What are you driving?
The new Volkswagen Touareg. That it's big is immediately apparent. In pure physical terms, it's large enough to be hulking, and it looms above most other cars, even most other SUVs in the car park. It's also big in terms of both image and, potentially, risk for VW as a brand, but we'll come back to that in a tic.
On a technical level, the Touareg uses the same Volkswagen Group 'MLB' platform as the Audi Q7, the Porsche Cayenne (!), the Bentley Bentayga (!!) and the Lamborghini Urus (!!!). Does that mean that the Touareg is a bargain Bentley? Kind of, yes, but it's not as straightforward as that...
Name its best bits
If you had to pick one outstanding aspect of the Touareg, it's comfort. From the moment you haul yourself up into those big front armchairs to the moment you get out, it's verging on the sybaritic. While we like the exterior styling (big, square of shoulder and jaw, and with that massive radiator grille and piercing lights arrangement) it's the inside of the Touareg we love.
Now it helps that our test car was a high-spec R-Line version, which comes with the 15-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash (massive, gorgeous, arguably takes over from the Volvo XC90 as the class leader in this specific respect), backed up by the 12.3-inch 'Active Info' display behind the wheel, which is your all-singing, all-dancing instrument panel.
The two displays are linked, although you can't slide, drag and drop items between them, but you can use the central display to setup the information that the instruments show you. You can also use it to adjust the seats, the stereo, the navigation, the climate control - virtually everything in fact. There are hardly any proper, physical, buttons. While that can mean that the system is a touch fiddly and thought-intensive at times, in some ways it's rather like the even bigger screen you get in a Tesla Model X, in that the sheer scale of the real-estate makes the system easier to use.
Quality levels in the Touareg are exceptionally high, and if the overall design and layout of the cabin owes a little to that of the much, much more affordable Passat, then it's certainly a very pleasant place in which to spend time. So much so that you almost begin dreaming up reasons to drive further, for longer.
That thought process is aided and abetted by the 3.0-litre TDI V6 diesel engine, tested here in 286hp form (a more affordable 231hp version will be available soon, and a plug-in hybrid PHEV model is on the way). It's exceptionally smooth, quiet and refined. With 600Nm of torque, even accounting for the Touareg's two-tonne unladen weight, performance feels brisk enough for almost any circumstances, and with the height and the seat comfort, you soon realise that you are king of the outside lane.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Touareg retains its composure on twisting roads. Perhaps some Porsche or Lamborghini DNA has filtered back through the platform-sharing process, because while you'd never describe the Touareg as a 'driver's car' it can be flicked into high speed corners with a commitment and level of confidence that is rare in the big SUV world. And yes, that's including such well-sorted cars as the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. In fact, the Touareg feels even more agile to drive than the Audi Q7, which is supposedly the sportier model.
While it is expensive, the Touareg does bring a huge amount of equipment to the table, which helps its case. Our €86k test car had but one fitted optional extra - metallic paint - which means that the rest (screens, 20-inch alloys, adaptive cruise control, pedestrian protection including a pyrotechnic pop-up bonnet, amazing Dynaudio sound system, head-up display, folding tow-hitch, heated seats and steering wheel) all comes as standard.
Oh, and the boot is massive. VW quotes 810 litres with the rear seats in place (and oddly doesn't yet quote a seats folded figure, but it must in the region of 2,000 litres) and that's enough for just about anything you want to put back there. Forget 'lifestyle SUV' - this is one that you could conceivably actually live in.
Anything that bugs you?
There are two big issues with the Touareg, one outside of VW's control, and one very much inside.
The outside one is the Irish tax system. Up to the end of July, you could have bought a big, luxurious SUV such as this and had it registered as an N1 commercial vehicle. Even if you weren't taxing it as a commercial, you would still get the massive saving on the price tag thanks to the 13.3 per cent Vehicle Registration Tax rate for commercial vehicles. VW, along with many others, exploited that little gap in the tax system very nicely, and it was a big driver of sales for the previous Touareg. That loophole has now been closed, though, so you're paying a bigger entry price for the car, which won't help sales very much.
That issue could have, potentially, been ameliorated by offering a seven-seat version, but there's no seven-seat Touareg as yet, nor any sign of one on the horizon. Is that because VW doesn't want to pinch sales from the seven-seat Audi Q7? Possibly, but then in the US market, you can buy the Volkswagen Atlas, a roughly-Touareg sized SUV with, you've guessed it, seven seats. Has VW gotten its product planning algorithm in a muddle? Possibly.
It's also worth pointing out that, while the overall levels of cabin quality are little short of excellent, there are one or two plastic panels that fall short of the sort of thing you might expect to see in an €86k car.
And why have you given it this rating?
The Touareg's lack of seats and the unfortunate timing of a change to the tax system, will doubtless hold the model back somewhat in the Irish market. Indeed, a VW insider has said, sotto voce, that "we don't expect to be out the door with them." Which is a shame. The Touareg is a fantastically impressive car - beautifully built, exceptionally comfortable and quiet, surprisingly agile, those screens, those seats - but I fear VW is just going to have to be resigned to lower sales than those of the old model.
What do the rest of the team think?
The interior is definitely the star of the show in the Touareg, especially in top specification. It looks amazing at night in particular. I'd like a more distinctive rear end to the car, but you can't argue with all that space (so long as you don't need more than five seats, obviously). Found the large wheels sometimes picked up poor road surfaces that you'd rather it didn't, but otherwise an incredibly civilised and relaxing drive.
Shane O' Donoghue - Editor