Grand Touaring

The great Kiwi road trip might just about be the Volkswagen Touareg’s natural born setting. Which is pretty good going for a precision engineered SUV designed and built 18,000km away from Ohakune.

There is, if we’re honest, a heck of a lot of talk in this venerable title about Grand Tourers.

But in our defence, when it comes to doing the math required to find the perfect equation of ‘premium’ and ‘performance’, a sleek, powerful GT is hard to ignore.

Volkswagen likes to suggest that the Touareg is the perfect vehicle for successful people who don’t want to shout about it. The cynics among you might think this mere marketing speak for “conservative”, but I take Volkswagen’s point.

Except of course in that particular equation, you can’t carry the five, so to speak.

A premium SUV, on the other hand? Today, you can expect genuinely sporty performance out of something you might otherwise use to tow your boat. The days of the tall, wallowing load-lugger that would sooner make the kids in the back seasick before it delivered anything approaching an engaging drive experience, are long gone.

Put it this way: the Touareg SUV is Volkswagen’s flagship model. It inhabits all the principles, all the technologies and all the engineering expertise that Volkswagen holds dear. This thing has to work in any context: the company has staked its reputation on it.

A nicely reassuring thought, that. Especially as we commence a 700km-ish round trek out of town for a spot of snow-themed weekend recreation. There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned Kiwi road trip to sort the sour cream and onion dip from the kale crisps.

The Touareg is built on the same high-tech platform as the Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Bentayga. But already you can see that, of the four siblings, Volkswagen’s suited-and-booted take on the large SUV is the quietest of the bunch. The Q7’s just a bit louder at parties. The Cayenne’s only ever moments away from talking at you about a track day. The Bentley’s a Bentley.

Volkswagen’s entry in the ledger is subtler, quieter, more centred and not given to putting its drink down and demonstrating how to take the perfect line through turn two at Taupo Motorsport Park even if you didn’t really ask.

I like the Touareg. And I really like this latest one because that quiet confidence it exudes also extends to the behind-the-scenes technology present in it, as well as its sure-footedness off the tarmac.

First of all – and unlike your favourite GT poster child – the Touareg is suitably cavernous inside, making it perfect for a decent road trip, when the trip requires lots of stuff for the road.

The latest Touareg is 77mm longer and 44mm wider than the previous one; millimetres that do make a difference inside. The boot boasts 810-litres of luggage space too; 16 percent more than before.

Driving through the desolate Central Plateau in winter might remind you of a dark tale from the mind of Tolkien, but inside the Touareg, technology remains your friend.

Front and centre is possibly the most obvious update with this generation SUV; the enormous curved Innovision Cockpit display that stretches across the dashboard and joins seamlessly with the fully customisable Active Info Display ahead of the driver.

Taken together, this is total widescreen entertainment. The Innovation Cockpit does away with virtually every traditional switch and button, offering completely touch- and gesture-control-based functionality instead. It’s also the largest digital cockpit in its class.

While the murky weather outside might not favour the trampers you’ll find in the summer months eagerly heading for Tongariro, driving at dusk and into the night (as some of our many hundred kilometres were tackled) is all the safer thanks to another Touareg tech addition; Night Vision. Like something out of a spy thriller, this optional system uses a thermal imaging camera to detect pedestrians, cyclists and even animals at night, warning the driver in the event of a possible prang.

Progress in any weather is swift and sure-footed thanks to the Touareg’s combination of powerful turbo diesel V6 engine (210kW/600Nm for the TDI V6 S grade we drove; the same engine in a slightly different state of tune is available in the entry-level Touareg) and the manufacturer’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system.

Scrabbling around metalled tracks halfway up a mountain, Volkswagen’s always confident 4MOTION system does the heavy lifting. No, we weren’t traversing the Rubicon Trail, but there’s something to be said for what can be achieved in the loose stuff with the simple twist of a dial from within a leather-trimmed cabin. Come on winter, show us what you’ve got: we’ve got the Touareg.

Also, thanks to this generation car’s all-wheel steering system which enables the rear wheels to turn in the opposite direction to the front wheels at low ‘garage gear’ speeds, a turning circle of just 11.1 metres is achievable. So? Well, that’s close to the turning circle of a Volkswagen Golf. For a 4.8m-long SUV, that’s pretty impressive.

And while we certainly weren’t heading for jet ski country with the Touareg on this particular mission, that braked tow rating of 3500kg remains one of this vehicle’s headline acts. No fuss, no bother and (can I reiterate the fact?) 600Nm of torque on tap to help with the haul.

You really can go anywhere in the Touareg; in total comfort and with all the convenience and safety technology you’d wish for at your fingertips. Not to mention half a household’s worth of stuff in the boot.

There’s no denying the obvious pulse-quickening merits of a fine, muscular Grand Tourer for a road trip such as this. But add extra luggage? Gravel? Snowboards? A touring party of four? The Touareg trounces everything else in the garage.

Words by Cameron Officer

Photos by Lee Howell

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