I remember watching Jeremy Clarkson (now suspended from Top Gear) testing a VW Touareg when I was still a young bloke with an appetite for all things with four wheels. Jezza abused the Volkswagen off the beaten path in 2003 and, to the surprise of many, the 4Motion permanent AWD system didn’t miss a beat.
With the second generation (Typ 7P5), the Volkswagen Touareg got more comfortable and capable than ever. It was the natural outcome for such a popular nameplate. We tested the pre-facelift second-gen in 2010 and we liked its perfectly balanced character in and out of the city. But time has come for us to find out if the 2015 Volkswagen Touareg facelift is able to augment its predecessor’s formula.
Let me be blunt: yes, and then some! In the eyes of many, a facelift is regarded “Oh, it’s got new headlights. Yawn.” This unenthusiastic appreciation is genuinely applicable for German automakers, yet the 2015 Volkswagen Touareg strikes a discordant note to the less-then-plain VW facelift pattern because it’s easily tangible.
Speaking of the headlights, the Bi-Xenon Plus headlights resemble the units that adorn the B7 Passat, more so when you analyze the lines of the LED daytime running lights. While the pre-facelift Touareg wasn’t that much of a looker, the nip & tuck job embellished the front fascia with four slim horizontal chrome slats as opposed to two chunkier ones. The side profile and rear end suffered minimal changes, but the front fascia still has more eye candy to offer us.
Other than the contact lenses and nose job, the 2015 Volkswagen Touareg appears to be a little wider than its forerunner. This little visual trick was achieved by the horizontally divided front bumper, most notably due to the bottom section of the bumper. Boasting a B8 Passat-inspired lower air intake flanked by trapezoid lateral air vents, the bottom section now forms an ample ‘A’ instead to the 2010 Touareg’s ‘V’.
To wrap the aesthetics package up nicely, we get this feeling that designers were told to make Volkswagen’s flagship look more mature.
“Once inside, you’ll start rubbing your eyes. “Is this a case of design by déjà vu?” You’re spot on with that assumption.”
On our test car, a 2015 Volkswagen Touareg Supreme V6 TDI BlueMotion Technology, the PDC button was swapped for a 360 degree camera system, while the sides of the cluster added heated steering wheel and windscreen buttons.
The most easily identifiable change inside is to be found above the RNS 850 satellite navigation system’s touchscreen. In the past there were three elements in that of buttons: Park Distance Control (PDC), the hazard warning lights switch and the Passenger Airbag Off indicator.
Other than the previously mentioned and a few new leather seats-and-trim combos, we’re dealing with that song by The Who that ends with “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”
It’s easy to be tempted to call Volkswagen’s design team lazy, but if the ergonomics are top-notch and the looks are still modern, why redesign? Besides, I am well aware that this is Volkswagen’s least expensive mid-size crossover SUV, the reason why nitpicking is plain futile this time around.
The time is right to talk about the pricing of the range-topping product of the German carmaker, which funnily enough has a birth certificate that reads Bratislava, Slovakia. In Deutschland, the Touareg starts from a seemingly too much for comfort €53,050 for the V6 TDI BlueMotion. In the United Kingdom, a more modestly-equipped entry-level SE model nabs £40,215, while the US is charged $44,705 for the 3.6 V6 gasoline powerplant with 280 horsepower at its disposal.
Our test vehicle is a mid-range grade known as the Supreme. Starting price? €60,220 plus €3,000 worth of optional extras onboard. This model is available in a handful of markets on the Old Continent, with the most comparable US-spec equivalent coming in the guise of the $52,245 2015 Volkswagen Touareg TDI Clean Diesel Sport w/Technology, producing 240 HP.
The V6 and V8-laden powertrain spectrum ranges from 150 kW (204 PS) to 250 kW (340 PS) for the vee-eight oil burner, all Touaregs benefitting from 4Motion all-wheel drive system and an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission with torque converter and a transfer case.
The main difference between the pre-facelift and its newer counterpart is the transition from Euro 5 to Euro 6-compliant powerplants, a change that doesn’t favor the Touareg as we’ll explain later.
Our 2015 Volkswagen Touareg Supreme is animated by the most powerful V6 TDI engine available, a turbo-fed unit with 193 kW (262 PS or 258 ponies in American money) and 580 Nm (428 lb-ft) of torque. During our test drive, we’ve averaged 9.5 l/100 km (24.7 mpg), which is not at all bad for a 2,185-kilo (4817 lbs) fat boy and a give-no-quarter driving style coupled to a little offroading action on top just to get some kicks.
Incidentally, this flavor of the vee-six TDI is the only one that can be equipped with Terrain Tech, an off-road package that enhances the 4Motion all-wheel drive system with low range (2.69:1 gearing) and 100% locking center and rear diffs for tackling 45 degree gradients.
