4x4 flagship the V10
IF YOU'RE LOOKING FOR a premium SUV today then you'll find yourself spoilt for choice, especially if you're buying at the top end of the market.
Five models will almost auto-matically appear on your shopping list. In alphabetical order these will be the BMW X5, Mercedes M-Class, Porsche Cayenne, Range Rover and the Volkswagen Touareg.
Each offers a formidable flagship model, none of which will cost you
a penny less than £50,000 the most expensive will set you back almost half as much again. Each will do all that you could reasonably ask of it, both on- and off road. All have real presence. And, in addition to them all being 'big' on price, all are also big on size, specification
And when it comes to diesel power, Volkswagen's V10 Touareg makes a very persuasive argument in its favour coming, as it does, with enough power for four ordinary cars. Its technologically-advanced and award-winning powerplant which produces an exceptional 553lb ft of torque at 2,000rpm makes it the world's most powerful production passenger diesel engine.
It's also designed to deliver class-leading performance both on and off the road. Along with multilink double wishbone suspension front and rear, state-of-the-art running gear includes air suspension with auto-matic self-levelling and height adjustment as well as continuous speed-related damping, while permanent four-wheel drive, high and low gear ratios, electronic traction control linked to an auto-locking centre differential and a hill start and a hill descent assist give it formidable all-terrain capability.
From the foregoing you could be forgiven, if you hadn't already seen
a Touareg, of picturing something ultra-utilitarian. Something like a Hummer, perhaps. You couldn't be more wrong. Because there's end-less luxury to be found inside the Touareg's very accommodating and good-looking outer shell.
Up close, you'll agree that Volkswagen has done an excellent job of disguising the Touareg's strapping size. Photographs just don't convey its imposing dimensions from nose to tail it measures 15ft 4in long and it stands 5ft 7in tall. Fortunately a lot of its 6ft 3in width is utilised in passenger comfort. It's not an easy task to make something this big look stylish, but Volkswagen have clearly given it their all.
The result is an athletic kerbside presence that's refreshingly un-fussy. And while the Touareg is one of the largest SUVs in its market segment it is also one of the lowest, which endows it with an especially strong visual sense of purpose. The muscular flares that swell all four wheel arches over lovely 5-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels accentuate its very short front and rear overhangs crucial for demanding off-road work to give the Touareg a polished no-nonsense, go-anywhere look.
The V10 comes with keyless access (once you've experienced it you won't want to go back to a 'normal' key) and keyless start. Approach your Touareg with the key in your pocket and the door unlocks auto-matically the second you touch the door handle. To lock on exit you just close the door and touch the handle. Climb into the spacious cabin pleasingly, the Touareg is very easy to step in and out of and you'll be more than pleasantly surprised by the quality evident in every nook and cranny.
Settle into the comfortably firm, contoured driving seat and enjoy
the unsurpassed view of the road from behind the wheel. Naturally there's a powered easy-entry/exit feature and the wheel adjusts for height and reach at the touch of a switch. The memory function on the driver's seat not only recalls personal settings for the steering column, door mirrors and both front seats, but also for the electrically-adjustable seat belt height. The seats provide good side and under-thigh support and their 'firmness', incidentally, is of the sort that provides real comfort even on the longest journeys.
Everywhere you look inside is well-finished and classy, with attractive dark Myrtle wood and aluminium trim complemented by plenty of tasteful chrome accents. Storage space is generous, with lots of well-made and well-sited cubbies including a large air-conditioned glovebox. Ergonomically, the cabin's first-rate, with a refreshingly uncluttered look despite the amount of equipment. There's a full complement of chrome-ringed dials with clear white-on-black graphics and anti-reflection glass. Positioned between the larger speedometer and rev-counter sits a multifunction 5-inch colour screen which along with useful trip data and outside temperature also displays navigation symbols, which gear you're in, the ride-height setting, etc. First-time Touareg drivers will search in vain for a conventional handbrake like a number of other prestige marques, VW have fitted an easy-to-use, space-saving, foot-operated parking brake instead.
The centre console houses the 7-inch colour screen for the entertain-ment (audio/TV), on-board computer, critical off-road hardware information and the SatNav. Operating it is simplicity itself. The multi-function steering wheel switches also control the stereo, on-board computer and cruise control. A separate control panel for the running gear is conveniently sited behind the sturdy T-shaped selector lever, with two rotary knobs to operate the gear ratios (high/low range) and differential locks and the suspension ride height settings. In between are four single-function switches for the ESP, damping control (Comfort, Auto, Sport) and other off-road equipment.
There are acres of room for the driver and four grown-up friends and all will be equally comfortable and cosseted. 2Zone electronic climate control is standard, but go for the optional 4Zone and each quarter of the cabin can be adjusted within 4 degrees of the others. The Climatronic system also automatically switches to re-circulation when necessary for example, when you drive through a tunnel. All the windows are tinted and have a one-shot auto up/down feature.
