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First Drive: Volkswagen Touareg

Volkswagen’s tech-laden new flagship aims to continue its fleet appeal. Jonathan Musk heads to Austria to find out if it does.

SECTOR Large SUV PRICE £49,000 (est.) FUEL 40.9mpg CO2 182g/km

The hills are alive to the sound of Volkswagen’s third generation Touareg. It might surprise you to learn that 85% of the outgoing car – with no hybrids or four-cylinder diesel engines to tip the balance – went to fleets. And, while retail volumes are expected to grow this time around, almost two thirds of this latest iteration will still be business cars, with 80% of all UK sales expected to be diesel.

Resting on a new platform and with more aggressive styling – particularly at the front end – plus a smart new digital interior, the new Touareg has its sights set on becoming king of the SUV hill. Competition is strong in this sector with the Volvo XC90, BMW X5, Jaguar F-Pace and other Volkswagen Group vehicles each vying for attention.

For Europe, initially the only engine available is the impressive Euro 6d-TEMP compliant 282bhp 3.0-litre diesel, with a more fleet-friendly 228bhp unit to follow. A further 335bhp V6 petrol will arrive in autumn and a range-topping 415bhp V8 diesel will be added to the European line-up in due course. Finally, a 362bhp plug-in hybrid will initially be available in China followed by a European launch, though there’s no date yet set.

Filled with technology for safety and entertainment alike, the new Touareg is a mobile super-computer yet manages 113-litres more luggage space (up 16%) and has lost 106kg compared to its predecessor; it’s claimed that any extra would have affected stability while towing heavy loads.

The Innovision Cockpit sets a new dashboard design standard for Volkswagen, using a 12-inch driver’s display and a huge curved 15-inch central touchscreen that replaces every physical button except volume, including ventilation to infotainment controls. Initially, its array of options and customisation possibilities is bewildering but there’s a distinct logic to it making it quick to get to grips with.

Three trim options; SEL, R-Line and R-Line Tech will be offered in the UK, each catering to personal taste while fit and finish is superb as standard. However, new Touareg lacks the usual practicality typically associated with a large SUV such as this, with cubbyholes and stowage unusually small. Boot space is capacious, although there’s no seven-seat option – you’ll have to head to other Volkswagen Group products for that. Rear occupants are well catered for, though the bench isn’t the most ergonomic.

UK standard equipment and options lists are yet to be formalised, but LED headlamps are standard across the range, with optional new matrix “IQ.Light” lights that use a total of 256 LEDs to intelligently switch and keep high beam on, without blinding vehicles ahead. An additional infra-red driver’s display offers a glimpse of the road beyond headlamp range, highlighting potential obstacles with on-screen orange boxes.

Optional air suspension offers a versatile ride too, with automatic lowering by 15mm and therefore enhanced efficiency at speed, or the option to raise the ride height by up to 70mm for off-roading. Alternatively, it can be lowered up to 45mm for loading.

Towing is a speciality of the new car with optional trailer assist, enabling simpler manoeuvring aided by a turning circle almost as small as a Golf, thanks to optional four-wheel steering at speeds up to 30mph.

Safety features range from Front Cross Traffic Assist that helps detect potential hazards for example at blind junctions at up to 80 metres to the left and right, to Proactive Passenger Protection that braces passengers for an impending impact by closing windows and bolting seats upright, as well as preparing the brakes for maximum force. There’s also Traffic Jam Assist and adaptive cruise control with sat nav-based speed alteration, allowing the car to reduce speed automatically before impending bends, junctions or different speed limits ahead.

While none of the above is hugely innovative; like Heinz baked beans, Volkswagen has taken the technologies and executed them uncommonly well.

On the road, and despite its obvious bulk, air suspension ensured a level of confidence usually the reserve of more nimble machines. The 3.0-litre TDI V6 provides impressive economy and silence off-boil or is accompanied by a petrol-esque deep exhaust note on hard acceleration, with only the occasional low-rev diesel giveaway grumble. Matched with the latest slick DSG transmission, it’s difficult to fault aside from the occasional hesitancy when driving more enthusiastically even in sport mode. 0-62mph performance takes a swift 6.1 seconds and it’s a better drive than most of its immediate competition.

What we think

The new Touareg is light years ahead of its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean it gets a free pass to the top of the large SUV list. Assured quality is its real strength while much of its most impressive technology, such as the matrix LED headlamps, four-wheel steering and air suspension remain optional. It is, however, a class leader-contending vehicle slightly let down by confused intentions from Volkswagen. But, if you don’t need seven seats then this should certainly be amongst your top three. UK pricing will be announced on 7 June, with first UK customer deliveries expected by end of June.

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Jonathan Musk

Jonathan turned to motoring journalism in 2013 having founded, edited and produced Autovolt - one of the UK's leading electric car publications. He has also written and produced books on both Ferrari and Hispano-Suiza, while working as an international graphic designer for the past 15 years. As the automotive industry moves towards electrification, Jonathan brings a near-unrivalled knowledge of EVs and hybrids to Fleet World Group.