See a Volkswagen Touareg on the street, and there’s a good chance it will have a towball fitted. It’s a popular car, not just with caravanners but anyone with a big horsebox, boat or trailer to tow. 

The third-generation Touareg promises more of everything. More space, more technology, more towing ability. We’ve been driving the car solo ahead of a full tow test, scheduled for later in the year. 

For now, UK buyers have a choice of two engines, both 3.0-litre diesels. The 231PS (228bhp) version is the least powerful but, thanks to a prodigious 369lb ft of torque, it surely won’t struggle to tow a caravan. It’s priced from £48,995. 

The more powerful 286PS (282bhp) costs from £51,595. As well as greater top-end power, your £2600 buys you a hefty slug of extra torque, which rises to 443lb ft. 

Towards the end of this year Volkswagen will add a 367PS (362bhp) 3.0-litre petrol model. A plug-in hybrid has also been developed although a UK on-sale date hasn’t been confirmed yet. 

A driving experience

We’ve been driving the more powerful of the two diesels. You’d think from the power and torque figures that the performance would be the most remarkable thing about this engine, and it certainly makes the Touareg a very swift car. But what’s more notable is just how smooth and quiet the engine is, even when put to hard work. It promises respectable economy for a car of this size and speed, with an official combined figure of 42.8mpg.

The eight-speed automatic gearbox slurs changes with smooth efficiency in ‘drive’. Switch to ‘sport’ and the shifts are more urgent and a little less slick. There are paddles behind the steering wheel if you’d prefer to take charge for yourself. 

With such vivid performance in solo driving, towing any heavyweight twin-axle tourer shouldn’t be taxing. The kerbweight of 2070kg gives an 85% match figure of 1760kg, well below the legal towing limit of 3500kg. The maximum download on the towball is 140kg. 

We’d be amazed if the Touareg didn’t prove a stable tow car as well as a swift one. On the sports suspension fitted as standard to the R-Line Tech model, the Touareg’s ride is on the firm side of comfortable, but this keeps the car well controlled on country loads and the ride is smoother at high speeds than around town. That bodes well for stability on the motorway. 

Suspension matters

We preferred the Touareg with the optional air suspension. With a price of £2370 it’s certainly not cheap, but with ‘comfort’ mode selected it’s noticeably more forgiving of poor road surfaces than the standard R-Line Tech set-up. The suspension has other modes, chosen through the driver profile selection system which also alters the steering, throttle and other systems. ‘Sport’ keeps any movement on a tighter leash than ‘comfort’ without becoming harsh. 

Ticking the air suspension box on the order form means the car’s ride height can be raised or lowered, improving aerodynamics at speed and giving more ground clearance for offroading. It’s also handy to be able to lower the back of the car when loading up with heavy bags. 

The air suspension option also includes four-wheel steering. At most speeds the rear wheels steer gently in the same direction as the fronts, which VW claims improves stability. Below 22mph, the rears steer in the opposite direction of the fronts, giving this big SUV a turning circle that’s only a fraction bigger than that of a Golf hatchback. 

All clever stuff, and there’s no doubt the Touareg handles well. For a two-tonne SUV, there’s very little lean when cornering and you’d need to be very rash to exceed the car’s limits. However, even in ‘sport’ mode the steering is very light and rather numb. It makes for a driving experience that’s undeniably impressive but rather uninvolving.

Sitting pretty

Another criticism – and for some possible buyers a more serious one – is that the Touareg doesn’t have seven seats, even as an option. That puts it at odds with rivals like the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Land Rover Discovery. 

However, not needing to squeeze in a third row of seats has allowed VW to make a cabin that’s hugely roomy for five and their luggage. 

Up front, the driver sits relatively low to the floor by SUV standards, but still has a good view out. The ‘Innovision’ digital cockpit is standard on the R-LineTech models and optional on the R-Line. It’s stand-out feature is a huge 15-inch touchscreen which almost completely does away with the need for buttons on the dashboard. The air-con controls are always on display at the bottom of the screen, avoiding the need to prod through menus to change the temperature – a pet hate of ours with some other infotainment systems. 

The cabin design is crisp and modern, and everything is well finished. The inside of rivals from Audi and Mercedes are that bit more upmarket, but even so this is a very luxurious interior. 

Those in the back benefit from air vents between the front seats and in the door pillars to ensure chilled air circulates efficiently around the rear of the cabin. Separate temperature and fan speed controls for those in the back are standard on the top two trim levels. 

The width of the cabin makes space for three to sit in reasonable comfort in the back, although the centre rear cushion is harder than those to either side and there’s a bulky transmission tunnel to contend with. 

We can’t see anyone feeling shortchanged by the Touareg’s luggage space. It’s long, tall and wide, with a total capacity with seats upright of 810 litres. Folding the seats down (there are levers either side of the tailgate) increases that to 1800 litres, although this does put a slope in the floor. 

Spec levels

In terms of equipment, even the entry-level SEL has a luxurious feel with satellite navigation, a suite of connected services called Car-Net, climate control, and leather upholstery. R-Line spec adds larger alloys, sports suspension, more aggressive styling and more. R-Line Tech models have the Innovision Cockpit, ‘ergoComfort’ front seats which feature electrical adjustment every which way, as well as additional in-car entertainment features and driver aids. 

Speaking of driver aids, a comprehensive suite of high-tech safety equipment contributed to the Touareg’s five-out-of-five score from the safety experts at Euro NCAP.

All told, the new Touareg is throughly impressive. But then, it’s up against the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Land Rover Discovery and Mercedes-Benz GLE, all very capable cars themselves. 

We’ll reserve final judgement until we’ve had the chance to tow with one, but on first acquaintance the new Touareg is good enough to happily live in such company.