Volkswagen Touareg R review
The Touareg R is the hottest version of Volkswagen’s biggest SUV, but it’s also the most efficient as it’s a plug-in hybrid
What's not so good
Volkswagen Touareg R: what would you like to read next?
The Volkswagen Touareg has long been a lower cost alternative to full-size luxury SUVs such as the Mercedes GLE and BMW X5. But there’s always been one thing missing that those cars have: a fully-fledged performance version.
Happily, VW’s R performance brand – not content with churning out hot Golfs in their many thousands – has recently been working its magic on SUVs such as the Tiguan and T-Roc. It seemed only natural that the Touareg would follow, and finally it has: but with a twist.
You see, this is a 2.5 tonne large SUV with a macho look and thumping turbo V6 power on the one hand, but it’s also a fuel-sipping plug-in hybrid on the other. It’s like the takeaway burger that makes you thin, or the cigarette that makes you healthier with each puff. Well that’s the theory at least.
To create the Touareg R Volkswagen takes the standard SUV and gives it a bit more visual bite. There’s gloss black trim all over the front-end, while a subtle bodykit, plenty of R badging, the now trademark Lapiz Blue paint and some big 22in wheels. It’s just enough to stand out a bit more than normal, but not too tacky or garish that you fear parking it on the street.
It’s a similar story inside, where upgrades extend to quilted leather sports seats, blue stitching, a unique steering wheel with a sportier rim and blue trim, and yet more R badging. The equipment tally has gone up, too. And rightly so: at over £72,000 before options this stretches VW to pricing heights not seen since the bonkers Phaeton luxury saloon.
The Touareg R sounds promising - electric when you want it to be, fast when you don't. Shame it's far less exciting than I'd hoped.
The Touareg R uses a hybrid system derived from Porsche, which sounds enticing. It’s a 340hp 2.9-litre turbo V6 mated to a 136hp electric motor and battery pack, promising 0-62mph in just 5.1 seconds: not bad for something so huge and heavy.
On the other side of the coin, a 14.1kWh battery allows fully-electric running for up to 28 miles officially. That means the Touareg R promises a very impressive 94mpg overall. Though this being a plug-in hybrid, you won’t be getting anything like that unless you regularly plug it in to charge.
It all sounds rather excellent. But in practice this is a posh hybrid SUV first, and an engaging performance car a distant second.
The first disappointment is an engine that, while very smooth and refined, makes almost no noise at all. That’s fine in an EV or something non-sporty, but surely in the dying days of the petrol engine you want to hear the V6 roar?
The lack of noise compounds the Touareg R’s problem of not feeling as fast as the 5.1 second 0-62mph time makes it seem. It’s only slightly down on the pace of a Golf R on paper, but in practice it doesn’t feel anything like as fast in any situation. Frankly, it doesn’t feels much quicker than the regular V6 Touaregs, but it is at least great around town thanks to its hybrid assistance.
But that hybrid system brings its own penalty: weight. The base Touareg is no lightweight, but the R is nearly 400kg heavier thanks to that hefty battery. The main effect is a complete lack of any sportiness when the roads get twisty.
Sure, it’s composed and has plenty of grip, but there’s zero fun to be had from the remote steering and a lack of agility. Also disappointing is that despite the four-wheel drive apparently sending up to 80% of power to the rear wheels when needed, you can’t really notice it. Yet because of the chunky wheels, it’s not quite as comfortable as the regular Touareg.
It’s a shame, because if VW ditched the R badge, put it on smaller wheels and reduced the price they’d up the appeal of this car. As it is, it’s difficult to recommend the R over a regular Touareg.
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Just as roomy for passengers as the standard Touareg, but the hybrid batteries eat into the boot space
The Touareg R is no less roomy than the regular model when it comes to cramming bodies into the seats.
You’d have to be a bit of a freak of nature not to get comfortable behind the wheel, with loads of head and legroom for even the tallest driver. The front seats come with 14-way electric adjustment as standard to help you find your ideal seating position.There’s plenty of adjustment in the steering wheel too, and there’s absolutely loads of leg and headroom to let you stretch out.
Those seats also come with ventilation and a massage function, although this feels more like the seat’s gently breathing beneath you than a full-blown massage. The seats are the same as you get in lesser R-Line models, however, so they don’t hug you in place like the sports seats in something like a Porsche Cayenne.
There’s tonnes of space in the back seats, though. A six-foot-tall passenger will have loads of space to stretch out behind an equally tall driver and there’s loads of space for them to tuck their feet under the front seats.
The back seats recline slightly too, so passengers can doze off on long drives. There’s enough space to carry three adults at once, but the central seat’s raised above the outer two and there isn’t quite as much headroom as you get in an Audi SQ7.
