2011 Volkswagen Touareg | first drive

Posted on Oct 5, 2010 by

The latest VW family face gives the Touareg a slightly meaner look, but it's still a classy, understated design

What? The launch event for the latest generation of ’s mid-size SUV, which is completely revised from the previous model and is based on the Porsche Cayenne.

Where? About two hours through non-taxing sand tracks in the desert in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, followed by around 40km on the motorway back to Dubai.

Any good? Yes, it is. During our time with the car it coped with soft sand and motorway cruising very well, and as well as looking good, the latest model is a step up in quality from the previous Touareg.

Click here for more information on the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg in our buyer’s guide.

Only the V6 model is available to start with, boasting 276bhp

Background

Volkswagen first introduced the Touareg in 2002 and has seen considerable success with it. It arrived in the Middle East in 2003. The new, second-generation model was unveiled earlier in 2010 and is based on the platform also used by Porsche’s latest model of Cayenne.

The 2011 Touareg is longer than the first generation model and has more space inside, with more than 4cm of extra legroom in the back. Despite the increase in size, however, Volkswagen has managed to trim an impressive 208kg from the weight of the car – the equivalent of two sizable passengers – which means a saving in fuel use of 2.5 litres per 100km, with no loss of power. The Touareg is, VW says, the first vehicle in its class to get an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Looks wise, the Touareg gets the latest Volkswagen family face that those familiar with the latest Golf or Scirocco will recognise. Inside, there are plenty of technological features and a redesigned interior.

The interior is fairly standard Volkswagen fare - stylish, understated and well made

First impressions

Would we be out of line to say that the Touareg is probably the best looking vehicle in its class? It’s a subjective view of course, but we think the new look works really well. The latest VW face gives it a sleek and mean look without being overly aggressive, and all the proportions look good. There’s no fuss to the design, it radiates nothing more than understated elegance. We particularly like the shaped exhausts and the LED running lights at the front.

The interior is a variation on the standard Volkswagen look – there will be no surprises to anyone that’s been in other vehicles in VW’s range, but there’s no criticism there. The materials feel premium and well screwed together and there are some nice design touches – we particularly liked the metal effect trim parts on the doors and dash. The sat-nav screen is nice and large in the middle of the centre console, and Volkswagen’s touch-screen interface is one of the best around.

A decent amount of boot space and the rear seats fold down almost (but not quite) flat

There’s plenty of room in the back for three, with individual air conditioning zones for left and right and controls on the back of the front centre armrests.

The driving position is easily adjustable with the power seat options, although we positioned the seat higher than we normally would due to the off-road nature of the event.

There’s a decent amount of storage space in the front with a cubbyhole under the centre armrests that also contains an auxiliary input socket for MP3 players.

At the back, the boot will hold 580 litre with a clever load cover that can slide back horizontally towards the front of the car, or up and back towards the roof, for different sized loads. The spare wheel is stored under a false floor. The rear seats fold almost flat for extra load space and the load cover can be removed completely.

The Touareg will tackle mild off-roading with panache

On the move

It’s difficult to get an accurate driving impression from some sandy tracks and a very short motorway blast, but from that brief exposure, we’re impressed.

Although the Touareg isn’t a full-on dune-basher in the way of a Toyota Land Cruiser or Nissan Patrol, with its tyres partially deflated it had no problems tackling some well-trodden soft sand and a couple of larger dunes.

Features like Hill Descent Assist allow steady progress down steep ‘n sandy inclines and just to make sure you don’t get easily stuck, the whole car can be flicked to Off Road mode by a click of a switch. This adjusts the ABS, electronic differential and Anti-Slip Regulation settings to ensure maximum traction from the standard all-wheel drive. Faced with a large, slippery hill, just keep a steady throttle, point the Touraeg towards the summit and enjoy as the electronics do the hard work.

The sand we tackled (as pictured) presented the Touareg with no problems

The 3.6-litre V6 engine is strong and smooth, pushing out 276bhp. A V8 engine is due to arrive in the Middle East in the first quarter of 2011. We didn’t have much of a chance to seriously work the new eight-speed automatic gearbox, but it felt unobtrusive and smooth to us, although we can’t help wonder if eight forward gears is just too many. We’ll reserve judgement until we try one for longer.

Out on the highway, our time in the car was limited to little more than accelerating to 120kph and hitting cruise control, but that experience confirmed the strength and refinement of the engine. We also found the ride to be comfortable (on a fairly smooth stretch of road, admittedly), and attacking a couple of roundabouts revealed a surprisingly capable chassis that did a great job of hiding the Touareg’s 2,035kg bulk.

The Touareg is based on the also-capable Porsche Cayenne

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised, having been impressed by the performance of the Cayenne. The Touareg’s dynamics are similarly commendable and it strikes a nice balance between involving the driver with the road and insulating them from the outside.

Verdict

We’ll reserve our final judgement until after we’ve given it more of a workout, but our first impressions of the new Touareg are excellent.

Well made, comfortable and with understated good looks, Volkswagen has created a car with strong handling and good performance off road and on. We’re looking forward to spending more time with it.

2011

Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Max power (bhp/rpm): 276/6,200
Max torque (Nm/rpm): 360/3,000-4,000
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Driven wheels: Four-wheel drive
Kerb weight: 2,035kg
Price (AED): 170,000 – 240,000

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