David Motton
Tow Car Editor

See other tow car reviews written by David Motton

Our Tow Car Editor takes a look at the latest generation of the Volkswagen Touareg, the manufacturer's flagship SUV.

Overview

This third generation of the Touareg, VW's flagship SUV, is wider and longer, with a more aggressive look. All versions come with VW's 4Motion four-wheel-drive system and an eight-speed automatic gearbox. This model is packed with driver aids and gadgetry. We tested the range-topping 3.0 V6 TDI 286PS R-Line Tech. 

So what are we looking for? Is the Touareg good enough to rival the likes of the Audi Q7, Land Rover Discovery, and Mercedes-Benz GLE? Does it have the on-road presence and interior quality to go toe-to-toe with rivals from more upmarket brands? And is the car's technology a help or a hindrance? Finally, and most importantly, how well does it tow? 

Towing

Touareg buyers have a choice of two diesels, which are about to be joined by a petrol version. There's also a petrol-electric hybrid, although its UK arrival date has not been confirmed. 

The diesels are likely to be of most interest to caravanners. Even the entry-level model should have little trouble towing a heavy van up to speed, thanks to 228bhp and 369lb ft of torque. The top-spec engine ups the ante considerably, with 282bhp and 442lb ft of torque. 

New SUVs keep getting lighter and, while the Touareg has been on the expected diet, it still has a hefty kerbweight of 2070kg. That gives an 85% match figure of 1760kg, well within the legal towing limit of 3500kg. Maximum download on the towball is 140kg. 

We matched the Touareg to a Swift Fairway Platinum Edition 635 with a MiRO of 1580kg. It's no surprise, given the 3.0-litre diesel's pulling power, that it towed the Swift up to speed with ease. The eight-speed gearbox responds promptly and smoothly to make the most of the engine, and switching the 'box from 'Drive' to 'Sport' sharpens up the changes.

At 60mph on the motorway, the engine is quiet and untroubled. Turn onto hillier roads and the big VW has no trouble maintaining speed, and there's enough punch to easily overtake dawdling traffic. 

We'd happily trade straight-line performance for stability, but with the Touareg, you get both. Our tow test took place in the teeth of an autumnal storm, with high winds and heavy rain. 

Despite the gusts and wet roads, the Touareg proved very stable, with little movement from car and van. And when the wind was strong enough to push the caravan around, the VW pulled it straight again without any fuss. 

The car comes with a lane-keep assist system, which steers it back to the middle of the lane if it starts to drift to one side and the driver isn't indicating. 

The system is subtle, steering gently back to the centre of the lane, although we felt more comfortable towing with it switched off, so we could steer without interference. 

The Touareg is easy to manoeuvre when you reach your destination. The automatic gearbox allows the car to creep smoothly, and optional rear-axle steering (which comes with air suspension for £2370) gives this huge car a turning circle similar to the Golf hatchback's. 

If you'd like help reversing, Trailer Assist will turn the wheel for you once you've instructed the system which direction you want to turn it. This is included in the price of the towball and electrics. 

Multiple cameras can be displayed on the touchscreen, giving a clear view of what's behind and around the car. The rear-view camera, in particular, is useful when hitching up. 

The towball deploys at the push of a button inside the boot. It doesn't just drop down, but motors all the way into place and also retracts with the press of another button. There's plenty of clearance around the towball, and the electric socket is mounted on the side of the towbar, so it's easy to access. 

Everyday driving

The VW is a quick, comfortable everyday drive. Without the weight of a caravan behind it, the 3.0-litre diesel delivers extremely fast acceleration. 

But even when piling on the coals, it doesn't sound strained, and it's calm when cruising. In fact, the Touareg is refined all round, with little wind noise and modest road noise. 

Standard suspension delivers a ride that stays the acceptable side of firm, but we prefer the optional air suspension (as fitted to our test car). 'Comfort' smooths out all but the worst surfaces without feeling sloppy. 'Sport' keeps the car tied down over dips and crests, without being harsh. 'Normal' strikes a good balance between the two. 