Unfortunately, our test vehicle didn’t benefit from the Terrain Tech package, but damn, the standard 4Motion is an impressive bit of kit with its self-locking Torsen transfer case and 31 degree uphill capability.
“Do the majority of Touareg customers need more than the ability to cross a rock-filled creek, as we did effortlessly?”
Frankly not, a factual answer that’s also consumer-oriented. At the end of the day, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Land Rover Discovery are better rock crawlers. On the other hand, customers that value on-road driving dynamics more than everything are advised to go for the Touareg’s Porsche-labeled cousin or the BMW X5.
While on the subject of driving dynamics, I want to tell you that the VW Touareg’s standard suspension is a good all-rounder, while the optional air suspension is a double-edged sword. The main advantages are that the normal 201 mm (7.91-inch) ground clearance goes up to 300 mm (11.81-inch) by turning an aluminum-finished rotary knob and the rear axle’s ride height can be lowered as easy as ABC with the flick of a switch located on the right-hand side of the cavernous boot.
Those who see the glass as half-empty will identify two major drawbacks with the Skyhook self-leveling shock absorbers. Be it “Normal”, “Comfort” or “Sport”, neither dampening mode favors ride quality. I’m not suggesting that VW didn’t fine tune the electronic dampers just so, but there’s still enough room for improvement.
As an addition to the aforementioned niggle, body roll during cornering can’t be improved by such a system regardless of anything. Just do yourself a favor and think twice if the Skyhook dampers are a must. The laws of physics favor mass over engineering, you know.
On the handling front, the Porsche Cayenne and the Range Rover Sport shrug off their curb weight and size surprisingly well, but the 2015 Volkswagen Touareg is best driven leisurely in any scenario. Think of the elephantine VW as a slightly overweight ballerina trying to pull off an attitude derrière position while wearing rubber boots. Gracefulness is not on this car’s agenda.
Even in the urban jungle, the Volkswagen Touareg needs to be driven in a fashionably laid-back way to thoroughly enjoy it. Rushed throttle blips or steering inputs spoil its calm, friendly giant nature.
What about the other components of the model’s PL52 platform? If the eight-speed automatic transmission developed by ZF was a fictional character, it would be Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s butler. As attentive and gallant as the best butler out there, the Touareg’s cog-swapper knows when to be silky smooth and when to serve its master with lower gear ratios for added get-up-and-go.
As far as the turbo diesel mill is concerned, grunt is plentiful, but the aural pleasure isn’t up to the expectations many have from a 3.0 V6. We’re told by the manufacturer that this SUV can shift from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 7.3 seconds, but the experience of accelerating from the driver’s point of view doesn’t look like it.
Our hunch is that the enhanced selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system is to blame here for the not-so-thrilling acceleration. By comparison, the first-gen Touareg with the 6-cylinder oil burner felt and sounded richer and more baritonal than the Euro 6-compliant V6 TDI of the second-gen Touareg in facelift format.
“Compared to seven-seater segment rivals such as the Audi Q7-platform sharing brother and BMW X5, the Touareg is a strict five-seater.”
Another onboard nuisance comes is the lack of dedicated USB slots. If you want to play your MP3s through a flash drive, you’ll need to get an MDI adapter cable. On a more positive note, it's really cool how the intuitive 8-inch touchscreen display or the digital screen flanked by the speedo and rev counter can show you the car’s steering angle and elevation above sea level.
These details complement the ‘off-road’ and ‘special off-road’ ride height modes perfectly. By contrast, the adequately contoured front seats could prove to be the proverbial snug fit for the more... ahem... corpulent among us due to their bolstering. 2015 Volkswagen Touareg facelift buyers from areas where the sun shines year-round will really appreciate the dual sun visors.
One last detail that needs to be taken into consideration before deciding which mid-size crossover SUV with luxury credentials is fit for you comes in the form of the cabin’s plastics. Running your fingers across any plastic-laden area will give you the impression of high-quality and hard-wearing materials with Germanic fit & finish for good measure. But the graininess of those plastics isn’t exactly fitting for a flagship.
As the more knowledgeable car enthusiasts may already be aware, the 2015 Volkswagen Touareg (regardless of engine or trim level) lacks that brand cachet of its more luxurious segment rivals. The same deficiency affected the previous VW-branded flagship, though both the Phaeton and Touareg are exceptional value if you can fairly assess how much you’re getting.
Take a moment and think about this: is any other manufacturer out there offering a similarly sized and premium-feeling four-by-four at a fair price and without egregious drawbacks? In the quasi-luxury mid-size segment, it’s hard to find a finer blend between capability and practicality, this specific aspect giving the Touareg facelift a small edge over its direct segment competitors.
For that reason, this “people’s car” is worthy of its one-size-fits-all Volkswagen badge.