The flagship Touareg uses a 4.2-litre V8 diesel engine, while those who want to flaunt their environmentalism can have a hybrid model that combines a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol unit and an electric motor. We prefer the impressively muscular 3.0-litre V6 diesel, though, because not only does the 242bhp version provide all the performance you need, it's also one of the cheapest and most fuel-efficient models in the range.
The standard suspension on SE cars gives a great balance of comfort and control. The ride is reasonably cushy, yet the body doesn’t lollop about in bends. On Escape models, the suspension is raised for off-road use, while Altitude models have a lowered sports suspension, but we haven’t tried either of these yet. You can have optional air suspension, too.
Some tyre rumble intrudes over coarse surfaces, but wind noise is always well contained and the engines are very quiet at a steady cruise. The standard eight-speed automatic gearbox shifts smoothly most of the time, while the 3.0-litre diesel model’s stop-start system (which cuts the engine when you come to a standstill and starts it again when you release the brake) is fairly unobtrusive.
The Touareg will be cheaper than most big 4x4s and you can expect a healthy discount. However, it’s unlikely to hold its value as well as premium-badged rivals. Running costs for the diesels are competitive, but the hybrid is nowhere near as clean or fuel-efficient as Lexus’s RX450h.
The cabin feels solidly built and most of the materials are classy. However, it’s hard to overlook the fact that the Touareg shares many of its fixtures and fittings with Volkswagen models that cost half as much. Mechanically, there should be little to worry about.
Every Touareg has stability control, electronic brakeforce distribution and seven airbags to keep you safe. Every model also has active front head restraints to minimise whiplash in a rear-end shunt, and there’s a trailer stabilisation system, while all models are fitted with an alarm and deadlocks.
The Touareg offers the king-of-the-road driving position that 4x4 buyers love, and there’s a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment to help people of all sizes get comfortable. The ventilation controls are a breeze to use, while Volkswagen’s touch-screen stereo and navigation system is one of the simplest we’ve come across.
There’s huge space for five, but the rear door openings are a little small and Volkswagen doesn’t offer a seven-seat version of the Touareg. The boot is large and well shaped; plus, you can change the balance between cabin and luggage space because the rear seats slide back and forth. They don’t fold completely flat, though.
Entry-level SE cars come with leather upholstery, climate control, automatic lights and wipers, satellite-navigation, cruise control and parking sensors. The rugged Escape model adds locking centre- and rear differentials as well as extra underbody protection, while Altitude trim swaps these items for larger alloys, Bluetooth and fancier interior trim. V8 and hybrid cars also get bi-xenon headlights and electric front seat adjustment.
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There are better 4x4s, but this is our favourite Touareg. Its engine is smooth and strong, plus it’s one of the cheapest and the most fuel-efficient models in the range.