Test Drive: 2017 Volkswagen Touareg

“I want something luxurious, but not too flashy. The Mercedes is too flashy for me.”

Launched in its second generation for 2011, that same model remains on sale today, positioned as a flagship VW utility vehicle that’s nothing short of niche-y.

It’s a real thing: some shoppers, including this family friend with a good bit of fundage to drop on a new SUV crossover, want to live the luxury motoring high-life, but don’t want to advertise it loudly to those with eyes on their ride. There’s a market – perhaps a small one, but a market nonetheless – for under-the-radar luxury. A sleeper luxury flagship. A premium ride that doesn’t shout for attention.

So, I put this family friend, after their first new vehicle, onto a model that pops quickly into my mind when I’m asked about not-so-flashy luxury crossovers: the Volkswagen Touareg.

The Touareg is getting old. Launched in its second generation for 2011, that same model remains on sale today, positioned as a flagship VW utility vehicle that’s nothing short of niche-y. With a starting price north of $50,000, it leaves most mainstream crossovers many thousands of dollars its lesser in entry pricing – spec one out with all the fancies for about $65,000, and you’re in the same pricing ballpark as an entry-level BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz GLE.

Though it’s discreetly handsome, rugged and upscale, the Touareg’s timeless take on blocky handsomeness has aged well. It’s a total stud of a machine, and one that still looks fresh, distinctive, adventuresome and sophisticated today. It’s a quiet-looking thing to be sure, but still has a great presence on the road. After all – it’s a flagship model, not an entry-level luxury ute.

Like the body, the cabin has aged well too. Some of the controls and interfaces are old news, especially relating to the central command screen, which is neither as precise, colourful or responsive as most of its competition. Numerous controls, stalks and switchgear are familiar from older VW models, too.

But most notably, the well-aged cabin still manages to convey a sense of careful, thoughtful luxury in its own right. The beveled edges to the chrome-ringed instruments, and how those edges gracefully reflect light. The lustrous wood trim panels, separated from their surroundings by precisely angled aluminum trim. The careful, solid action of everything from the headlight dial, to the window controls, to the lid on the dash-mounted storage console. Everything feels substantial, and operates in silence. You picture engineers fiddling with latches and hinges and springs to get the feel just right. Close inspection still manages to showcase finer cabin details that luxury enthusiasts love.

That extra care taken to generate a strong luxury character in the cabin extends to the Touareg’s driving experience, too.

The suspension is tuned for a ride that’s a touch firm in the middle, but soft and creamy around the edges of the dampers. Most drivers will note ride quality to be soft and comfortable, but not squishy or unduly gelatinous. Touareg isn’t a machine designed to light one’s face on fire with cornering G-forces, but remains accepting of elevated cornering velocities when desired. The soft-edged suspension shines brightest on badly broken pavement – where the body undulates with control over the wheels, themselves maintaining controlled contact with rapidly changing surfaces beneath.

And all the while, you feel and hear the suspension doing its job, and maybe, appreciate how little of the pummeling and jarring from beneath the Touareg is making its way into the cabin. Ultimately, the ride and handling balance will prove well-matched to a driver primarily concerned with consistent comfort on rough in-town roads, and during lengthy highway cruises, more than those after a crossover that can do double duty as a sports car. Not to say the Touaraeg handles like a tarmac-bound porridge-glob – it’ll play ball if you want to push – but it impresses more when driven gently.

Add in the generous ground clearance for off-road or winter driving, the typical VW feel of solidness dialed in throughout, and the nicely muted noise levels, and you’ve got a driving experience that’s highly conducive to relaxation and socialization on the move. Should you rather rock out with your favourite tunes out, the Dynaudio stereo system is a must-have: it’s potent, vivid, and the subwoofer jackhammers bass in your face when called upon.

A 3.6L V6 has been a staple under the Touareg’s hood since the original launched on our shores. Today, numerous competitors offer smaller, more powerful, more modern and more fuel-efficient powerplants (many turbocharged) for a more effortless and urgent feel under acceleration. Indeed, Touareg’s V6, with 280 hp from 3.6 litres of displacement, is a little outgunned by today’s standards.

Performance is adequate: lazy throttle programming and transmission control effectively encourage drivers to apply the throttle gently, where Touareg oozes off the line, in second gear, and up to speed in near silence, and in no particular hurry. The 3.6 isn’t a potent performer, and, much like the Touareg’s ride and handling, is better suited for a more relaxed driving style. It is, however, smooth as glass, refined on a world-class level, and emits a delightful, semi-exotic all-motor howl when worked hard enough to become audible, even if all-out firepower is adequate and little more.

Brakes, further, bite hard and pull the Touareg down from speed in a hurry – though the feel at the pedal lacks precision and touchiness, probably on purpose.

Functionally, The Touareg offers up room to spare for four adults, even large ones who frequently partake in sequential sandwiches. The cargo hold is wide and square, accessed by a motorized tailgate, and features motorized controls for the power-folding rear seatbacks, mounted to its flanks. Note that the rear seatbacks don’t fold fully flat, instead resting at a slight angle when folded, and that the cargo hold load floor may prove too high for the family canine to jump aboard with ease.

After all, ride height is elevated here. You get a commanding driving position in exchange for having to hop up a little to get on board, and once you’re settled, you’re sitting nicely above the road, with plenty of clearance underneath. Even moderately sized obstacles on a trail can be cleared with no second thought, and crossing even shin-deep streams fails to get the Touareg’s radiator wet.

Gripes? The central command screen is frustrating at times, requiring a hearty smash from your fingertips to generate a response. Two-fingering the screen with a little bit of muscle power helps. Further, the tester included no dedicated USB port for Android phone recharging or media access, but there’s an Apple-style octopus dongle of cables in the center console, which may work for some handsets. As well set-up as the suspension is for comfort, badly broken roadways can coax plenty of harshness and noise from beneath at times, largely thanks to the tester’s baller-status twenty-inch wheels. And finally, numerous passengers complained of rear seating that looks plush, but feels stiffer than a tortoise in rigor mortis.

Cross-shopping exercises should include the Cadillac XT5, which boasts a more powerful lighting system, a more consistently compliant ride, a stand-out cabin, and a highly relevant set of more modern feature content. There’s also the Jeep Cherokee – which is similarly handsome, similarly priced, and more capable than the Touareg. It’s also available with a diesel engine if you want one, which you should.

Ultimately, consider a top-line Touareg a priority test drive if an under-the-radar flagship utility vehicle experience with a gorgeous cabin, immense comfort and a relaxingly tuned chassis, powertrain and suspension are desired in your next utility vehicle – or, if you’d rather spend your cash on a fully loaded flagship than a base-model unit from a luxury brand.

2017 Volkswagen Touareg Execline 4Motion
Engine Displacement: 3.6L
Engine Cylinders: V6
Peak Horsepower: 280 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Peak Torque: 266 lb-ft @ 3,000–4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 12.2 L/100 km cmb
Cargo Space: 1,812 L
2017 Volkswagen Touareg Execline 4Motion
Base Price $65,460
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,795
Price as Tested $67,355
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.7
8 Styling
7 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
7 Fuel Economy
7 Features
8 Value