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The German brand's flagship SUV returns with more power, enhanced safety and a massive touchscreen. But does it have the fuel economy to compete?
18in alloys, front-assist monitoring and pedestrian protection system, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, auto LED headlights, 9in central screen, heated electric-fold mirrors, DAB, Bluetooth, USB and AUX, multifunction camera
With the high-tech, but low-selling Phaeton limo consigned to history - its last global sales were in 2016 - the third-generation Touareg is now the flagship of the VW brand. Cue 'halo' new technologies like all-wheel steering, night vision and the stand-out Innovision Cockpit. Featuring a huge 15in centre screen that almost seamlessly joins up with the 12in driver display, it beats the 12.3in centre screen of the Mercedes E-Class and is only a couple of inches shy of Tesla's huge 17in set-up.
Putting size to one side, the screen functions really well, with swipe-able windows, air-con controls always available at its base, great map options and an iPhone-like 'back' button to make 'starting again' easy. There are two potential negatives though. Firstly, the screen is angled markedly towards the driver, so shorter-armed front-seat passengers might struggle to access all of the great content within it. Secondly, only a 9in screen is standard and VW UK won't indicate how much this 15in special might cost, even though the car goes on sale on 7 June. Expect it to be pricey, but worth optioning. Once you've tried it, going back to a smaller screen, like the one in the car I drove home, feels like a let-down.
Beyond the dominant, but optional, screen, the Touareg's cabin is well-finished, with fancy ambient lighting (also worth optioning), and spacious in the front and back. There's no seven-seat option, unlike rivals from Volvo and Land Rover, but the positive knock-on effect is a very big boot, 811 litres rising to 1,800 litres.
A petrol and a plug-in hybrid will eventually fill out the engine range, but, at launch, there are just two diesels: 231 and 286hp versions of a 3.0-litre V6. On our test, only the latter 286hp unit was available. Offering 24hp extra over the outgoing 262hp V6 diesel, it's undeniably powerful, with more than enough shove for daily driving. Handling was enhanced by the four-wheel steering, active chassis control and excellent bump-suppressing air suspension.
Steering is neat, with a usefully small, VW Golf-like turning circle. A 340hp 3.0-litre petrol arrives in the autumn and, for those who need to tow big stuff (the Touareg can haul a 3.5-tonne trailer) or simply want more power, a 421hp 4.0-litre V8 turbodiesel arrives early 2019.
A 367hp plug-in hybrid will complete the range and raise the Touareg's top-end pricing considerably, but China gets that powertrain first and no date is set for the UK. Prices will start from £49,000 for SEL trim, some £3,000 up on the outgoing range's starting point, rising to an estimated £52,000 for the R-Line Tech. No manual gearbox is available, only an eight-speed auto.
Standard kit is yet to be confirmed, but should include 18in alloys and a pedestrian protection system. Despite being 106kg lighter than its predecessor, the 286hp diesel's NEDC-quoted 40.9mpg economy takes a dip compared to the outgoing equivalent's 42.2mpg but both cars stay in the top 37% BIK bracket.
The smaller 231hp diesel and PHEV will be better company car tax bets, but VW predicts 80% of all the new car's sales will remain diesel. It also concedes that Touareg's UK fleet split will probably reduce from 85% on the existing model to about 60% - in 2017, the big SUV sold 3,689 units in total.
VW says the Touareg has always been a big hit with user choosers and smaller businesses. But with more credible entrants now entering the premium SUV segment the manufacturer wants to play in - Jaguar's F-Pace and Volvo's XC90 Mk2 are just two - the company may find sales harder to come by than before.