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Taking on the Touareg

3rd Apr 2013 4:46 pm

We put the VolkswagenTouareg through a rigorous off-road test to see if VW's tall claims of the SUV's abilities hold up.


Outrageous claims, half truths and blatant lies. That’s pretty much what the majority of advertisements these days want you to believe. Slimming teas that morph your physique from a couch potato’s to a ramp model’s, magic rings that promise Bill Gates’ wealth (overnight, of course) and inflatable sofas that are strong enough to hold two trucks on either side (don’t even ask why) are some of the finer examples from afterhours television.

Touareg's off-road toys accessed from this console behind the gearlever

Even in the automotive space, you have over-the-top advertisements of motorcycles that will deliver 100kpl under ‘standard test conditions’ and rudimentary utility vehicles being driven flat-out on what could pass off as a stage on the Dakar Rally. You can’t help but take these ads with a bucketful of salt.

But every once in a while you see something believable, something that really speaks about a product’s abilities and little else. Volkswagen ran such a campaign for the new Touareg. In true VW style, the presentation was simple. All that the manufacturer claimed was that its burly, premium SUV is good enough to take off-road courtesy its decline assist, sideways tilt ability and the ability to wade through fairly deep water. Three ads, three claims. Question is, should you believe those claims? Should you risk taking your Rs 58.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi) Touareg into the wild in the belief that it’ll get you back safely? Time then to bring out our lab coats and run some experiments.

Digits on the right indicate the decline angle. 

Our open-air laboratory is the fairly challenging off-road trail at Nineteen Degrees North at Aamby Valley near Lonavala. It’s the same place where Mahindra held its Great Escape in the monsoons earlier this year, so we know it’s not going to be easygoing for the Touareg that VW has lent us. Unwilling at first, VW’s press team finally relents and gives us the SUV, hoping all will go well. Well, a lot of that depends on what the Touareg can and cannot do. Here goes.

Claim 1: Goin’ down

Our first task is to check the Touareg’s Hill Descent Assist. VW claims its SUV’s sophisticated electronics will see you through a 31-degree descent. That may not seem like much on a protractor, but when you’re driving downhill in something that weighs 2.1 tonnes, it is more than a bit intimidating. There’s confidence in knowing the Touareg has an approach angle of 24 degrees, departure angle of 25 degrees and a ramp breakover of 27 degrees. But more than anything else, this is a test of its Hill Descent Assist (see box on page 127). The system, in effect, governs engine speed and automatically modulates the brakes to maintain a steady crawl downhill. All a driver needs to do is steer.

Touareg's Hill Descent Assist modulates brakes, ABS and ESP to help it drive down steep slopes. All that's left for the driver to do is to steer to keep out of trouble.

So without wasting much time, I gingerly turn on to a sharp descent that leads us to a small lake. We’re now perched precariously on a hill side. Gulp. I let go of the brake and allow the electronics to do their thing. The seatbelts tighten, there’s a creak here and a minor slide there (we’re on loose mud) but the Touareg maintains its composure. In a matter of seconds, we reach level ground as if nothing happened. That was quite slick. We couldn’t find a steeper descent (the best we managed was 24 degrees), but I’m convinced the Touareg will match the claim easily.

Watch video here

Claim 2: Side winder

Things get trickier for our second experiment. The test is to check whether you can drive your Touareg across a slope and reassure you that it won’t tip over. In narrow gullies and the like, the ability of an SUV to do so is the difference between charging forth or prematurely ending a jungle excursion.

Always attack a slope head-on. When you cant' the Touareg's 27-degree tilt ability comes in handy. Unfortunately, driver Nikhil's tilt angle is much less. 

We’ve found just the place to verify VW’s lateral gradient claim of 27 degrees. It’s a small hillock by a partially dried lake and dramatic enough to put a smile on photographer Ashley’s face. We’re quite confident the big SUV will manage the ‘Tilt Test’, but things can get hairy if we do it wrong. The entry is an exhibition in axle articulation with each suspension compressed to a different level and one of the rear wheels in the air. Ashley can see the electronic differential lock intermittently apply the brakes on the wheel with no traction till all four wheels are on terra firma. The Touareg is properly sideways now. A quick glance at the digital inclinometer confirms it’s moving at a 27-degree tilt. And that’s steep. I know because I can feel gravity pulling my innards out. I can also tell you it’s quite a sight to see the sun out the side window. So this has been a success too. Round 2 goes to the Touareg as well.

Claim 3: Amphibian

That’s two hits in a row but to fully live up to VW’s claims, the Touareg has one more area to prove itself. It has to wade through 580mm (or nearly 2 feet) of water. Whether or not you’d cross a stream in your Touareg, this simulation is a litmus test for the big VW’s abilities in the worst of a Mumbai monsoon. Water crossings are arguably among the most challenging off-road scenarios and require a fair amount of skill. Maintaining a constant slow pace is ideal to ensure water doesn’t enter the engine through the exhausts. So, it helps that you can raise the Touareg’s suspension to reduce the chance of this happening. We’ve measured 580mm from the floor and marked it on the Touareg’s side. Ashley’s trained his camera on the marker and gives us the go-ahead. Air suspension set to Special Off-Road, the Touareg gently rolls down the bank.

The angle of entry is pretty steep, so there’s water right up to the front grille till the SUV levels out. Thereafter, it’s literally smooth sailing for the Touareg, which breaks the calm of the water with a gentle wave and cruises forward without any hesitance. It’s only on the exit do we see the dual exhausts sputtering out water. We are dry and the Touareg is running. What that means is that our little experiment is complete. 


So there you have it. The Touareg proved to be just as capable off-road as VW claims it is. It may not be the ultimate off-roader but thanks to some clever electronics, it can do more than what you’d expect from a typical premium SUV. So believe the ad. The Touareg truly is just at home in the urban jungle as it is in the real one. But this is not the last of our ‘reel-to-real-world tests’. Manufacturers, be warned. All your advertisements are going to be under the scanner from this day on.

Special thanks to Tejas Kothari of Offroad Junkie.

Watch video here

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