2012 Volkswagen Touareg tow test

By NRMA Motoring on 11 February 2012
2012 Volkswagen Touareg

Fuel Economy
16.4 L/ 100km
ANCAP rating

Not Tested

Sick of waiting for the new Nissan Patrol to materialise? Looking for something that's, well, not a Toyota? We may just have the answer in the Volkswagen Touareg V6 TDI.

If you're looking for a tug to lug something like the Coromal Princeton or the Nova Terra Sportz, you need something with serious firepower. If your trip is going to be a long one, you'll also need something that's dependable, well-appointed and easy to live with.

The all-new second-generation Volkswagen Touareg shares its underpinnings with a couple of other VW Group stablemates - Audi's Q7 and Porsche's Cayenne, to be exact - though it's clothed in a much more conservative suit. The V6 150TDI tested here is powered by the venerable 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel that's been a proven performer over the last decade for the brand, and makes a very reasonable power figure of 150kW. It grunts out an even more attractive 450Nm of torque, and that's the figure that matters when it comes to hauling a van over a hilly range.

Of course, the other number that we're concerned about is 3500kg. That's the towing capacity (braked, of course) of the diesel Touareg, and that should cover you for even the most extravagantly spec'ed ensuite van. The load limit on the dealer-fitted towbar is a generous 280kg, as well.

There are two different all-wheel drive configurations available in the Touareg range. The AWD system (as fitted to our tester) is a simple set-up, with a Torsen diff sending traction to the least loaded wheels when needed. You can tick the options list for a more capable 4WD system complete with locking diffs and a low-ratio gearbox; it'll set you back an extra $5000.

What's it like inside?

Inside, the Touareg is beautifully appointed, with traditional dials in front of the driver flanking a small LCD centre display that can be used to control of the Touareg's functions via steering wheels controls. It's a little fiddly at first, but it only takes a little practice before you're comparing the current trip's fuel economy with the lifelong economy of the car, or swapping easily between the myriad of music playback options.

The centre console layout is restrained and easy to understand, too, and the large touchscreen is easy on the eyes. Our test car had satellite navigation optioned in (at $4900!), and directions are automatically transmitted into the dashboard screen – a great feature, but only you can decide whether it's $4700 better than the sat-nav you can buy at Dick Smiths…

The front seats are brilliant – an important consideration if you're planning to cover the country. The leather-trimmed, deeply sculpted buckets provide plenty of support, and the seat heating function is a welcome addition - according to my stiff lower back, at least. The rear bench will easily fit three adults across, but the centre pew is notably firmer than the outside pair. The rear seat backs are also adjustable for rake, which is a nice touch. Given the Touareg's conservative two-box shape, there's plenty of cargo area to play with – 580 litres with the rear seats in position, and a massive 1642 litres with the seats folded flat. The taller and wider Toyota Prado has 740 litres up to the second row, as a comparison – but it also has the impediment of third-row seating on many models.

There are plenty of well-sized cubby holes throughout the cabin for bottles, maps, phones and the like, and there are two 12V sockets up front and another in the boot area. We particularly like the two-piece sun visor arrangement, too.

Hitching the Windsor dual-axle family van up is reasonably straightforward, though the electric socket – part of Volkswagen's $918 towbar package - is fitted quite a way under the rear bar. The biggest issue, though, is throttle control; there is a large dead spot at the top of the accelerator pedal that you need to carefully work around as you creep the Touareg's tail back towards the trailer. Once the ball drops into place, the rear end settles slightly, but not noticeably so, and you're good to go. (Oh, you can trim the headlight's height within the cabin, too.)

And go you do. The V6 turbo-diesel's prodigious torque figure means that towing the [2800kg – CHECK w BRENDAN] Windsor is, in the most clichéd of terms, an absolute breeze. The long throttle travel works in your favour as you modulate it across bumpy stretches of tarmac, and there's absolutely no change in the SUV's behaviour at the steering wheel. What the steering lacks in ultimate feel, it makes up for in its seamless progression from lock to lock, and the ride is precise, refined and compliant on the standard 18-inch wheel and tyre package; don't spoil it by optioning anything bigger.

How about the engine?

The diesel engine is backed up by an incredibly competent eight-speed gearbox complete with 'sport' mode (though no manual sequential shifting capability is offered). At 100km/h on a smooth highway, the Touareg is capable of chugging along nicely in top gear, though it will kick down quickly and without fuss when required. A series of rolling, steep hills refused to unsettle the combination, either. The standard wing mirrors offer a surprising amount of visibility, but outboard mirrors will be needed for larger vans.

Even after a spirited run through the country, the BlueMotion-monikered Touareg's fuel economy numbers never exceeded 12 litres per 100km. On long highway stints with a light foot and a fair wind, you'd easily dip into the high 10s – and that is a long way ahead of most other 3500kg-capable SUVs.

Another significant point to make; the Touareg is almost eerily quiet at all speeds, despite the slightly gruff diesel note that you can hear with the window down. It's an important element in surviving a long haul feeling somewhat human; a big tick to VW engineers for their work here.

We didn't test the Touareg's off-road credentials, but with impressively short overhangs front and rear, a brace of electronic traction minders and the optional $5000 4WD kit fitted (a much wiser value-add than the sat-nav, we reckon!), it'll easily cope with a bit of dirty work.

Only a couple of niggles to report; on occasion we struggled to extract the oversize key from its slot on engine switch-off, and it's possible to trick the auto box into a false shift which induces a little driveline shunt in stop-start traffic. The Touareg is fitted with engine stop/start technology as standard, which we found irritating in light traffic, but it's easily disabled.

For hauling bigger vans over long distances, you'd be well advised to add the VW Touareg to your short list. It's a quiet, powerful, comfortable mile-eater that cuts a real dash in a sea of boxy behemoths.

We like:

  • Effortless

  • Comfortable

  • Good looking

We don't like:

  • High-cost options

  • Laggy throttle.

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