to ‘give’ more for real comfort – this is easier with fabric, especially on a new car.
   Rear seating is generous, although climbing in and out is better suited to the tall or clambering youngsters – the less spry may find the cushions too high. This rear seat (like the car) is wider than most; it folds, of course, and the load area behind has no sill; but neither is there a ‘proper’ spare wheel beneath the highish load platform. There’s two-piece tailgate opening and this is covered by the remote central locking, and even keyless entry on posher versions.
   The V10 diesel is a really magnificent machine, probably as quiet and pliable as any diesel we’ve encountered. Yet even with air suspension, the Touareg’s ride is still afflicted by the compromise that’s the inevitable outcome of having to set up the steering, tyres and chassis to meet the requirements of both tarmac and tough terrain. It’s not harsh and the Touareg is willing enough around fast bends, but its on-road dynamics are nothing like as good an an executive estate car’s of similar price. It’s probably on a par with a Sharan’s.
  considering size, price and rivals
  • three-pulse lane-change on indicators
  • dual-zone climate control - also stratifies flow
  • four rear air vents
  • rear bumper-top protector, but no side scuff strips
  • rear occupants' shoes kick heater outlets
  • foot-operated parking brake - redeemed by 'hill holder'
  • tiny (missable) heated tailgate window warning lamp
  • fully electric seats/mirrors don't have a 'memory'
Apart from the confusion as to why this VW hasn’t been launched as an Audi, it’s a very worthwhile new entrant into the 4x4 all-terrain market segment, dominated still by Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover. Touareg can be kitted out with factory options than enable it to take on the latter; however, it’s much more serious competition for the former and as such, represents a serious challenge to the likes of Land Rover and Mitsubishi. It performs better on road, by their standards, and can tackle the serious stuff as well as they can. If you genuinely need a vehicle to cope with both extremes, Touareg could be the answer.

size and type mid- and premium-priced all-terrain 4WD   trim levels Standard, Sport
engines petrol: V6/3.2 litre/220bhp, V8/4.2/310
diesel: 5/2.5/174, V10/4.9/313
  drive 6-speed manual on 3.2 petrol and 2.5 diesel; 6-speed stepped automatic (with sequential manual mode) optional or standard on the rest. Permanent 4WD with low range and electronically controlled lock
notable features independent suspension all round, with steel or air suspension (with three-mode, selectable ride comfort and height settings), V10 diesel produces 553 lb ft of torque at 2000rpm, fully galvanized body, five 12v power sockets, hill descent and hill start assist, rear seatbelts have height adjusters

  in centimetres (5-door all-terrain 4WD)
  length 476
  width - including mirrors 224
    - mirrors folded 191
  height 171 - 173*
  load sill height (inside/outside) 0/70
  easy to park/garage?
  front - legroom 87-112
    - headroom 93-99§
  rear - typical legroom 100
    - typical kneeroom 79
    - headroom 99§
    - hiproom 142
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
  load length 86-165#
  load length to facia 264
  load width 116
  load height (to shelf/to top of aperture) 53/82
§ no sunroof  * depends on suspension  # rear seat folded
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