2019 Volkswagen Touareg First International Drive
The fifth SUV to rise from the VW Group’s excellent MLB platform proves that fancy badges and exalted prices are no impediment to the new-gen Touareg’s ambitions.
It’s been eight years since Volkswagen’s last new-generation Touareg graced the planet with its inoffensively smooth but relatively unremarkable form – banishing the quality-control bugs of the original yet not quite achieving the authority to dominate a burgeoning SUV market. But that’s all about to change with this third-generation tour-de-force.
Beneath the new Touareg’s handsome sheetmetal lies the expensive bones of the latest Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne, Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus, and that bodes well for the hopes and desires of the largest, most sophisticated product Volkswagen currently builds. So why not head to the continent which inspired its unusual model name and see if the tough new Touareg really is a cast-iron fist in a lightweight velvet glove?
DAY 1 - Marrakech to Merzouga (the edge of the Sahara desert - 588km)
If word association is an artform, then the Wolfsburg wunderkind have taken that concept and concreted it into mass consumption. We’re about to tackle a four-day Moroccan desert extravaganza in Volkswagen’s all-new SUV – the third to derive its name from a nomadic Berber tribe from the Sahara region – yet this synergy is no brainwave of contemporary marketing genius.
The Touareg nameplate has evolved in much the same way as many models dreamed up by Wolfsburg since the 1970s, spritzing German engineering with a hint of the exotic. Passat (a trade wind), Scirocco (a hot North African wind), Eos (a Greek island), Lupo (Italian for ‘wolf’), Corrado (Italian for the male name ‘Conrad’) – you get the idea.
But with Touareg, the locality perfectly reflects the product.
To get a jump on Marrakech’s fatalistic peak-hour traffic, our seven-strong Touareg crew departs the hotel in darkness and begins a day-long trek to a desert camp not far from Rissani, 588km east. Once we’ve navigated the notoriously twisty and challenging Atlas mountains that border Marrakech, our German guides reckon it’s a relatively straight drive – “much like the Australian outback”, apparently, even though none of them have been there. It’s nothing of the sort.
Our steeds are identical metallic-silver Mk3 Touaregs, each underselling their fully loaded specification with smallish 18-inch alloys clad with knobbly General Grabber 225/60R18 tyres intended to play a crucial role once we reach the desert.
On the surface, there’s an R-Line package with Matrix LED headlights, a perforated-leather interior, a full-length glass sunroof, a top-spec 730-watt 14-speaker Dynaudio stereo, and an almost intimidatingly large ‘Innovision cockpit’ that fills the instrument binnacle with an Active Info Display and blends that seamlessly into a television-sized 15-inch tablet spanning the driver-focused centre console.
Yet underneath is where the real magic lies. Adaptive air-sprung suspension, active anti-roll bars at both ends, and the wonders of four-wheel steering manage to make the substantial Touareg feel like a much smaller car. It’s a testament to modern chassis engineering that a two-tonne SUV like this – albeit one that has lost up to 106kg in its model change-over – feels so creamily smooth and so effortlessly agile.
It takes hours for the mountains to subside as we pass through dozens of salmon-coloured towns, each contrasting against the amazingly varied, painted-backdrop landscapes that litter Northern Africa. Rocky red mountains, black volcanic plains, oasis-filled valleys bursting with date palms, velvet-green mountain ranges stretching to the horizon, and even snow. It’s a prehistoric pleasure palace filled with visual riches impossible to describe, or even illustrate, with the accuracy to do them justice.
All the while our Touareg is eating up the distance with staggering ease. Packing the most powerful turbo-diesel V6 currently offered in Volkswagen’s new large SUV, the 3.0-litre complies with strict Euro 6d emissions regulations and punches out a solid 210kW from 3500-4000rpm and a whopping 600Nm of torque from 2250-3250rpm.
Tied to an eight-speed automatic transmission with a delightfully ergonomic, palm-friendly gear shifter, at our 100-130km/h cruising speeds – contrasted with plenty of foot-flat overtaking past the stopped cars and animal herds that Morocco randomly throws at you – the Touareg’s trip computer is reading just over 9.0L/100km.
And this baby is quiet. Even on knobbly tyres, there’s a hush to VW’s largest vehicle that makes it feel expensive. With all those options, it probably is expensive, though not in the context of its pricier brand buddies.