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New face, more power for VW's super 4x4


Most brands wouldn’t bother much with a facelift, but not VW.

Given an updated Touareg – that elegant SUV which may not have the flash-Harry badge of a Porsche Cayenne, but arguably does just as good a job of everything – it took us for three days of autumn bush-bashing around the Remarkables, near Queenstown.

And we’re really talking bush-bashing, despite the road-oriented tyres. Given a bit of wet and the steep terrain, our route became quite, well, interesting would be an understatement, given the proximity to the gut-yawning drops after a few injudicious slithers.

It’s at moments like these that chains come in handy; four-wheel drive is all very well, but when you’re sliding downhill what you need is grip, and road tyres on mud don’t provide it. But I digress.

There are still five Touareg variants, with sales just weighted to the lower end of the sales range, and the entry-level R5 diesel and V6 petrol-powered versions.

At first glance, there have been few changes between old and new versions: different headlights, some detail changes to the car’s face, and the new black-out taillights are quite striking.

But look further and you’ll find 2300 changes – all to the exterior and underpinnings.
Most noticeable are increases in power and torque – the 3.2-litre V6 increases to 3.6 litres, offering 16 percent more power and torque, along with a three percent reduction in claimed fuel consumption.

The V8’s power is up 13 percent, thirst down six percent, to 13.8 litres/100km.
Forget economy: we needed the extra pull when plugging up and down steep claggy slopes, when the exceptionally clever four-wheel drive and electronic systems repeatedly pulled us out of trouble.

The steel-sprung cars sit lower to the ground and operate more conventionally.
But it’s the air springs – available as an option pack – that are really trick. Ground clearance can be raised to 300mm, 137mm higher than the steel-sprung cars.
There’s an optional rear diff lock too – plus optional stabiliser bar decoupling. That’ll cost $2000 extra, but it’s very trick. Push a button to decouple the two sides for better articulation; it makes quite a difference, which is why it’s fitted to Jeep’s rough-tough Wrangler Rubicon.

Hill descent control is standard, holding the car on slopes with greater than 20 percent gradient when in first or second gear – great stuff as long as there’s some grip.
When there isn’t...Well, thank goodness I wasn’t sweating as much as my hapless co-driver who, though loving the scenery in theory, seemed to have an aversion to perching too close to cliff edges.

He should have had more faith in the product. Certainly it proved far more capable than this driver. I soon got used to plugging over and through the sort of lumps, bumps, rocks and obstacles no Remuera tractor should ever be asked to traverse, and doing it easily – even the steel-sprung base cars seemed right at home.

Certainly I felt at home. Heated seats are standard, and were much appreciated on frosty South Island mornings. Otherwise the cabin’s more or less identical to the outgoing car’s, bar stuff like a bigger, colour display for the air-suspended versions that now shows the steering angle in low range – useful in the sloppy stuff.

The base R5 starts the bidding with leather upholstery, manual adjust for the heated seats, a soft-close tailgate, and park distance control front and rear at $99,990.

Work up through the pack and you add bi-xenon lights, air suspension, cornering lights, electric comfort seats, and more – with the V10 topping the range at $174,490.
The V8 and V10s get 19-inch wheels as standard, but the V8 at launch was on 17s, to improve its off-road performance.

None of the rough stuff will be tackled by those queuing to buy the upcoming R50 Touareg, of course.

That beast’s 21-inch wheels alone will ensure owners keep to the seal, where they’ll best access its 250kW of power, and – deep breath – 800Nm of torque. It’ll also get sports suspension, batwing sports seats and a body kit, and we’re the only market round here getting this OTT beast.

That ability to haggle above its weight may be one reason VW is selling so well in NZ that it has overtaken more mainstream brands, like Subaru. With prices and models that stretch from the $23,990 Polo to the $174,490 V10 Touareg, one can foresee the day when the brand will need a Toyota-Lexus type of two-pronged approach, to suit both the mainstream cars and its luxury conveyances.

Meanwhile VW’s world-wide problem is profitability. VW New Zealand’s GM, Dean Sheed, says the aim is to cut costs by opening factories in areas supplying cheaper labour, not to make a cut-price Golf by cheapening Golf.

Good news for VW buyers, then – and for Touraeg, the luxury SUV with real-world ability.

By Jacqui Madelin

Auto Trader New Zealand