If you regularly carry much younger passengers, you’ll find it’s a doddle to fit a child seat. The VW Touareg’s back doors open nice and wide and the Isofix anchor points are easy to access once you’ve removed their protective covers. The Touareg’s huge rear windows mean kids get a good view out too, so they shouldn’t feel car sick on long journeys.
Unfortunately, you can’t get any VW Touareg with a third row of seats. You can slide the rear seats forwards and backwards as standard, however, so you can prioritise either boot space or back-seat legroom.
There’s a decent number of handy cubby spaces in the VW Touareg’s cabin. All four door bins are big enough to carry a one-litre bottle and the cupholders in the centre console are wide enough to comfortably hold a large flask.
The glovebox isn’t especially roomy and the storage tray under the huge central armrest is quite shallow, but you get a storage tray under the dashboard with a wireless charging pad for your phone as standard. There’s also a USB port and a 12V socket beside this and you get a small tray on the driver’s side for your keys.
Passengers in the back get two USB ports and another 12V socket, along with a folding armrest with two built-in cup holders. Annoyingly, these are placed in exactly the spot where you’d usually rest your arm.
The only compromise the Touareg R demands over the standard car in terms of space is in the boot.
Because of the plug-in hybrid system’s bulky battery pack, the boot floor has been raised a touch, cutting 70 litres from the total capacity. However, that still leaves a massive 740-litre space, which is 90 litres more than a BMW X5 M. That’s the biggest upside to a lack of a third row of seats.
Its wide opening and square shape make it easy to pack bulky luggage, and there’s almost no load lip to lift heavy items over. It doesn’t come with a split bootlid like some alternatives, but you can lower the Touareg’s ride height by 4cm in cars with adjustable suspension to make it even easier to load.
The back seats fold in a three-way (40:20:40) split so you can carry some passengers in the back and some long luggage poking through from the boot at the same time. There’s also a set of levers by the boot opening to let you fold the back seats down, but you have to push the seats down from the back doors to lock them in place.
Once folded, the 1730-litre space is hugely useful. Oh, and one benefit of the raised boot floor in the Touareg R is that, unlike the standard car, it has a fully flat load bay to make sliding items in and out a breeze. Who says a smaller boot is a bad thing?
The VW Touareg R doesn’t hit the spot like lesser R models to drive, feeling heavy and lacking excitement for a performance version
The sole engine choice for the Touareg R is a petrol-electric plug-in hybrid system. It’s very similar to that found in Porsche’s e-Hybrid Cayenne and Panamera.
Here, the 2.9-litre turbocharged V6 puts out 340hp on its own. That’s then combined with 136hp coming from an electric motor mounted between the engine and gearbox. All power is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
How rewarding (or not) the Touareg R is depends on what you’re doing. If you’re pootling about town or at steady faster speeds the engine and electric motor take turns in powering the car to maximise fuel economy. The transition between petrol electric power is smooth, and it’s very refined. Even with a depleted battery, over 30mpg is achievable on a run.
That’s all well and good, but this is an R: it should be able to excite with its straight-line performance alone. And sadly, it doesn’t. You prod the throttle and there’s a swell of torque as the two power sources combine, but it never really builds to anything, feeling acceptably brisk rather than pushing you back into the seat.
What’s more, the only time you can hear much of what the engine’s doing is when it’s straining at the top of the rev range. Something like an Audi SQ7, with its thumping twin-turbo V8, is in a different league in terms of excitement. And let’s not think about the sort of performance saloon this money would buy.
To succeed as a performance SUV the Touareg R needs to skilfully blend comfort and physics-defying handling like the best of this type of car can. Sadly, it doesn’t quite manage that.
The biggest issue is how heavy this car is. Few of these SUVs are exactly featherweights, but at just under 2.5 tonnes with just five seats the Touareg R is a real porker. You can’t escape this during quick direction changes and in tighter bends where it feels big, lazy and pretty far from sporting.
It doesn’t really matter what setting you put the air suspension, it’s clear that Volkswagen hasn’t done much to make this Touareg feel like less of a barge than normal models. Sure, it doesn’t wallow about too much and the steering is okay, but it’s numb and remote, isolating you from everything that’s going on.
That would be fine if the Touareg R was excellent at riding out bumps, but it’s less cosseting for passengers – particularly so on the model with 22in wheels. It’s hardly stiff by any means, but some of the standard car’s comfort has been sacrificed.
At least wind and road noise are very well isolated. And, once up to speed, the ride does smooth out nicely enough. The Touareg R also has the ability to raise its air suspension up to help it navigate rough terrain, although few people will be buying the R model to do that.
Don’t expect a hardcore cabin for the sportiest Touareg – it’s largely the same as the standard model, bar some R detailing