Test Drive: 2015 Volkswagen Touareg TDI

Sometimes, I can sum up a car in just one word. I rarely set out to, but when the answer to the constant “What’s the [insert car name] like?” is the same every time, it becomes a catchphrase for the whole car. In a week driving the Volkswagen Touareg TDI the answer was always the same: “prodigious”.

In every aspect, the Volkswagen Touareg brings a sense of size and power that is impressive. At its heart lies a turbocharged 3.0L V6 diesel with 240 hp and a stonking 406 lb-ft of torque available from 1,750 rpm – not that any of those numbers do it justice. I was convinced the engine was bigger for most of the week I was driving it. Even the engine note was impressive, as verified by an Aussie friend who heard it down the phone line: “Hey what is that?! That sounds good!”

This is an engine that made the 2,130 kg Touareg feel positively athletic in traffic, whipping up to speed and into gaps with complete confidence. If Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel worked as well together as the eight-speed automatic and 3.0L turbodiesel in the Touareg, I wouldn’t be mocked so much in my Leafs toque. The duo are deftly matched (again, the driveline, not the Maple Leafs) accelerating the behemoth VW SUV with a linear surge that resonates in my chest. The sensation from the driver’s seat proves that numbers don’t tell the whole story.

The Touareg has presence even before the magical turbodiesel gets woken from its slumber. At 1,795 mm, it’s taller than a Toyota Highlander by 15 mm, and 57 mm taller than a Nissan Murano. That height, coupled with a bulging, hulking application of VW styling, combine to make the Touareg appear bigger than it is. Climbing in, the driver’s seat is high, which offers a commanding view of the road but again imbues the Touareg with a sense of size that exceeds its actual numbers.

The lacquered woodgrain in the console is rich, especially paired to with the brown leather of our tester’s interior. The light coloured stitching on the seats and the faux brushed aluminum trim all added to the sense of luxury on board, with ribbed knobs for volume, tuning and automatic climate control all providing great sensory feedback.

The instrument cluster that works so well in the Golf and the Jetta didn’t quite suit the Touareg, however, its simple elegance seeming a little hollow in a car with this sort of gravitas. Having said that, nothing beats this setup for ease of reading.  The steering wheel was another mismatch, its leather not thick or supple enough to match the promise of the very comfortable, rich-looking seats.

 

The interior has some neat touches, like a dash-top storage tray designed to securely hold your mobile phone, and lined with carpet. As the owner of a particularly fragile Sony Xperia Z3, I was grateful for the consideration. There’s also a small coin holder in the console that adds symmetry to the switchbank behind the gear shifter – the rounded cubbyhole looks like it would hold an espresso cup. There’s a 115V power outlet behind the centre console, which opens in two halves so you can use it as an armrest and still access the storage bin.

All of those bits of “clever” pale in comparison to the sun visor. The sun visor is a double, so you can put it to the side and down in front at the same time! I’d never seen this before and my love for it borders on evangelical. No more having to move the sun visor every time you go around a corner! Double visors cover both windows at once. Why doesn’t everyone do this?!  I was astounded. I raved to Senior Editor Jonathan Yarkony about the system. “Small things amuse small minds, I guess,” he harrumphed. He’s mean.

There are four cigarette-lighter-style power outlets sprinkled throughout the cabin but the only phone connection is a proprietary one – no USB here – and our tester had the Apple adapter. A USB plug covers everyone – why would you use a proprietary unit that forces owners to select a custom adapter at added cost?

Fortunately the heated rear seats were suitable for all bums, and the generous panoramic sunroof let in light to all passengers, whether they like overpriced designer phones or not.

The Touareg’s size and weight have been magically turned into assets on the highways, helping the largish mid-size SUV navigate potholes and bumps without bothering the occupants. It floats in a firm and precise way, riding each imperfection in the road and smoothing it out the way a bow wave in the ocean gently lifts a resting bird.  The suspension is virtually silent in its operation, leaving just the surprisingly rich exhaust tones of the engine and a small amount of wind noise to fill the void in the cabin.

A 12-speaker audio system fills all 2,900 L of passenger volume with strong, clear sound. Our tester didn’t get the updated graphics of the newer VW infotainment systems, but the combination of hard buttons, knobs and 8.0-inch touchscreen make it one of my favourite for ease of use.

With a 3,500 kg tow rating and about 1,000 km of range courtesy of a 100 L fuel tank, the Touareg would be a strong option for those who love migrating south for the winter or north for the summer. The generous passenger volume gives plenty of breathing room on long road trips, and the comfortable ride would help keep everyone feeling refreshed. Space becomes tight with a fifth person onboard as the middle seat is compromised by a driveline tunnel lump and the ingress of the console into the middle of the back row, but for four people, space is excellent. The 900 L of space behind the rear seats can expand to 1,800 L with them folded flat. Power-fold buttons in the rear allow you to lower the 40/60 split fold in two segments. The middle seat is attached to the larger of the sections, but can also fold flat on its own from a pivot point a little higher than the seat base, offering up a pass-through for increased flexibility.

My range estimate is based on my 10 L/100 km achieved in a week of mixed driving, but I should note that the Touareg is rated at 8.0 L/100 km highway and 12.0 L/100 km city. I think those numbers, impressive as they are, might be conservative. In a car this size I was pleasantly surprised to see my week end on 10.0 – I’ve been known to get worse numbers from subcompacts!

That word “prodigious” comes to mind again.

The Touareg TDI really does give the sense that it is an all-capable tank. It looms larger than it is and rides the same way. The engine is a Clydesdale [does that make Jacob a keg of beer? –Ed.], effortlessly hauling the Touareg’s bulk with no hint of stopping. Coming in I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the Touareg. I’m generally not a fan of big cars, and this is one my preconceptions decided was a behemoth.

And it is a behemoth, this Touareg – but in the best possible way.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/80,000 km 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Audi Q5 Hybrid
Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel
Lexus RX450h
Mercedes-Benz ML 350 Bluetec
Porsche Cayenne Diesel
Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid
Toyota Highlander Hybrid

2015 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Execline
2015 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Execline
Base Price $68,575
Optional Equipment None
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,760
Price as Tested $70,435
Optional Equipment