Rear headroom is notably generous and the back seats are individually contoured, with three headrests and a trio of three-point seat belts and a large centre armrest. In the Touareg there's no problem for
six-footers sitting behind a six-footer. Also guaranteed to keep your passengers entertained is the quality of the music from the eight-channel, 400 watt, 11-speaker audio system. The only downside to
the boot space is that it's so nicely trimmed that it's almost criminal
to load it up!There's a lot of space if you do: a minimum of 500 litres. Drop down the 60/40 split rear seats and that trebles, to 1,525 litres. Access is enhanced by the large, high-opening and self-locking tailgate's separately-opening window.
There's isn't enough room to list everything that comes as standard
on this range-topping Touareg. Suffice to say, if you can name it then it's most likely already fitted. Leather upholstery is standard, as you'd expect, as too are multi-adjustable, 12-way powered and heated front seats with 4-way electrically-adjustable lumbar support.
It's not just the cabin to which the term 'well-specced' applies.
Active safety is very well addressed by a comprehensive package that includes ABS with Electronic Brake-pressure Distribution, Hydraulic Brake Assist that reduces braking distances by 25 per cent even for unskilled drivers, an Electronic Stability Programme, ASR traction control and an Electronic Differential Lock. And, of course, the permanent four-wheel drive. Passive protection comes from twin front and side airbags as well as full-length curtain airbags.
Built-in crash sensors can judge the severity of an impact and react accordingly triggering either a low-level activation of the driver
and front passenger airbags or a full-intensity response. Other safety aids include the excellent Xenon headlights, auto lights, auto wipers, accurate front and rear parking sensors with automatic audio and visual warnings of objects and their distances from the car, and the 'coming/leaving home' lighting function that at night illuminates the surrounding area with the front and rear lights as well as the bright door mirror lights for a driver-specified time.
Two other points well worth mentioning are first, the Touareg has a full five-star Euro NCAP safety rating and second, the Touareg possesses a number of features designed to maximise protection for pedestrians and cyclists which is why Volkswagen does not offer a 'bull bar'. Among these is the construction of the bonnet in aluminium to provide optimum deformation characteristics, and the use of plastic materials for the wings.
Push the chromed engine start button that always feels so good. You'll discover that beneath the Touareg's aluminium bonnet beats the
heart of a giant. Displacing 4,921cc, its ten cylinders are arranged in two banks of five-cylinders, each with its own individual high-pressure pump-injection unit. Twin turbochargers stoke up the power to an impressive 308bhp, but it's not the power but the V10's staggering torque that blows just about every other diesel and a lot of large capacity petrol models into the weeds.
Nowadays, switched on drivers are well aware of the driveability benefits of oil-burning powerplants that deliver high torque at low revs. And the Touareg's V10 delivers precisely that. At just 2,000rpm there's a gargantuan 553lb ft of torque on tap. When not used for effortless, surging acceleration, all that torque makes the Touareg a superb
tow car. Thanks to a towing capacity of 3 tonnes, it makes light work of pulling a large speedboat or a large caravan. And, more useful still,
it can just as easily extract them if they get stuck. The Touareg's capability as a towcar has been rewarded by winning the Caravan Club Towcar of the Year Awards for 2004 and 2005 in the full-size 4x4 category.
Not only is it brutally powerful but it's refined, too. Even at a cold idle there's not much to give away the kind of fuel that is feeding the engine. Asked to guess, most people were convinced that the even, throaty beat from its ten cylinders was generated by a large-capacity, multi-cylinder petrol engine.
The V10 Touareg weighs in at 2,524kg and, even by large luxury 4x4 standards, that's no Cinderella. However, floor the accelerator and
two things happed almost simultaneously. First, power is sent equally to all four wheels via Volkswagen's 4XMOTION all-wheel drive system and second, the scenery blurs and you're gone in a flash. Very quick.
If you haven't seen the Willy Wonka film, ask your kids about the
glass lift. Or better still, rent the DVD. Even fully-loaded, the 308bhp Touareg comes off the block like a sportscar, passing 60mph in 7.8 seconds and it doesn't stop until the speedometer needle is steady on 140mph. Fortunately, Volkswagen have fitted brakes powerful enough to cope easily with the V10's prodigious power. In fact, they're so efficient that you don't even think about them in day-to-day driving.
If you're thinking that this all adds up to a horrifying, single-figure fuel consumption, you're mistaken. Our test average worked out to a
very creditable 23mpg overall matching VW's official figure. Urban consumption is 16.5, and extra-urban 28.8mpg. And with a 22 gallon tank, the Touareg is good for a sensible touring range.
The Touareg is an awesome cruiser thanks to exceptionally long gearing of just under 40mph per 1,000rpm in sixth gear (70mph at 1,750rpm). Even at serious speeds, there's barely any road noise from the 275/45 profile 19-inch tyres. Just a whisper of wind rush from the large door mirrors to suggest your real speed. Just enough, that is,
so you don't lose touch with the real world.
