VW Touareg review (2018): Volkswagen’s SUV is a technological marvel

£49000
Price when reviewed

The Volkswagen Touareg is just one of a phalanx of models available to well-heeled SUV buyers and, as such, there’s plenty of competition. The Volvo XC90, Audi Q7 and Range Rover Sport all compete in the same space and have all had technology-infused updates in recent times.

Our favourite thus far has been the Volvo XC90, for its combination of serene calm, comfort, safety and the latest in infotainment tech – but the Touareg looks set to threaten its position with a new futuristic interior.

Its new 12in digital instrument cluster and 15in TFT touchscreen infotainment screens go together to create the slickest, most high-tech and high-class driver experience we’ve come across in a car of this type. In fact, VW has also gone and done a Volvo on us here, stripping out the buttons almost entirely, aside from where absolutely necessary.

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That’s not all, of course. The new Touareg also has a new look and a lighter chassis to make it a touch nippier. With more boot space than last year’s model, you’ll also be able to fit even more of your belongings in the boot.

In the UK, the new Touareg will go on sale on 7 June 2018, with prices expected to start from £49,000, and UK deliveries to customers are expected by the end of June. It’s available in three different trims – SEL, R-Line and the new R-Line Tech – more on which below.

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VW Touareg review (2018): Interior tech

It seems a digital arms race has taken off in this sector in recent times, and the weapon of choice appears to be the touchscreen. In the Touareg, VW is calling its (optional) dual-screen setup the “Innovision Cockpit”. This consists of a 12in screen behind the steering wheel and a 15in display in the middle of the dashboard, angled towards the driver, both joined together so they wrap around the driver to create a high-tech cocoon.

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This not only looks superb but works incredibly well, too, with customisability high on the list of desirable features. Between your rev counter and speed dials, you can simply view the time remaining to your destination or the amount of fuel you’ve got left for your drive – or you can go full satnav, hiding the dials away and replacing them with a fully fledged moving map.

Alongside this is the Touareg’s heads-up display (HUD), which displays turn-by-turn based satnav instructions, speed limits, your current speed and the cruise-control info. You barely need to look at the vast 15in screen to your right if you don’t want to – but there would be so much you’d be missing out on if you didn’t.

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As with the infotainment screens in other VWs, the Touareg’s 15in display is flawless. It’s responsive, its graphics are sharp and modern-looking, and it’s all logically laid out so that finding your way around its myriad of options is gloriously easy.

If you can’t be bothered actually touching the screen, VW allows you to control some part of it simply by waving your hand at it. Waving left and right in front of the screen switches screens – from maps to media, for instance – and you can even use gestures to pause and skip your music.

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It’s good to see some permanent shortcut buttons here, so you can quickly get to regularly used features. A strip running along the bottom of the central screen, for instance, allows you to quickly adjust the air-con and heated seats, while another strip of touch buttons arranged vertically down the left-hand side lets you toggle the heated screens and enable or disable the car’s auto-parking mode.

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The infotainment system has CarPlay and Android Auto built in, both of which work well. However, the Touareg doesn’t fully utilise the 15in screen when they’re enabled. Instead, it crops the display to around 8in, with ugly black borders surrounding the projected smartphone display.

Not that you’ll necessarily need to fall back on your phone, because the car has its very own mobile data connection. This is used to power the system’s online address and POI search and supply live traffic information.

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VW Touareg review (2018): Sound quality

Every Touareg I drove was equipped with the optional Dynaudio audio package, which VW says will be around £2,000. It sounds great: warm and fun to listen to, with no significant flaws. When I put it through its paces, I was pleasantly surprised to find the speakers could cope with a gruelling frequency sweep that pushed them to their limits.

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Cabin quality is impeccable, with no panel rattle or buzz when you play loud, bass-heavy music. Although the bass is a little too much at default settings, you can tweak this through the system’s four-band equaliser. And no matter where I sat in the car, I found the sound to be immersive, with plenty of detail and accuracy.

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The system also has an intriguing mode called “sound focus”, which gives you the option to target the sound at a predetermined area in the car: front left, front right, rear, or front and rear. This is no glorified fader and balance control, however: instead of simply adjusting the volume of the car’s various speakers, the Touareg’s system controls the timing of the sound delivered to each speaker. It delays the audio signal by a fraction of a second for speakers closest to you, so that sound waves from the furthest speakers reach your ears at precisely the same time.

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Whether this actually works or not is difficult to tell objectively, but the system as a whole does sound great, with a solidity, power and coherence that is impressive given the £2,000 asking price.

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VW Touareg review (2018): Safety features and driver assistance

The 2018 Touareg is technologically advanced in many ways, including its huge dashboard and digital instrument displays, but I was actually more impressed with the car’s huge array of driver-assistance and safety tech.

To say these features were exhaustive would be understating the case. I’ll start with Predictive Cruise, which is essentially adaptive cruise with knobs on. This automatically regulates your speed according to the car in front of you, the speed set by the driver and a camera that detects speed limits via road signs, but it can also anticipate upcoming speed limits based on your GPS position.

