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Volkswagen Touareg R hybrid (2021) review: 3.5/5

VW's big Touareg not only comes as a plug-in hybrid now, but as a sporty R version too. What's it like?

Neil Briscoe

Words: Neil Briscoe - @neilmbriscoe
Pics: Paddy McGrath - @pmcgphotos

Published on: July 30, 2021

Words: Neil Briscoe - @neilmbriscoe
Pics: Paddy McGrath - @pmcgphotos

Published on: July 30, 2021

Tech Specs

Model testedVolkswagen Touareg R
Irish pricingTouareg from €80,625 on-the-road; R from €95,630
Hybrid systemturbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine, 100kW electric motor and 17.9kWh lithium-ion battery
Transmissioneight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions61g/km
Irish motor tax€150 per annum
Combined economy104.6mpg (2.7 litres/100km)
Electric range45-47km
Energy consumption24.7kWh/100km
Top speed250km/h
0-100km/h5.1 seconds
Power462hp
Torque700Nm
Boot space655-1,675 litres
Towing3,500kg braked, 750kg unbraked
SafetyEuro NCAP rating for Volkswagen Touareg

VW Touareg R overview

So, what happens when you take the big Volkswagen Touareg SUV and give it the powertrain from a Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid? Well, you get this - the VW Touareg R, which is both the largest and most expensive R model that Volkswagen sells.

We suppose that the all-electric ID.R racing car would actually cost more, but that's not for sale, so it's a moot point.

So, the Touareg R is not just the halo model for the Touareg line-up, it's the top of the R tree too, and arguably the flagship Volkswagen. Here's the question though - does all that power make it a better Touareg? And is it worth the money?

The VW Touareg model range

To be fair, the Touareg in its standard form isn't exactly a cheap car. The range kicks off with a V6 diesel engine in plain old 'Touareg' trim, which has an on-the-road price of €80,625. That has 231hp and CO2 emissions of 213g/km. Standard equipment is comprehensive, to say the least, including a 9.2-inch touchscreen, digital instrument panel, two-zone climate control, 19-inch alloys, heated front seats, LED headlights and adaptive cruise control.

The next model up is the Touareg Elegance, which is €94,325 and which adds such items as 20-inch wheels, 'Vienna' leather upholstery, power adjust front seats, electric tailgate, four-zone climate control and tinted rear windows. The emissions rating increases to 215g/km, and we suppose that it's the Elegance model that rather puts the R's inflated price tag into perspective...

Next up is the Touareg R-Line, which looks like an R, but isn't. For €98,790, you get a sporty R-Line body kit, aluminium cabin trim, 20-inch alloys, LED rear lights, memory seats and extra safety equipment including a bonnet that pops up to protect pedestrians.

You can have your Touareg Elegance as a plug-in hybrid for €82,230 thanks to a lower rate of VRT. It has CO2 emissions of just 59g/km.

Then we come to the Touareg R we're testing here, which is more overtly sporting, has more power from its hybrid setup (462hp), and an on-the-road price of €95,630. Which kind of makes it look like a bargain compared to the diesel R-Line...

Emissions stand at 61g/km, and you get upgraded 'Puglia' leather seats, special 20-inch wheels (with optional 22-inch rims as fitted to our test car), Matrix LED headlights, uprated brakes and a Torsen limited slip differential.

You can currently finance a Touareg from €929 per month, on a 4.9 per cent APR PCP deal from the VW Bank, but do check out the Volkswagen Ireland website for up-to-date offers.

The VW Touareg R interior

The first thing that hits you is the screen. While so many cars now come with a big central display, the Touareg R has a whopper of a 15-inch screen in the centre of the dash and, combined with the conjoined digital instrument panel, it looks exceptionally impressive.

It also works really well - the Touareg is still running a slightly older version of VW's infotainment operating software, and one that's been tweaked to work better on the big screen. While it takes a little practice to figure out exactly where everything is, it works really well, and much more smoothly (and reliably) than the newer setup that you'll find in cars such as the ID.4 and Tiguan.

That screen, and its performance, sets up the rest of the cabin to impress, and impress it certainly does. VW has long been renowned for its cabin quality, but after the faint disappointment of the Golf 8's interior, here the Wolfsburg company is really bringing its A-game. Bar one or two surfaces, everything looks and feels glossy and expensive.

The seats - upgraded to 'ergoComfort' status for the R - are exceptionally comfortable. At one point, we had to drive from West Cork to Belfast in one day and didn't feel the worse for it.

It probably helped that this was on one of the hottest days of the year and, thanks to the optional 'Winter Pack', those seats were cooled and ventilated, as well as heated. Space is excellent too, with plenty of room for heads, legs and feet whichever row of seats you're sat in.

Those in the back, thanks to the four-zone climate setup, get their own temperature and fan controls, as well as heated seats and two USB-C sockets.

There are more USB-C ports, and a single USB-B socket, up front, which at least gives you more options when it comes to connecting different devices. The big screen does include Apple CarPlay, but only via a cable, not a wireless connection, in spite of the wireless phone charger located ahead of the gear shift.

Behind that, and adjacent to a double-cup holder, are two small rotary controllers, one of which allows you to choose between Sport, Comfort, Eco and Electric driving modes, while the other takes care of adjusting the ride height of the air suspension.

This can be raised up high for off-roading (assuming you're ever going to take your €100k SUV off-road...) or dropped down to make getting in and out easier, or for loading the boot.

The boot also features controls for the air suspension, allowing you raise or lower the rear of the car for loading purposes. It's a big boot - holding 655 litres beneath the luggage cover - but possibly disappointing in that there's not even the option of extra seats. There's also a slight lack of luggage/shopping hooks, too.

