Friday, December 26, 2008

Volks Wagen TOUREG

Volks Wagen TOUREG

The Touareg: Volkswagen’s new Soft- roader A luxury car that I would put right up there with Range Rover, as a proper off-roader.

On test was the V6 Sport, effectively the base model with a splash of chrome and some big alloys… well if this is base specification it is extremely well appointed. This particular car was fitted with the optional navigation system and leather interior, but even that aside it wants for nothing.

The 3.2-litre, V6 is technically related to the 3.2-litre engine found in the Golf R32, the Touareg’s six-cylinder unit has been modified in several key areas to aid its off-road abilities and performance. Modifications include a revised oil pump with an altered intake, a sump redesigned to cope with steep inclines, and a revised belt drive.

The four-valve-per-cylinder engine, has two overhead camshafts and features continuous inlet and exhaust camshaft timing control to ensure high torque levels throughout the engine speed range. Maximum torque is 225 lbs ft (305 Nm) at 3,200 rpm and the rated power output of 220 PS is produced between 5,400 and 6,400 rpm.

The transmission is the 4XMOTION system which delivers its power to the front and rear axles via a transfer box and a central differential, featuring a continuously adjustable and automatically operated multi-disc clutch, which performs the differential lock function. Under normal driving conditions – a dry road with even grip and constant engine power – the four-wheel-drive system provides a 50:50 distribution of power to the front and rear axles. In conditions where a wheel begins to lose traction, for example, as a result of aquaplaning, the centre differential’s multi-disc lock increases the flow of power – up to 100 per cent – to whichever axle has more grip. The differential lock is automatically regulated by engine torque and wheel slippage, with the driver having manual override via a console mounted switch. Manually lockable front and rear axle differentials are optional items.

Volkswagen’s intention with the new Touareg was to set the highest possible standards for active and passive safety, with the very latest in electronic safety features and the inherent stability of its four-wheel-drive and traction control systems, additional strengthening bars in the sills, extremely rigid A, B, C and D-pillars they weren’t kidding. Add the passive features of enough air bags to build a bouncy castle, (or in this case to cover the entire window surface between A & C pillars), seat belt pre-tensioners and an electronic safety system that then automatically unlocks all the doors, isolates the battery & shuts down the fuel supply and all high-power electrical units, as well as switching on the hazard warning lights and the occupants are very well protected. As are any unfortunate pedestrians with deformable front wings and a design shape to enhance survive-ability

My first impression of the vehicle is its size. It is wider than most, including the X5 and M Class and the lower roof line emphasises this. This makes it incredibly stable off-road but on the down side means it does not sit in the ruts but just runs the edges. The other noticeable thing, whether from inside or out is quality, Everything fits as it should, the doors all have triple seals, there are no rattles or squeaks and its rigidity means I was able to open and close everything whilst sitting on a cross axle with two wheels in the air.

On road the standard steel suspension gives a taught ride. The crisp handling with a minimal amount of body roll, gives an excellent ride on motorway and A roads, however on rough, unclassified roads it is possible to push hard and unsettle it a little and the stiffness then gives a slightly more abrupt ride. The acceleration is excellent for a vehicle of this size, particularly through the mid range, making overtaking safe and easy

The six speed gearbox, designed for the V10 diesel to handle the huge amount of torque, is used across the range. With three driving options it offers something for all driving styles. The standard Drive setting effortlessly changes, happily pulling sixth at low speeds which helps a very respectable fuel economy of around 26mpg for such a beast, The Sport mode allows the engine to rev freely, holding a lower gear and using only five speed and finally, for those who like to drive there is the sequential mode with an option of paddle change on the steering column. For general driving I found the auto options more than adequate, I certainly can’t change gear as smoothly as the auto can, the manual mode is useful for holding gears on twisting lanes or optimising engine braking on hills but it is off-road that it really comes into its own, giving the driver complete control for ‘pro-active’ response to obstacles and hazards rather than the reactive response of electronic aids.

From the cockpit the driving position gives a good all round view of the road, huge door mirrors giving excellent rearward vision, the blind spot convex edge to the drivers side glass compensating for the restricted view past the B pillar when turning your head. The centre mirror view is obscured by the centre rear headrest but this is easily removed. All the controls are easy to reach and operate with radio and navigation screen buttons are duplicated on the steering wheel for safer driving. The ‘pop up’ transfer box control is unobtrusive when not in use and easily operated when you hit the rough stuff. And then there are the brakes… stunning… with callipers twice the size of its competitors you only need to breath on the pedal to bring the 2.5 tonne mass to a standstill.

Leaving the tarmac way behind you and venturing into the unknown the Touareg continues to shine. I always look for something good in every vehicle, here I had to try and find something bad… No it’s not a hard core off-roader and yes it has limitations, it is primarily hampered by the approach and departure angles which are only average on the steel sprung version.

With a two speed transfer case the Touareg walks away from the X5 or the Freelander and steps firmly on the toes of the Range Rover. The 4XMOTION system allows optimum levels of traction. Selecting ‘Low’ results in activation of the automatic central differential lock, which continuously checks for loss of traction and adjusts front/rear power distribution accordingly. There is also the facility to manually lock the centre diff and the optional lockable axle differentials which were not on the test car.

Once in Low and driving in ‘manual’ mode the V6 had a few surprises in store… Most auto’s won’t move without throttle at this point, the Touareg crept around at idle, exactly what you need. The shape of the front makes it difficult to see the (hypothetical) corners but it is still easy to place with such engine control as is usually reserved for diesel and manual transmission.

Pointing it down a long 350 slope the combination of gearing and electronics (an automatic downhill assistant cuts in when speeds are below 20km/h with ESP switched on) allowed the Touareg to descend at walking pace with no engine revving, changing up or anything else, most impressive. Selecting reverse, with a little gas as the slope was greasy the Touareg climbed back up to the top. With 400Nm of torque on tap the Touareg will climb effortlessly inclines of 450 (traction permitting of course)

Volkswagen designed the vehicle with pedestrian safety in mind and the resultant ‘nose’ does restrict its off-road ability, though by no more than many of its rivals. Underneath most components are tucked up into the floor pan giving a flat underside. The most vulnerable items being the rear exhaust box, which forms the limit of the departure angle, and the front spoiler which, whilst flexible and able to take a knock, is easy to catch.

The steel sprung model has respectable but not stunning wheel articulation but the electronic differential control system ensures that drive is distributed to the wheels with traction ensuring you can keep moving with only two wheels on the ground.

With all electronics and even the front headlights sealed from water the Touareg will wade to 500mm, I suspect that much deeper than this and the watertight seals will cause floatation long before the water damages anything.

In conclusion, Volkswagen may be one of the last major manufacturers to enter the 4x4 market, but they haven’t done the job half-heartedly. The Touareg is firstly a luxury car and aimed at this market, but it is also a very capable off-road vehicle. It makes no pretences, it just does the job to a level far beyond that which most of us will require. No it is not a hard core off-roader, it does not pretend to be one and no it won’t ‘steal’ customers where the badge image is of prime; importance but it is a lot of car for around £30,000 and will give the luxury sector a run for its money.

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