By Aaron Bragman
Luxury SUVs continue to be popular, and as fuel prices continue to drop throughout the year, their popularity is likely to increase. Volkswagen’s timing is good with its update of the Touareg SUV for 2015.
The Touareg (properly pronounced “TWAH-regg,” and named after a large nomadic Saharan desert tribe) was last redesigned for the 2012 model year. For 2015, VW freshened its expensive five-seat off-roader with some mild appearance updates; you’re not likely to notice them in passing, but the minor changes add up to a more attractive package.
Additional chrome on the grille and more angular headlights are joined by a new lower bumper that better incorporates redesigned fog lights. The pixelated LED running lights are gone, replaced by a light pipe for a smoother effect. Out back, the taillights are different, with LEDs now standard equipment. Other than that, aside from some new wheels and a couple new colours, the Touareg is visually unchanged. The subtle changes make for a slightly more cohesive, classier look, with a front end that actually resemblances the Touareg’s distant cousin, the Porsche Cayenne.
How It Drives
Again, not much to report here, as the changes to the Touareg were not mechanical in nature. All powertrains remain the same for 2015. Again standard is the 3.6-liter V-6 engine that pumps out 280 horsepower and 266 pounds-feet of torque, which are healthy numbers that work hard to adequately move the hefty Touareg’s nearly 4,700 pounds around.
The engine you’ll want, however, is the optional turbo-diesel 3.0-liter V-6, that produces only 240 hp but a massive 406 pounds-feet of torque. This is a sweet motor, producing huge amounts of midrange torque that move the roughly 200-pound-heavier diesel SUV around with noticeable alacrity. It never lacks for immediate power, either; a quick stab of the accelerator pedal produces thrust that pushes you back in the seat. Coming out of a corner and getting on the accelerator makes the Touareg jump — it’s almost sporty.
Rounding out the powertrain options is the hybrid model, which employs a combination of a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 and one 24-volt motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission to augment the gasoline engine. The combo is good for 380 hp and 428 pounds-feet of torque, but sadly this model was not available for testing at a VW drive event in Ann Arbor, Mich.
While the diesel might be preferred for its torque and performance, the real reasons to buy one are for fuel economy and towing capacity. The base V-6 is rated at a decent 17/23 mpg city/highway, but the diesel climbs to 20/29 mpg; that’s better than the hybrid’s 20/24 mpg. The diesel might be a tough sale these days with regular unleaded gas averaging less than $2.73 a gallon in the U.S. and the national average for diesel still around $3.54; with the Touareg’s 26.4-gallon tank, that can mean nearly $20 more per fill-up for diesel. Of course, with an estimated range of 132 miles more than the gas model, the diesel lets you go further on one tank.
Dynamically, the Touareg behaves like it always has. It’s composed and solid, with a European firmness that makes it feel expensive and well-controlled, but with a softness to the ride and noticeable body roll that makes you realize it’s been tamed for American tastes. Steering is still hydraulic on the V-6 and diesel models, so there’s none of the numbness that can plague all-electric systems. It’s communicative and solid, and it makes the Touareg pleasant to drive. It’s no Cayenne, however. You won’t be hustling it through twisting roads at speeds much higher than posted limits due to that heft and body roll. The brakes are firm and progressive, with excellent pedal feel. The overall driving experience is undemanding and befitting of a luxury vehicle.
Volkswagen made a few upgrades to the interior, though like the exterior, they’re subtle. There are some new “engineered wood” veneers and new buttons and dials for the climate control system that feel more upscale, but if you’re looking for VW’s latest and greatest multimedia system, you won’t find it; it will be coming as a running change sometime in mid-2015. Not that there’s really anything wrong with the current system: Its big screen, large controls, high contrast and quick operation make it simple and pleasant to use. The rest of the interior is unchanged, and that’s just fine. The Touareg’s cabin is spacious, comfortable and easily as nice as a BMW X5.
This is where VW’s made some upgrades for 2015, adding a new adaptive cruise control system with autonomous braking. This combines with some new systems for lane departure warning and blind spot detection to bring the Touareg up to almost-competitive status with some of the more advanced offerings in the segment. The Touareg also now has an automatic post-collision braking system, which prevents you from careening off into a possible secondary collision by applying maximum braking force if the airbags have deployed.
VW has announced pricing for the new Touareg, which will be available in four gasoline trim levels, three diesel trims and one hybrid trim. The base Touareg V-6 Sport starts at $44,705 (not including a destination fee, which was unavailable), while stepping up to the V-6 Technology model moves the price to $48,745 but adds navigation, power tailgate, push-button start, blind spot detection and a towing package. That’s also the base trim for the TDI diesel model, which starts at $52,245. The midlevel Lux trim adds wood trim, 12-way leather seats, a panoramic roof, 19-inch wheels and park assist for $53,170 (V-6) and $56,670 (TDI). Top of the line is the Executive trim at $58,700 for the V-6 and $62,200 for the TDI, adding 20-inch wheels, a 10-speaker Dynaudio premium audio system, 360-degree exterior camera, heated steering wheel, and unique wood and metal trim. The Touareg Hybrid model stands alone at $66,995 and includes the Executive trim content. VW says the new 2015 Touareg is already in a number of showrooms since January 2015.