Russ Smith

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With plenty of room for passengers and their luggage, the 2003-2010 VW Touran is an excellent tow car – Russ Smith assesses it as a secondhand buy

Volkswagen has become a bit of a dirty word of late, but away from the emissions scandal these remain the same cars we’ve grown to respect for quality and reliability at reasonable prices, not to mention what tow car ability they have. Regardless, values of diesel VWs have taken a bit of a hit in the past few months – some Tourans are down 10-15%. That’s about a year’s worth of depreciation in double-quick time. So this could be the perfect time to bag a bargain.

The Touran is a mid-range people carrier with five or seven seats, and it is based on the Golf platform, so the running gear is about as straightforward and familiar as it gets. It’s not exactly exciting to drive, but it is easy to drive and surprisingly roomy.

It was criticised when new for not offering a lot of goodies for the money, but when buying secondhand the price difference between top spec and no spec falls dramatically.

Model history

The Touran arrived in August 2003 with a choice of two diesel and two petrol engines: a 103bhp/185lb ft 1.9 TDI and a 138bhp/236lb ft 2.0 TDI, and a pair of 1.6 petrols with 100bhp/109lb ft and 113bhp/114lb ft. Two more engines were added during 2004: a 2.0 FSI petrol with 147bhp/148lb ft and a 1.9 TDI with 88bhp/155lb ft, although the latter only in base ‘S’ spec. That, along with the 1.6 petrol, had a 1300kg towing limit, which is 200kg down on the more powerful models.

The facelift for the 2007 model year gave the Touran a distinctive and large chrome grille and some new engines. The 1.6 petrols were replaced by a 1.4 TSI, both supercharged and turbocharged, and punching out 138bhp and 162lb ft torque. Even more appetising is the 167bhp/258lb ft version of the 2.0 TDI, available at first (for just three months) in SE trim and then only in the Sport spec.

All but the 1.6 S have a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, while the 1.6 FSI, 1.4 TSI and both 2.0 TDIs could also be had with a six-speed twin-clutch automatic – the 1.4 TSI getting a seven-speed automatic transmission from May 2009.

As well as SE and Sport trims there was also S, but there were lots of optional extras at all levels, so it’s best to treat each car on its own merits. Match trim was added from July 2008; for a £500 premium over Sport it came with £1600-worth of extras including sat-nav, park assist and parking sensors.

Trouble spots

The 2.0 TDI engines are very good apart from one crucial weakness: the hexagonal oil pump driveshaft tends to round off because of a manufacturing defect, which can result in the engine and turbo being written off. This usually happens after the 50,000-mile mark, so any car that’s gone well beyond that has probably been dealt with. As soon as the problem became known, VW produced an improved pump and drive for 2008-on model-year cars. If the pump and drive have been replaced there should be paperwork in the history file. If there isn’t, plan on getting the job done very soon and get some money knocked off the price of the car.

On six-speed manual gearboxes, watch out for a stiff change between first and second gears. It’s not uncommon and signifies wear in a synchro ring, which is a gearbox-out job to fix.

Seven-seat Tourans don’t have room for a spare wheel, just a can of puncture-repair gunk. This won’t be any good if you have a blowout or the tyre sidewall splits, and you’ll be left stranded. So it may be worth considering carrying a space-saver spare wheel in the van, if you can find space.

Make sure the digital dashboard display is functioning on any prospective purchase. This can be affected by sub-zero temperatures, and the cost of a new unit from Volkswagen is more than £800.

Check the service history of Tourans with the DSG automatic gearbox carefully. If the transmission fluid and filter aren’t changed at the recommended four-year intervals it can lead to gearbox failure, and not all independent garages know about or follow this regime.

Verdict

The VW Touran makes a decent towing tool for small to mid-range caravans. It’s handily roomy and versatile inside, and seems to be as well built and robust as you’d expect.

Later models are probably the better bet because the few inherent faults had largely been ironed out, and the sharp drop in prices has brought more of those into the reach of more budgets. That’s what we’d concentrate our efforts on, but probably only a five-seater. On a long, heavily-laden journey, the comforting safety net of having a spare wheel shouldn’t be underestimated.

Our top pick from the VW Touran range is the 2.0 TDI 170 Sport. The most powerful diesel engine gives the Touran maximum pulling power, and Sport spec adds alloys and climate control. However, we'd steer clear of the gutless 1.6 S variant. Its 1300kg towing limit is lower than all the others, plus it has the same average economy figure (34mpg) as the much better 2.0 FSI.

What you need to know

You'll see these for sale at anywhere between £1200 and £9500. Values really have plummeted: our top price applies only to exceptional range-toppers with one owner, a perfect history and around 30,000 miles. Shop around and you can find something almost as good for £1000 less. At the lower end, sub-£2000 cars are mostly small-petrol-engined or very leggy early diesels, but you can find really appealing examples for as little as £2200. As a nice little bonus, the five-seater models, which make more sense, cost around a 10% less than the seven-seater.

Here are some useful figures (for a 2007 Touran 2.0 TDI SE):

  • Kerbweight 1600kg
  • 85% match 1360kg
  • Towing limit 1500kg
  • Towball limit 75kg
         

If you're looking to fit a towball to a Touran, quotes we got from PF Jones state a Witter flange towbar will set you back £87.55, while a detachable Bosal towbar will be £156.72, fitting extra in both cases.

And what about potential servicing costs? An interim service will be £126.43 and a full service will be £199.37 according to Servicing Stop (prices may differ depending on where you live).

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