The rear seats can be folded from the back of the boot, by tugging on a handle, and they fold almost totally flat, leaving you with 1,675 litres of load space, although there's nowhere to stash the retractable luggage cover when you remove it.

There's further practicality up front, with large door bins and a decent glove box, although the storage bin under the front seat armrest is actually surprisingly shallow.

Of course, if you've bought a big SUV like this, you probably want to tow things with it, and the Touareg R can haul up to 3,500kg on a braked trailer, or 750kg on an unbraked one. A power-folding tow-hitch is a €1,999 option.

The VW Touareg R driving experience

The R model is not as sporty to drive as you might think it will be. To be fair to the Touareg, it tries - it really, really tries - to be as dynamic and as engaging as a Cayenne, but it just can't quite manage.

You can feel the active air suspension trying to cope when you throw it at a proper, twisting, suitably mountainous Irish road, but you can pretty quickly tell that it would just rather be loping along comfortably on a nice, big N-road. Long, sweeping corners are the Touareg R's forte, not tight, skiddy switchbacks. On such a road, the Touareg R would not see which way its little brother, the Golf R, went.

It's not bad, but when you switch it into Sport mode, which firms up the suspension as well as sharpening the steering and throttle response, the Touareg R just becomes too jiggly and fidgety for fun. Unless the road surface is incredibly smooth, it just never feels quite happy tackling a really challenging road.

Turn everything back to Comfort or Eco, and find a road with longer-radius corners, and it's much better. Now, the air suspension can do its best work flattening out all but the sharpest impacts - its ride quality is really impressive, especially considering the massive 22-inch optional wheels fitted to our test car. The slight numbness of the steering matters less here, too, and the Touareg R starts to feel more like a big, practical GT.

It's very, very good at knocking off those long-distance runs, but you'd better be prepared for it to be thirsty if you're doing that kind of driving. As with most plug-in hybrids, the Touareg R is actually best suited to shorter hops, with a fully-charged battery.

Volkswagen says that you can reach 47km before the battery runs flat and calls on petrol power, but it's realistically more like 30-35km if you've got the air conditioning or heating going. Keep it regularly charged up, and don't undertake super-long journeys, and you might just get a decent percentage of that official 2.7 litres per 100km fuel consumption figure.

On those longer runs, though, it's not so great. The best figure we saw was 9.4 litres per 100km (30mpg) and most of the time our average was closer to 11.2 litres per 100km (that's 25mpg). Perhaps not so bad considering the potent performance, but not great for a car purporting to be a planet-saving hybrid.

Speaking of performance, the Touareg R punches hard with that 700Nm of torque. In anything other than Sport mode there's a little detente in the throttle pedal, through which you have to push to access full performance. Do that and it flies, suddenly shedding apparent weight and bulk, and hurling itself at the horizon.

It's impressive, but perhaps VW has concentrated a little more on the R's refinement - it's wonderfully hushed at a cruise, this car, but the downside is that, when you push it harder, there's a lack of thrilling engine noise.

The eight-speed automatic gearbox is beyond reproach, shifting silently, smoothly and effortlessly even when popping in and out of electric mode, but the brakes - in spite of being uprated for the R model - need a touch of concentration. Outright stopping power is fine, but there's a slight dead path in braking effort as you switch from regenerative electric motor braking to mechanical brakes, and that can cause an occasional skip of your heart rate when you're not used to it.

Alternatives to the VW Touareg R

Arguably the biggest rivals (figuratively and literally) for the Touareg R come from within the Volkswagen Group itself. You can have the same hybrid powertrain in models from Porsche (the Cayenne), Audi (the Q8 and Q7) and Bentley (the Bentayga).

The problem for the Touareg R is that, other than the Bentley, all of these are priced surprisingly close to it (although all would be less well-equipped as standard, so in some sense mark a false economy).

Outside the VW empire, there's the likes of the recently updated Maserati Levante, which can now be had with a mild-hybrid powertrain; the Volvo XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid, the Mercedes GLE plug-in hybrid (which can also be had as a diesel plug-in hybrid) and the BMW X5 xDrive45e.

Or, for the kind of money you'd spend on the Touareg R, you could skip over the whole hybrid thing and get yourself into a fully electric Tesla Model X.

Our verdict on the VW Touareg R

So, can the Touareg R justify its lofty price? Almost... It's actually not that expensive compared to other models in the Touareg range, but it is dangerously similar in list price terms (if not options-in terms) to similar models from Audi and Porsche. Plus there's the consideration that you need to keep it charged up to make the most of it, and that it's actually not as much fun to drive as you think it might be.

However, for all of that, the Touareg R is hugely likeable, has a terrific interior, excellent quality levels, great comfort and refinement and is certainly a handsome thing. It's always going to struggle to live with that price, but it's a hugely capable car, nonetheless.



Tech Specs

Model testedVolkswagen Touareg R
Irish pricingTouareg from €80,625 on-the-road; R from €95,630
Hybrid systemturbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine, 100kW electric motor and 17.9kWh lithium-ion battery
Transmissioneight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions61g/km
Irish motor tax€150 per annum
Combined economy104.6mpg (2.7 litres/100km)
Electric range45-47km
Energy consumption24.7kWh/100km
Top speed250km/h
0-100km/h5.1 seconds
Power462hp
Torque700Nm
Boot space655-1,675 litres
Towing3,500kg braked, 750kg unbraked
SafetyEuro NCAP rating for Volkswagen Touareg