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If you’re in full adaptive cruise mode, this allows the car to automatically slow down in good time. It even works while you’re driving, giving out a light buzz of feedback through the accelerator pedal if it senses you’re not slowing down enough or that you’re still accelerating. The Audi A8 has a similar system but it doesn’t anticipate speed limits in the same way, alerting you only when you’ve exceeded the limit.

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Then there’s Front Assist, which senses vehicles that may be joining or exiting your lane in front of you and slows the car down in anticipation. I found this worked well most of the time, although in some scenarios it applied the brakes too abruptly for my liking.

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At night, things heat up. Literally. With an infrared camera located at the front, the Touareg’s Innovision Cockpit can be set to night-vision mode, picking out and highlighting upcoming dangers, actively identifying oncoming vehicles, pedestrians and animals and flashing them three times to warn them of your presence.

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The smart tech doesn’t stop there, though, with the car’s Hella-produced 128-bulb LED Matrix headlights working together with the sensors in the car to automatically dip the lights as oncoming traffic approaches. This isn’t a particularly new feature, but its speed impresses, as does the Touareg’s ability to dip the beam whenever it recognises road signs, making them easier to read.

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VW Touareg review (2018): Design and comfort

Of course, along with the raft of new tech, the Touareg has also had a bit of a makeover on the outside. It’s not a hugely dramatic facelift, and there are echoes here of the new Audi Audi Q7 (understandable given both cars are built on the same platform), but the changes lend the car a slightly more aggressive, modern look that wouldn’t be out of place in a Range Rover showroom.

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In fact, from the large front grille that blends into the Matrix headlights, to the rear spoiler that makes it look more aerodynamically friendly, the new Touareg has all the right ingredients.

As for the interior design, it’s lavish. From the wooden finish in the Atmosphere trim and the subtle, elegant refinement of Elegance to the sporty look of the R-Line, the VW Touareg is a superbly comfortable place to be.

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The Touareg’s adjustable air suspension only adds to the sense of luxury, especially when set to Comfort mode, where the suspension loosens up and allows the car to roll smoothly over lumps and bumps in the road. Even in Sport mode, when the steering and suspension do tighten up somewhat, the Touareg remains a supremely relaxing car to drive.

VW Touareg review (2018): Driving experience, engine and handling

The VW Touareg is available in several different specifications. In Europe, there are two V6 diesel engines, delivering 231 PS and 286 PS respectively, and there’s a 340 PS V6 petrol coming in the autumn, too. In late 2018, we’ll see a 421 PS 4-litre V8 turbo-diesel engine added to the range, while in China VW is launching a 376 PS plug-in hybrid. There’s no word on whether that’s coming to Europe, though.

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The cars I drove were fitted with the 282bhp 3-litre V6 TDI and VW’s 4MOTION eight-speed automatic gearbox and it has plenty of grunt and a good deal of refinement. Although this is a big, comfortable car, it pulls quickly away from junctions and is very quiet at cruising speed.

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There is, however, a small amount of turbo lag. In certain situations, I found myself waiting for the car to respond to speed changes. I can’t be overly critical here, as I don’t expect it to respond like my BMW E46 M3, but it’s still worth pointing out.

Overall, the driving experience can only be described as comfortable. Handling around corners is easy, especially with the car set to comfort mode, where the Touareg glides through turns.

For a more in-depth analysis of the car’s performance, head over to our sister publication, Auto Express.

VW Touareg review (2018): Parking

When it comes to parking, you’d think the Touareg’s bulk might be a problem, but the clever engineers at Volkswagen have thought of you here, too, adding all-wheel steering to help you squeeze into tight spaces and negotiate tight corners in car parks.

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Increased agility isn’t the only talking point. The Touareg also has an automatic parking mode, designed to take the stress out of squeezing its tank-like proportions into bay- and parallel-parking spaces. It’s not fully automatic, though, requiring the driver to apply throttle and change gears, and it’s not the best system of its ilk we’ve used, either.

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In my tests, the Touareg could insert itself into a tight parking bay successfully, but it needed a lot of input and was (understandably) quite cautious, too. When I instructed it to get itself out of the parking bay, it flat-out failed.

On the plus side, manoeuvring the car manually out of the bay was easy, with a host of proximity sensors and cameras making it easy to avoid a nasty scrape.

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VW Touareg review (2018): Verdict

The 2018 VW Touareg is a technological marvel. From its screen-endowed interior to its host of intelligent safety and driver-assist aids, it’s a car that’s positively brimming with clever ideas, all well thought out and sensibly implemented.

At a starting price of £49,000, it isn’t cheap, and at this price finds itself up against the Audi Q7, the Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover Sport and Volvo XC90. Even amongst such illustrious competition, however, the VW Touareg’s high-tech toys, luxurious interior and comfortable drive help it hold its own.

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