VW takes R to largely unnecessary extremes with top-spec, plug-in Touareg
Someone important at VW and it might as well be its performance division boss, Jost Capito, marvels Iain Robertson, has been on a ragga tip of late, revealing in close succession the slightly mad T-Roc R and now the comprehensively loopy Touareg R.
Before VW Group became the master of all it surveys, its model-naming strategy was based on what was pumped out the doors at Wolfsburg, titivation being provided by a slightly coy ‘GTi’ badge, subtle tartan seats and red highlights. Its Audi division rolled out the matter of fact A-designated models, by which the consumer was in no doubt about how far up the range he might course. Skoda tested the waters with RS but added an accent ‘v’ at production time, when it noticed that Ford was looking a little edgy, even though Audi seemed to be granted permission with its RS models. Seat drafted-in ‘FR’, because ‘FQ’ had already been claimed by Mitsubishi (when that Japanese company actually cared). They were simpler days.
Despite the importance of GTi, which is difficult to copyright and, while not the sole right of VW, has become synonymous with the brand, it is simply not racy enough, when the company has an high-price employment contract to honour for its former motorsport supremo…the aforementioned Mr Capito. Creating both ‘R’ and the softer, style-leaning ‘R-Line’, both borrowed from your choice of Race, or Rally, first initials, was a part-reputational, mostly contractual decision.
Yet, we are in an era afflicted, defined and borne down upon by emissions legislation and Frau Merkel’s (slightly out-of-control) federal government had already targeted a monster CO2 reduction for the start of 2020. Every German carmaker has reacted ever so politely to its government’s demands by hiking up prices to offset fines levied on non-compliant models. ‘R’ could stand for Ravaged, or Reprisal, or Revenge, at this moment in VW’s timeline.
Capito’s response is to launch the most potent Touareg R, which boasts a whopping 456bhp, supported by 516lbs ft of torque, with a practical sting in its tail provided by plug-in hybrid hardware. The 3.0-litre V6 TSi petrol-turbo engine works in conjunction with a 133bhp electric motor and a 14.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack to achieve its banner headline output and, while the performance figures have not been released, even though the Touareg is quite a portly old thing, you can reckon on 0-60mph being despatched in around 4.7s, with the customary maximum speed being electronically/politically restricted to 155mph. This model is not set to make its debut until the second half of 2020, the current range top dog being the 416bhp V8 TDi variant.
Naturally, the art of part-electrification is a pacifying step. The Touareg R’s ability to drive in EV-mode at speeds of up to 90mph satisfies most autobahn cruisers and the green-pressured German administration. The actual EV range is unspecified (the official figures are due soon) but a guesstimate of around 35-miles, with a projected WLTP combined fuel economy of 60mpg would seem about right for a flexible drivetrain that incorporates brake energy recovery technology and drives all four wheels, through an 8-speed automatic transmission. To be fair, these projected figures are impressive, considering that the big Touareg can also tow up to 3.5-tonnes in hybrid mode.
Touareg has already earned its stripes as a capable off-roader, its indomitable drive-train also motivating the Audi Q8, Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Bentayga (neither Seat, nor Skoda, have been considered, as yet, to be ballsy enough brands to feature a super-4×4 in their ranks). VW has seen fit to attempt a future-proofing exercise with its revised line-up, offering, as an option, the Travel Assist function, which scares the bejesus out of me!
We all know that ‘driverless cars’ are coming. Relying on adaptive cruise control (for longitudinal guidance) and the lane-keeping assist program (for lateral guidance), despite a legal and safety requirement for the driver to maintain notional contact with the steering wheel, the prospect of a two-tonne laden Touareg bearing down on other vehicles at speeds of up to 155mph fills me with terror. Of course, VW is eminently proud of its technological achievement, not least its ability to operate at such high speeds but, until ‘platooning’ becomes more evident on the public highways (unlikely in the UK, with the current and growing distrust in ‘smart’ motorways), I would not recommend specifying its fitment on your Touareg R.
Needless to say, the new Touareg line-up boasts the highest levels of ADAS and connectivity of any VW product…which is not actually the case, because VW loves to spread its parts-bin love around all of its brands. Yet, you will be impressed by the 12.0-inch digital and reprogrammable instrument panel and the 15.0-inch infotainment touchscreen that is linked to it and sits atop the impressive centre stack. The centre-dash screen is the pathway to virtually every single operational element of the car, which includes its various chassis and drivetrain priority settings for both on and off-road exploits.
Exterior recognition for the R is typical VW fayre, with glossy black wheel-arch, grille and under-bumper detailing and, if the 20.0-inch diameter alloy wheels provide insufficient kerb appeal, up to 22.0-inch options are available, with commensurately costly low-profile rubber cladding them. The R treats inside include the embossed seat backs and sill covers, while mood lighting adds visual appeal at night-time. You can specify ‘night vision’ and a 780W Dynaudio stereo system from an extensive and expensive accessories list. The ‘regular’ Touareg line-up starts with a choice of 227, or 284bhp V6 TDi engines, or the aforementioned V8 TDi and a 336bhp TSi V6 petrol alternative, all of which will be phased in over the next few months.
Conclusion: While I think that monster 4x4s may have had their day, especially in light of unceasing pressure from the eco-lobby, it is amusing that VW should elect to introduce a full-fat option, albeit with part-electrification as its sop. For those buyers feeling compelled to indulge, before the gates to hell open, the Touareg will provide a decent platform.