In any of these modes, the Touareg corners with good grip and little roll. The steering is precise, but there's not much feedback from the front wheels. 

In town, you are conscious of the Touareg's bulk, but the optional rear-wheel steering makes it quite manoeuvrable. Forward visibility is good, but thick rear pillars compromise the view over the driver's shoulder when parking. But standard parking sensors and rear-view camera help squeeze the car into a small space. 

Space

The Touareg is comfortably long enough for a third row of seats but, unlike rivals such as the Audi Q7, BMX X5 and Land Rover Discovery, it is only available as a five-seater. 

For some buyers, that could be a deal-breaker. But provided five seats are enough for you, the Touareg is roomy and practical. There's lots of space up front and, even with the optional panoramic sunroof (£1260), good headroom, too. 

The dashboard is dominated by the Innovision Cockpit, with a 15-inch touchscreen and a second 12-inch screen can be configured to show different information, such as a map. 

Both screens are crisp and clear, and the touchscreen is responsive and easy to use. The system is standard on the R-Line Tech, and costs £2410 on the regular R-Line. It's not available on the SEL model. 

Interior quality is mostly good, although lower down the dash and on the doors, some of the plastics are rather hard. It is well made, but the cabin doesn't match the upmarket finish you'd find in an Audi Q7 or Mercedes-Benz GLE. 

In the back of the Touareg, leg and headroom are plentiful, so adults have space to stretch out. There are air vents in the door pillars and between the front seats, and those in the back also have their own temperature and fan controls. 

One of the advantages in sticking with a five-seat layout is the huge boot, with a capacity of 810 litres. The rear seats slide forward on runners to maximise the space while still carrying passengers, or can be folded down for a total capacity of 1800 litres. 

Running costs

The top-spec Touareg has a list price of £58,195. That will rise considerably if you are tempted by the long list of options; as tested, our car would cost an eye-watering £72,975. 

The less upmarket badge is reflected in slightly weaker resale values than key rivals. The Touareg should be worth 44% of the original price after three years and 36,000 miles, according to What Car?. The equivalent Audi Q7 hangs on to 47%, the Land Rover Discovery, 49%, and the Mercedes-Benz GLE, 48%. 

Running costs should be affordable. We achieved mpg in the low 40s on a long motorway run, and 24.4mpg while towing. 

Safety standards are very good, with a five-star rating from Euro NCAP and a long list of standard safety features. Driver aids, such as radar sensors to warn of vehicles approaching from the side at junctions, are part of the Driver Assistance Pack Plus (£860). 

Technical specs

Engine size2967 cc
Kerbweight2070 kg
85% KW1760 kg
Towball limit140 kg
Maximum towing limit3500 kg
Official MPG42.8 mpg
Towing MPG24.2 mpg
CO2173 g/km

Verdict

Costing almost £60,000, the Touareg is keeping some pretty illustrious company. And for the most part, it does live up to its premium price tag. 

Look close enough, and there are some hard plastics on the lower doors and dash. Push the starter button, however, and the Innovision Cockpit lights up. The screens are seriously impressive, and equal or better any displays in competitors. 

The lack of a third row will rule out the Touareg for some buyers, but if space for five is enough, it has plenty of room. The front is spacious and the seats extremely comfortable. Those in the back are scarcely worse off, with space for tall adults to stretch their legs. 

The boot is huge and can easily be extended by folding the back seats, using levers on either side of the tailgate. 

In everyday driving, this is a sophisticated companion. The cabin is hushed at speed, and the 3.0-litre diesel delivers imperious performance. With the optional air suspension set to 'Comfort' mode, the big VW covers long distances with poise. 

Most importantly, the Touareg is a superb tow car. It has been a while since we tested a car in such strong winds, but the VW quickly eased our nerves. Few tow cars combine such strong acceleration with exceptional stability. 

So it might be expensive for a car wearing a VW badge, but we rate the Touareg very highly indeed. The Tow Car Awards 2019 are still several months in the future, but Volkswagen's flagship SUV looks like a very promising contender.