By J. Ward
RATING: 8 / 10
The 2016 Volkswagen Touareg TDI150 is a car that holds its’ own in the VW line-up and despite it being one of the most mispronounced names on the road, that isn’t stopping it from being quite the achiever. Its’ more popular than you would think, and its’ importance to the VW brand is portrayed with the Touareg’s increased sales by almost 50 per cent in the past three years. It now easily outsells its Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne German counterparts.
In fact, it sold about the same volume as the Mercedes-Benz ML/GLE did in 2015. The thing is, with the entry-level TDI150 model, this Volkswagen is considerably cheaper than the most basic Benz.
Even the point that it was named after the nomadic “Tuareg” people of North Africa makes a statement about the big VW. It has the capability for conquering all terrain, but is still a bit unsure of its place in the market.
Which begs the question of whether it lives at the higher end of mainstream brands, or the lower end of the prestige marques? I think it’s a marriage of the two, and here’s why.
The materials, equipment and general manner of the car have it almost in line with the frontline premium large SUVs from BMW and Mercedes-Benz, but at its sub-$70k price point; it can afford to be a little less ‘premium’. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good car.
Newly designed bi-xenon headlamps with LED running lights have given the six-year old Touareg a more modern look. The full-width chrome grille and lower bar treatment enhance the classy appeal and, even with the standard 18-inch alloy wheels, it is impressive to think that this Touareg costs less than a Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland.
The rest of the car, including the chrome side strips and rear kick-plate, roof rails and LED tail lamps look smart too, particularly in Canyon Grey metallic paint ($1,500 option). There are six colours available, all of which suit the Touareg and help the VW match looks with its pricier European friends. You are reminded though that this is the entry specification when opening the heavy, unpowered tailgate. No electrical theatrics here to aid you in your cause.
There is good boot space of 580 litres that expands to 1642 litres when folding the 60:40 seats with the neat remote switches. There is also a neat ‘20’ section of the larger seat than can fold like a ski port to allow longer loads to fit. Luggage hooks, straps and cubbies are also present, as is a 12-volt power socket.
The parcel tray, however, has the hugely annoying feature of a raised rest position, which is great when throwing shopping in, but it stays up when you close the boot – resulting in blocked rearward vision for the driver. I’m sure I can’t be the only person who consistently forgets to fold this back down.
With the full cargo space available, loading and unloading is easy – although the seats sit a few degrees above flat, and we found the VW swallowed a pair of outdoor chairs and a table without breaking a sweat. Folding the seats back up is a considered process. You’ll need two hands, as they are pretty heavy.
The rear bench has comfortable sculpting for the outer seats, as well as good knee and head room. The middle spot should be reserved for the arm-rest, though, as the back of the centre console protrudes into the back row, you’ll find any adult sitting there will have to manoeuvre themselves accordingly.
Up front, the electric and heated leather-appointed seats are very comfortable and offer a slightly sporting driving position. The layout doesn’t feel particularly new, but everything is there and the ergonomics are very good. Some of the plastics feel a bit cheap – the top of the console for instance – but it doesn’t take away from the overall experience.
Storage is great, from the dash-top cubby to the big door pockets. We love the drink holder too. A highlight is the TFT instrument cluster. The display is clear and switching between modes to show trip data, audio or navigation information is very intuitive.
An eight-inch touch screen infotainment system takes centre stage in the middle of the dashboard. It is a bit dated, as there are a lot of screens and options to navigate through; but it gets the job done I guess. We will note that the traffic alert list was always empty and the rear-view camera is very low resolution. Plus the eight-speaker stereo sound wasn’t brilliant either. I don’t think practicality should be a plus in a car that’s trying to be premium.
There is no dedicated USB connection – you have to use the VW adapter lead – and that is a bit clumsy for 2016. We had some connectivity trouble too, the Touareg not always recognising music on the plugged-in iPhone, and sometimes getting confused and dropping the Bluetooth connection as well.
Safety is paramount in the VW and another important consideration for family buyers; along with a five-star ANCAP rating, the VW has nine airbags, multi-collision brake (which stops the car from continual rolling after a crash) and, of course, the rear-view camera.
There’s no keyless start on the TDI150, and the large flip-key can stick out a bit, but fire up the 150kW/450Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel and, the Touareg idles very smoothly.
On the move, it is reasonably quiet and well insulated. Those 150kW don’t make for a punchy performer though. There’s a bit of delayed response from the throttle under 2000 rpm and the V6 can vibrate above 4000rpm. Sit between these though, and the Touareg plugs along quite happily, both in urban areas and on country roads.
The stop-start system is quite intrusive at pedestrian speeds and can be a bit annoying. It’s quite economical though; as we recorded 8.1L/100km; close enough to the VW claimed 7.2L/100km combined cycle.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox is very smooth and when driven around in a normal day-to-day manner (daily commute to work for example), the Touareg is a really pleasant family hauler.
Volkswagen’s 4Motion AWD system can be switched from an ‘on’ to ‘off road’ setting with a single dial on the console. This activates a different ABS program, along with hill descent control and an electronic diff lock. We didn’t get to put the Touareg through its paces off the tarmac, this time around – which is indecently the same amount of off-road time both Touareg owners we spoke to have had.
Even without the air-suspension found on higher grade models, the VW gives a comfortable ride in both urban and highway environments. It exhibited some ‘aftershocks’ as the suspension settled over larger potholes and speed-bumps, but was generally very pleasant to drive.
However, the moment you push the Touareg through tighter bends, you can feel the taller 55-section tyres flexing, giving a less-than pleasant feel. Wet weather also tended to limit the confidence of the TDI150. This suggests the 255mm wide tyres were forced to the limit of their grip a bit too easily.
This isn’t normal driving behaviour though, and, on its standard urban errands, the big VW felt solid and pleasant to drive in all conditions.
The sales impact of the Touareg becomes apparent when you start looking around. They are everywhere!
The 2016 Volkswagen Touareg TDI150 is not a car of superlatives. It’s not the biggest, fastest, quietest or most modern. You don’t get a lot of the nifty features and gadgets that are even becoming standard fare in some of the higher-grade mainstream cars, but it does have everything you really need.
If you want more, an extra $2000 will get you the Touareg TDI150 Element, which adds different 18-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and start, power tailgate, heated steering wheel and paddle shifters on the steering wheel. That is great value in our book, and still positions the Touareg under $70,000 – and the Element at $12,000 less than the 180kW version.
With that said, whichever variant of the TDI150 you choose to get, you get a classy, well-featured, comfortable and economical SUV that does its job well.
The reality is that it’s nice, but it is no BMW. It’s refined, but it’s no Mercedes. Its solid, but it’s no Range Rover.