Good: impressive looking, high quality, loads of space
Not so good: expensive, not efficient enough
Why doesn't Volkswagen sell more examples of its Touareg SUV? That's the question asked of me by another member of the CompleteCar.ie team as we sit and discuss the latest, facelifted iteration of the full-size 4x4, just landed in Ireland in time for the country's economic recovery. Naturally, sales of large luxury SUVs nose-dived in line with property prices in 2009, though Volkswagen sold 261 examples in 2007 and another 157 in 2008. Nevertheless, over the same period, BMW sold 1,215 X5s, Toyota off loaded 1,166 'passenger' Land Cruisers and the Touareg's cousin, the Audi Q7, found 927 homes.
We first drove the updated Touareg in autumn 2014 at its international launch, but it looks no less fresh now. The styling updates are subtle and extend to redesigned bumpers, new wheels, a new grille and restyled lights all round. Park the 2015 model next to an old one and you'll spot the changes immediately, but buyers will be in no doubt that it's a Touareg even when it is seen in isolation - it's large and imposing as ever, perhaps now with a touch more presence.
Just three versions of the Touareg are offered to Irish buyers. The entry-level car, as tested here with a small number of options, is powered by a 204hp version of the 3.0-litre TDI V6 diesel. Otherwise it's the same specification with a more powerful engine (262hp) or that in Terrain Technology format, which means it is more off-road oriented. All versions are in Band E and the lowest on-the-road price is €70,425.
That level of pricing offers a hint at the challenge Volkswagen faces. It undercuts all the heavyweight premium SUVs, but not by much, and most of those have seven seats, something the Touareg can't be specified with. So for starters, there's the BMW X5 (the rear-drive X5 is actually cheaper than the Volkswagen), the new Audi Q7, the Mercedes-Benz M-Class (or GLE as it's about to be renamed), Land Rover Discovery and even the brand new - and really rather superb - Volvo XC90.
In fairness, the lack of seven seats in the Touareg does mean no compromises in the layout of the five-seat cabin, which feels luxuriously spacious in all directions. Even the middle rear seat passenger has plenty of room. The leather upholstery is soft and supple and the electrically adjusted and heated seats are very comfortable. Upgrades for the 2015 model year are restrained, but have raised the perceived quality a notch. There's loads of oddments storage as well, including a massive centre console box - and another atop the dashboard. That sits above a crystal-clear colour touchscreen system with intuitive interface and good satnav. That's standard too, as is plenty of other equipment such as dual-zone climate control, stunning 20-inch alloy wheels, the aforementioned leather upholstery, parking sensors front and rear, cruise control, bi-Xenon headlights and electric folding and heated door mirrors - surprising then to find that keyless entry and start is not included.
Turn the chunky key in its dashboard slot and the 3.0-litre V6 TDI engine roars into life. It's smooth and characterful in a way that no four-cylinder unit could be, but we can't help but wonder why Volkswagen doesn't offer one of its bi-turbo TDI engines in the Touareg. They produce loads of torque and should be more efficient. As it stands, the Touareg is in Band E with an annual tax bill of €750. We suspect that there'd be plenty of takers for a two-wheel drive version with lower running costs, but that doesn't seem to be on the cards.
Of course, the 4Motion four-wheel drive system is appreciated when it's needed and ensures the Touareg puts its power down with no fuss or wheel scrabble on the road too, regardless of conditions. There's a rotary dial to choose between on- and off-road settings too, which is simpler than on some rivals. That eight-speed auto is at its best on the motorway where it's silky smooth and quick changing. In Sport mode it speeds up response a little but at times it seems to unnecessarily hunt between gears when you're in a hurry as if it reckons the engine hasn't quite enough performance. If you plan on towing (it's rated to 3,500kg) then it may be worth considering the more powerful engine. That'd certainly make it more satisfying to drive cross country, though it's a wide car when taken down narrow roads.
In isolation then the Touareg is a fine car: luxurious, refined, well-equipped and desirable, but when buyers start doing the sums we reckon some with realise that it's 'strongly' priced and may put their money into newer premium rivals. That's about the only explanation for the relative lack of sales.