Air suspension with adjustable ride height and damping is standard on the V10 TDi. In addition to ride benefits, the air suspension allows the ground clearance to be raised for serious off-road work (up to 11.8 inches) or lowered for easy loading, when it can sink to 6.5 inches. There's a default intermediate ride height for normal driving which automatically adjusts downwards at higher on-road speeds first at 78mph; then lower still at 112mph for improved aerodynamic stability. Wherever you're driving, you can be sure that you'll enjoy the best comfort possible for the prevailing conditions.
On poor urban roads the Touareg should ride best when set to its Comfort setting. However, we found that we were driving everywhere on the hardest Sport setting and very pleasant it was, too. On the motorway or fast A-roads the Touareg is reassuringly stable, its air-sprung ride proving compliant and refined and leaving you free to luxuriate in the hushed, leather-trimmed cabin that makes it so easy
to forget you're driving in a 4x4. Amazingly, from behind the wheel the Touareg doesn't feel so big at all the only clue to its imposing girth is the alacrity with which other drivers move over for you.
Get behind the wheel of some large SUVs and the elevated view over the bonnet takes on an intimidating edge the faster you travel. Not so in the Touareg. Thanks to the three-mode air suspension that main-tains a level and unruffled stance on-road, the Touareg can really hustle through challenging bends with far more panache than judged by the Laws of Physics should be possible. On the road, the accurate and nicely-weighted rack-and-pinion steering provides decent feed-back, which combined with the supple chassis lets you press on with-out frightening your passengers. Or the driver!
In fact, show V10 TDi some fast country roads and in return you'll
get a good time. Of course, an obvious benefit of the Touareg's 4XMotion system is that you never have to worry about shifting into four-wheel drive because it's on all the time. Talking of grip, the Touareg's is likewise considerable and allied to crisp steering it makes snaking though twisty lanes a real eye-opener. You'll find yourself driving harder and faster than you'd credit for such a big, heavy machine. Oh, and I can promise you something else, too: you'll be at peace with the world.
Making the Touareg that much more pleasant to drive, and flattering its sporting side, is the smooth-shifting six-speed Tiptronic auto 'box complete with Ferrari F1-style shift-paddles on the steering column.
In automatic mode there's a 'Dynamic Shift Programme' which modifies the shift points to match your individual driving style, assessing criteria such as throttle and brake movement, whether a trailer is attached (and its weight if one is), whether you're on an uphill or downhill gradient and the gear shift frequency. Armed with this information, the DSP calculates the most appropriate gear shift pattern from Sport to Auto.
Alternatively, you can choose to shift manually by moving the selector sideways to the '+/-' gate and using either the Tiptronic selector lever or your fingertips via the paddle-shifts behind the steering wheel.
You can also 'cut-in' on the full auto or Sport mode with a manual downchange if you think there's a need to, and the system will revert to DSP after approximately 15 seconds. Naturally, safety software prevents you downchanging dangerously or over-revving the engine.
The Touareg's competence both on-and off-road makes its ability easy to summarise in one short sentence: It will go almost anywhere you choose to take it. Under normal road conditions the 4XMotion trans-mission delivers torque to all four wheels in an even-handed 50:50 split to the front and rear axles. However, when 'the going gets tough' the Touareg is perfectly-equipped to do the 'the tough get going' bit.
In extreme off-road conditions it can automatically direct all of the torque to a single wheel that still has traction and, for absolute predictabilty you can manually lock either the centre or rear diffs. There's also hill-descent assist (HDA) to keep everything safely in hand when moving downhill and hill-start assist (HSA) to get you started when all around you are losing their grip. Before you even put a
wheel in the mud, you can raise the suspension for maximum ground clearance and simply turn the dial on the centre console to engage 'low range' transmission for maximum control. And courtesy of watertight doors and sealed lights, the Touareg will happily wade through 23 inches of water ensuring shallow rivers are just something else that won't stop the Touareg in its tracks.
Volkswagen has really pulled the rabbit out of the VW hat with the Touareg their first-ever SUV. It comes very close to that elusive 'please all of the people all of the time' Holy Grail, thanks to the seam-less manner in which it blends palpable luxury and car-like steering, ride and handling characteristics with all-wheel drive and full-blown off-
road prowess. In fact, the best compliment you can pay the Touareg
is to appreciate just how easy Volkswagen has made it for the driver to control the very complex array of high-tech hardware that underpins the V10's laudable on- and off-road competence. Many of those fortunate enough to have a £50k budget will, having tried the competition, opt to spend their money at their local VW dealer. What
Volkswagen Touareg V10 TDI Tiptronic | £53,640
Maximum speed: 140mph | 0-62mph: 7.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 23mpg | Power: 308bhp | Torque: 553lb ft
Visit Volkswagen's website