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The Touareg, named after the nomadic tribes of Saharan North Africa, is a mid-size SUV by the ‘people’s car’ company, forged in their values of utility and relative affordability. Although it was based on the same platform as the Porsche Cayenne and now shares it with the Audi Q8, Lamborghini Urus, and Bentley Bentayga, in the hierarchy of all rich things, it is considered a notch below.
But in late 2022, we got to spend some time with the newish third generation model, and I can tell you that it’s ‘vibing’ differently. Here’s my take on the Volkswagen Touareg R-Line Black Package.
Design & styling
The Touareg’s design, since its inception, has followed the laws of geometry. And the new gen’s face has a series of steel structures that goes across it almost mimicking the architectural beauty of modern-day building facades. Embedded within these slats are matrix LED lamps that can throw light in a variety of ways by intelligently controlling each cell. And the profile can appear tall and imposing or sleek and hunkered down, depending on how the height-adjustable air suspension has been set up, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary here, no overly slanted coupe roofline or flared wheel arches. At the rear, the essence of the last generation remains, but they’ve cleaned up the look with straighter lines and edgier edges.
And of course, it vibes differently! Any vehicle in an all-black scheme creates a menacing look. Here it has been executed flawlessly, extending the blackness to the grille, mirror housings and window surrounds. Even the LED taillamps (with dynamic indicators) have a darkened look. And like a good pair of shoes matched with a well-tailored suit, the 5 split-spoke 21-inch 'Suzuka' alloys complete the black-on-black look, which is sporting and, more importantly, worthy of VIP parking.
The doors open to a dark-themed interior with Tron-like ambient lighting (with 30 colour choices), subtle metallic trims, and a wall of pixels that make it appear like a private lounge scene in a Blade Runner movie. It feels exclusive and future-proof. The cabin centres on the giant (Tesla Model Y-equalling) 15-inch navigation screen, which will surely invoke feelings of inadequacy in other rival brands. And it is flanked by a slatted detail that stretches across the dash, with cleverly incorporated a/c vents.
The vantage point from the driver’s seat is a delight for both the sense of sight and feel. There are plenty of soft-touch plastics at key touchpoints and several degrees of power adjustments on the leather-bound seats to get naturally comfortable as well. Displaying the vehicle’s vitals is a 12-inch colour screen for instrumentation that seems infinitely customisable and to augment that there is a head-up display as well. Thankfully, all digital readouts are crisp and colourful. With the R-line you get to steer the beautifully crafted and heavily-bolstered 3-spoke flat-bottom steering wheel — an engineering art piece by itself — and the toggling shifter is sized to be an extension of the hand rest. Then things like the soft closing doors and panoramic sunroof (covering 80 per cent of the roof) put the luxury stamp on this vehicle of mass market beginnings.
Of course, these were my first impressions, and as time passed, the shortcomings of the cabin became apparent… as with any relationship. I found the steering wheel controls cluttered and finicky. The wireless charger is in a space which will have you groping. And going by VW’s ‘no more switches’ setup, one is forced to access the HVAC controls through the infotainment screen. And finally, the quality, in terms of materials and tactility, is great, but just not Bavarian quality.
As for rear cabin space, it is rather commodious with plenty of head and legroom, although the centre passenger may sit higher and have a floor tunnel to deal with. One can also slide and recline the rear seat to reach a spatial compromise between people and luggage.
Powertrain & performance
The smooth-operating 3.6-litre V6 that powered the Touareg for almost two decades has finally thrown in the towel. It’s been replaced with a ‘Turbo Stratified Injection’ 3.0-litre V6 that makes quite a lot more horsepower and torque. It is mated to an 8-speed automatic that distributes torque to all four wheels via VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system. On the dynamometer, this new Touareg will record numbers in the proximity of 340 PS and 450 Nm. This makes it very drivable in the city in everyday situations. Race it against the clock and it will eclipse the 100 km/h mark in just over 6 seconds, which is quite sprightly for an SUV that weighs about two tons. But one can certainly feel its heft as it moves about, a bit like a Range Rover.
But with the heft comes a sense of stability in the way it rides and steers. The air suspension does a fantastic job of cushioning its occupants over humps and bumps. You neither feel the jarring vibrations associated with large wheel sizes nor jiggle about like a bouncy castle. It’s within the Goldilocks zone. The sound insulation also limits the outside chatter to a minimum.
Corners can also be approached with a good degree of adventure, knowing that the body is largely obedient to steering input and the chassis stays reasonably flat through most directional changes. This also allows the all-wheel drive system to put down more power effectively. But let’s not confuse this with a corner-carving precision tool.
The fuel tank has a medium, but aptly-sized 75-litre capacity that will allow one to travel about 600 kms before stopping to refuel. This number can be quite easily improved or decimated, depending on how intoxicating you find turbo power and how much you haul.
The calibration of the drive modes is more than a namesake and brings distinctive flavours to the driving experience. You can also take it offroad, thanks to its 4Motion system and 258 mm more ground clearance (with the air suspension in the highest setting), which allows one to visit those seemingly-hard-to-reach Instragrammable spots. But keep away from more challenging terrain and you can avoid the pain of ripped bumpers, scuffed fenders and wheels… or getting stuck.
Features & practicality
The power tailgate opens up to an enormous 810-litre boot (a class-leading figure possibly) which can eat up five or six suitcases. And thanks to the air suspension, you can get the rear to squat by 50 mm for easier loading/unloading. The ability to fold the rear split seats allows larger items to be accommodated. In the boot, you also get shopping hooks and a 12V outlet to hook up a vacuum cleaner in case your dog is the shedding type. It can also tow up to 3,500 kg and carry an additional 100 kg on the roof if necessary. It’s a true hauler, this one!
The duty of maintaining air comfort is handled by the 4-zone climate control system. It kept the cabin nice and comfy even with five on board on toasty days. However, the position of the central vents below the giant screen isn’t ideal. Also, it’s a no-brainer that a black vehicle like this deserves covered parking or shade.
The front seats also get a heated/cooled function and a massage function with a menu of strokes and pressures, as all luxury cars should. And the 8-speaker audio system is decent, but the 13-speaker, 16-channel DYNAUDIO system should have been included at this price point. The same goes for the 360-degree camera or Area view as VW calls it and self-parking as well.
Volkswagen has successfully fostered its flagship SUV into the luxury segment. The exterior visuals are something one would swipe right to. And the cabin matches that appeal with future-forward vibes and technology. That positive momentum is carried further onto the road with its plush ride and purposeful power.
Granted the piecing of parts isn’t as artful as some other German brands, the reliability of this new motor is still a question mark, and few features could have been made standard, but upon viewing and driving this Touareg, an overarching desire to own this chunk of black metal did arise in me, despite its precious metal pricing.
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