Volkswagen cars have to work a little harder in India. In our market, which is dominated by Asian brands that focus more on delivering maximum bang-for-buck value above all else, VW has always stuck to its guns and put engineering, technology and that fastidiously German build quality first. As a result, VWs tend to be more expensive, and while that won’t put them on the bestsellers list each month, it has earned them an exclusive clientele that will accept nothing less than the premium experience they unquestionably offer. But that’s in the mass-market segments; what happens when you put a VW amongst full-on luxury cars? Sure, the Passat and Tiguan are already knocking on the pricey doors of Audi, BMW and Mercedes, but one Volkswagen has always put out an open challenge to the big boys.
What is it?
The Touareg is now in its third generation (both previous versions were sold in India) and as with earlier versions, shares its underpinnings with the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7. Yup, this is a full-size luxury SUV alright (it’s 4.9m long, 2m wide and 1.7m tall), and as such it comes with all the trappings of such a vehicle – air suspension with variable ride height, four-wheel drive, a well-trimmed interior and the best tech the brand can offer. This one hasn’t, however, sprouted a third row of seats – it’s still very much a five-seater.
There is, however, one huge difference. Where the Touareg was previously the less-conspicuous alternative to the crop of full-size luxury SUVs (the Q7 in particular), in its third outing, 'inconspicuous' is not a word you could ever use to describe it. It’s got an absolutely enormous chrome grille that melds outwards into a set of large headlamps bedazzled with LEDs, and there’s even more chrome in the chin and the air intakes. Move to the sides and – you guessed it – more chrome, not only in the window surround, but also at the base of the doors and on the fender. Chrome at the rear is at least restricted to a strip on the bumper, and in fact, looks rather neat with its new, slim LED tail-lamps. One thing’s for sure, you won’t lose the new Touareg in a parking lot.
What’s it like inside?
The exterior is not the only place where VW has pushed its boundaries of design extravagance. Smack in the middle of it all (but angled sharply toward the driver) is the largest touchscreen this side of a Tesla – a whopping 15 inches in size. It features just about everything you’d find in a Q7, including Google Maps-integrated satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a display for surround cameras, the works; it even gets gesture controls. So big is the screen, it has forced the central AC vents into a small recess underneath, but fret not, because the passenger side of the dashboard, much like on the Passat, A4 and Q7, is one continuous AC vent. Apart from the big screen, though, it’s pretty standard VW restraint, but you’ll still find some details that elevate it above the likes of the Passat – rich wood strips, textured metal and clever, hidden LED ambient lighting.
Apart from the central flatscreen TV, you also get digital dials and a heads-up display feeding you information. And on the topic of equipment, it’s got just about everything a luxury SUV buyer could want, including heated, cooled and massaging front seats and wireless phone charging. Then there’s the host of driver assistance systems like adaptive cruise control, night vision, active lane-keeping assist, cross-traffic assist and more.
What’s it like to drive?
The Touareg is currently offered with 3.0-litre V6 turbo-petrol and turbo-diesel engines (V8s and hybrids will likely follow), and we’re driving the V6 diesel. Our drive through the narrow, congested, cobbled streets of Amsterdam, followed by a quick blast down the motorway, was brief, but we did get a decent feel for it. In a nutshell, it feels like an Audi Q7, which was to be expected. The engine is refined enough, but perhaps some newer rivals are quieter at higher revs. The 8-speed ZF auto is, as ever, super-smooth and intuitive and can take you from a low-speed crawl to a high-speed gallop pretty seamlessly.
Air suspension is present as expected, but top-spec Touaregs also get rear-wheel steering and active anti-roll bars based on a 48v electrical system – yup, just like the Porsche Cayenne and Lamborghini Urus. While we didn’t get a chance to test this – save for a few quick lane-change manoeuvres on the motorway – what can be confirmed is a steering that’s light enough to redirect this big car easily. It also helped get out of the way of Amsterdam’s countless cyclists, and on 20-inch wheels (these seem pretty small nowadays) the air suspension simply ate up the cobbles on the road.
Should I buy one?
You can’t buy one in India just yet, and as of now, VW hasn’t confirmed that you will be able to in the future either. All we’ve been told is that they ‘really want to’ launch it here. But know that if it does make it here, it will be in small numbers, and imported as a CBU, as were its predecessors. That means it will be expensive – though hopefully not as expensive as the Audi Q7, and ideally below the Rs 75 lakh mark. If that’s the case, should you buy one, though? If bling is your thing, you might actually like the newfound boldness of the Touareg; it certainly has a lot of presence. And you’ll be happy to know that it’s also upped its luxury game, with just about everything you could ask for on the inside (save, perhaps, for a third row of seats). You’ll certainly get a degree of exclusivity, what with the majority of Indians likely to choose a ‘luxury’ badge instead. So, as with previous generations, if you prefer substance over snob, the Touareg should have you covered. Just don’t expect to blend in like you would’ve before.