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First drive: VW’s Tour de 4x4s

Touareg diet: The Mk2 Touareg is up to 208kg lighter then the previous model, despite increased length and width.

We get a taste of next year’s Touareg through Germany, Holland, Belgium and France

30 Sep 2010


VOLKSWAGEN’S redesigned 2011 Touareg will carry more safety, refinement, technology and features, but significantly less weight for improved efficiency and better driveability, compared with its half-million selling predecessor.

A launch date has yet to be officially announced for Australia, but expect a mid-year appearance for the mid-sized four-door SUV luxury/crossover.

Along with a drop in weight of up to 208kg, out go the outgoing Touareg’s V8 and V10 TDI engines for a V6-only selection of petrol and diesel powerplants for Down Under that promise efficiency gains of nearly 20 per cent on some models.

Underlining the above is a switch from six to eight speeds for the all-new ZF torque converter automatic transmission – a variation of the gearbox found in models such as the latest BMW 5 Series and Audi A8.

3 center imageIn Europe, Volkswagen offers the new Touareg with a ‘BlueMotion Technologies’ package that includes the company’s idle-stop engine device that saves fuel and cuts emissions when the vehicle is standing idle.

Whether this, and further eco measures such as regenerative braking, low-resistance tyres and special aerodynamics aids will make it to locally-bound versions of the Slovakian-built SUV remains to be seen. Australian market details are yet to be fully determined.

What we do know, though, is that all Touaregs will include Volkswagen’s ‘4Motion’ system featuring a Torsen limited-slip differential.

A 31-degree climbing angle is possible, thanks to a push-button ‘off-road driving programme’ that alters the brakes and stability/traction control devices for off-road driving, while priming the hill-descent control and transmission gearshift points according to the environment.

Plus, a dedicated ‘off road’ package will likely make it on the options list, to give the Touareg the sort of impressive off-road abilities that its heavier predecessor was renowned for.

Called ‘Terrain Tech Packet’, its Torsen centre coupling incorporates a transfer case with reduction ratios and centre and rear differentials with 100 per cent locking action, to scale inclines of up to 45 degrees.

This ‘4XMotion’ drivetrain offers a console-sited rotary switch that selects between five drive modes: on-road, off-road, low-range, centre diff lock and rear diff lock.

“Equipped like this, the Touareg can conquer any terrain on Earth,” Volkswagen says.

As with its predecessor, the vehicle employs Volkswagen’s PL71 underpinnings (also used in varying degrees beneath the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7). It is essentially the same as the first-gen Touareg released in 2002.

Volkswagen felt that most buyers would never need total 4x4 prowess, preferring instead to drive an SUV with real-world savings in fuel consumption and emissions. So, basically, taking out the extraneous off-road hardware has helped make for a leaner, lither and lighter successor.

Most buyers are expected to choose the 3.0-litre V6 TDI, delivering 176kW of power between 4000 and 4400rpm, 550Nm of torque between 2000 and 2250rpm, and a record-low 7.4 litres per 100km combined average fuel consumption. Carbon dioxide emissions plummet 49 grams per kilometre to 195g/km compared to the previous V6 TDI model.

On the petrol Touareg front, the 3.6-litre V6 FSI produces 206kW at 6200rpm, 360Nm at 3200rpm, 9.9L/100km (2.5L/100km less than before), and 236g/km (a 60g/km cut).

The new eighth gear ratio reduces engine speed by 34 per cent, accounting for some of the above efficiency gains.

The not-for-Oz (for now) 4.2-litre V8 TDI pumps out 250kW at 4000rpm and 800Nm from 1750 to 2750rpm.

The much-touted Touareg Hybrid with a 3.0-litre petrol V6 TSI and ‘E-Motor’ to produce a combined 279kW, 580Nm, and a purely electric operating mode of up to 50km/h, is also not on the agenda for Australia for now, but watch this space, a Volkswagen AG insider says. In European spec, it averages 8.2L/100km.

Like all Mk2 Touaregs, the Hybrid is designed for trailer payloads of up to 3.5 tonnes.

Torsional body rigidity rises by five per cent, while aerodynamic improvements have flowed in due to the smaller frontal area, which brandishes VW’s latest corporate look. A lower ride height than before has also been achieved. Together, they have helped the Cd value to slide from 0.38 to 0.35.

In fact, the body as a whole is longer by 41mm (to 4795mm) and wider by 12mm (to 1940mm), but has 17mm less height (1709mm). Front and rear track now measure 1656mm (up 3mm) and 1676mm (up 11.5mm) respectively.

Inside, the Touareg cabin boasts functionality and comfort benefits thanks to more room everywhere, the upshot of a 38mm increase in the now-2893mm wheelbase. There are substantial gains in interior length (by 41mm), front elbow room (by 45mm), front shoulder room (by 55mm) and rear knee room (by 68mm).

Furthermore, the rear bench seat now slides 160mm fore and aft and features a recline-able backrest. Cargo space is up too, by 72 litres, for a 1642-litre maximum. Lending a hand here is a 190mm wider boot.

Even the base vehicle will include a 6.5-inch touch screen coupled to CD/radio/MP3/media information system, while an electric parking brake and nine airbags will also be standard.

New options will include automatic tailgate opening/closing via the key fob, a panoramic sunroof claimed to be the biggest of any SUV, a four-camera ‘Area View’ monitoring function, a ‘Lane Assist’ lane departure warning system, ‘Side Assist’ blind-spot monitoring, ‘Adaptive Cruise Control with Front Assist’, bi-Xenon headlights with ‘Dynamic Light Assist’.

More Australian-related specifications will be released closer to the new Touareg’s launch in the middle of 2011.

Drive impressions:TAKE one BMW X5, add a dollop of Lexus RX for comfort, and then smother some Audi A8-style quality and, voila – you have the new-gen Touareg in a nutshell.

That’s quite a mixture of vehicles in Volkswagen’s second luxury SUV attempt, but the analogy accurately demonstrates the breadth of abilities on offer.

The last Touareg (it’s already sold out in Australia and we won’t be seeing this new one until the middle of next year) was a solid effort, majoring on go-anywhere engineering, but falling a little bit in terms of around-town manoeuvrability and drivetrain efficiencies. For a long wagonoid SUV, the VW was also a tad tight inside.

A middling all-rounder then, it was also getting on quite a lot, sailing past birthday number eight (a centenary or thereabouts in car years!), but not against newer competition that offered more 4x4 prowess (Land Rover Discovery), space (Mercedes-Benz ML), on-road athleticism (X5), lush refinement (RX), or family-focussed practicality (Volvo XC90).

Touareg Two, though, is a different beast despite sharing basically the same platform underneath (as well as with the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne).

For starters, more than 200kg has been saved by engineering out all the unnecessary off-road stuff that most Touareg buyers probably would never have known lurked underneath. This – along with more efficient powertrains and improved aerodynamics – has made for an easier and more involving vehicle to drive in everyday situations.

We drove on motorways mostly from Wolfsburg in Germany to Paris, through The Netherlands and Belgium, in a Touareg 3.0 TDI V6 and found it remarkably effortless for a hefty SUV the steering is on the light side at low speed but more directly weighted and faithful to inputs at higher ones, imparting a sense of stability and security even at speeds approaching 200km/h.

Unfortunately we never had the chance to really assess how the VW feels being thrown around a tight corner, but the impressive levels of grip and contained body control has us expecting near class-leading dynamics when we drive the Touareg in Australia.

But we wondered whether the ride is not too busy on certain surfaces if Normal or Sport suspension settings are selected. Again, more representative testing on local roads could reveal a flaw here.

The revised V6 diesel seems to be cocooned far away in the distance for the lack of noise it makes, but provides a hefty shove of performance from standstill, and more than sufficient mid-range acceleration, on the smooth and mostly straight Autobahn we spent hours on. The new eight-speed automatic gearbox is a brilliant ally in this respect.

The latter also helped keep fuel consumption down, settling between 8.5 and 10L/100km depending on how many of the fabulous de-restricted stretches of roads we encountered.

Meanwhile, the new Touareg’s interior is a classy effort, adopting some high-end extras usually found in the very latest Audi A8, like a clever touch-screen centre screen for the sat-nav, instrumentation that combines (stylishly presented) analogue dials with an LED display for the comprehensive trip computer, vehicle functionality and GPS guidance.

These, along with the unflinching quality and design of the attractive dash, elevate the VW into a higher echelon of luxury SUV. Of course, the tens of thousands of dollars worth of extras fitted to our test car – such as superb radar-guided cruise control, awesome high-end audio and amazing multi-dimensional parking sensor display – certainly helped too.

Of more importance, the Germans have really concentrated on addressing space and comfort aspects, with a great pair of front seats and a roomier rear bench area that now brings a reclining back rest, sliding cushions and sufficient levels of ventilation and storage solutions. A bit more under-thigh support for taller rear occupants would be appreciated though.

Plus, on the move, the Touareg glides along with the same vault-like isolation qualities of the last one, even though it is not as heavy as the last version.

So first drive impressions over two hurried days covering hundreds of kilometres are favourable: we suffered little fatigue, conducted conversations in comfort and relative silence, and felt at least as safe and secure as in any of the many speeding exec-mobiles zooming by on the autobahn. The Touareg – at last – deserves the luxury SUV title.

VW says it still offers a heavier-duty off-road package for owners of the existing model who need real 4x4 ability, but we had no opportunity to test such claims.

But as an alternative to a BMW X5, Lexus RX, Mercedes ML, Volvo XC60 or XC90, the Touareg combines these rivals’ respective sportiness, refinement, space, safety tech and family friendly roominess attributes, in a chunky and good looking SUV package.

Mixing drinks is not always recommended, but mixing the best of all worlds might make the 2011 Touareg one of the best luxury SUVs on the planet. We look forward to next meeting up!

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