Volkswagen Touareg eHybrid review: in this form, you pay a significant premium for mediocrity

Volkswagen Touareg eHybrid
Robbins: 'The trouble with the Touareg is that its rivals are more comfortable, more luxurious and/or better to drive' - Stuart G W Price

Whom exactly is the Touareg for? The original, launched 21 years ago, was part of a push by Ferdinand Piëch, the Volkswagen chairman at the time, to move the brand upmarket, a drive which also resulted in the Phaeton and Passat W8.

All were good cars, but the VW badge simply couldn’t cut it in rarefied company; the Touareg was the only model to survive.

Today, it soldiers on, with a commensurate nip and tuck halfway through the lifespan of its third generation.

The trouble is, these days buyers spending £70,000-odd on a large SUV tend not to want a VW badge. And when almost all its rivals have seven seats, the five-seat Touareg feels like a car without a good reason to buy it. But is that really the case?


  • Spacious

  • Lots of power

  • Somewhat generous equipment list


  • High company car tax rates

  • Unsettled ride quality on steel springs

  • No seven-seat option

Tax band trouble

The middle of the Touareg range now consists of two diesel versions and one petrol Black Edition version, clearly intended to appeal to retail buyers with their blacked-out styling.

These are book-ended by a pair of plug-in hybrids targeted, as you’d expect, at company car buyers. The R sits at the top of the range with a thumping 456bhp power train (and an equally thumping £81,000 price); the Elegance model tested here is a more sensible option.

Its P11D value just shy of £69,000 makes it rather more palatable, especially given it delivers a more than ample 376bhp, but don’t imagine that this is a cheap vehicle to tax if you’re a company car user-chooser.

Volkswagen Toureg
One of the downsides of the Touareg is high company car tax rates

That’s because the face-lifted Touareg hasn’t been given the upgraded battery of its platform-mate the Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid, which means it must make do with an electric-only range of 31 miles.

As a result, it sits in the 15 per cent benefit-in-kind (BIK) band, where most of its rivals, which have all gained longer ranges, fall into the band below, at 8 per cent.

The result is that although the Touareg’s P11D value is slightly lower than those of its plug-in rivals, it will still cost you almost double in company car tax – and several thousand pounds more than a fully electric alternative. Ouch.

Interior appointments

Even this entry-level Touareg has the whopping 15in central touch screen, as well as four-zone climate control, heated front seats, keyless entry and a panoramic roof. But there are some slightly odd omissions from the equipment list; you have to set your driving position manually, for example, while adjustable lumbar support is notable only by its absence.

The touch screen’s size is good in many ways, because it means the on-screen icons are suitably large and therefore easy to press. However, there are some daft design choices, such as the way the “buttons” to adjust the climate control appear only when you move your hand closer, which means you always have to look down a couple of times to locate them.

Volkswagen Touareg eHybrid
The displays and the touch screen take a bit of getting used to

The heated seat display takes a bit of getting used to, too: the three red dashes are always on screen, so you think at a glance that your heated seats are switched on, but only when you actually turn them on do the three red dashes become three slightly wider red dashes, to indicate that the seat heater has been activated. But of course.

In this, the Touareg’s software is a victim of the sort of idiosyncratic usability that has dogged Volkswagen for the past few years. You can find this sort of thing on display elsewhere in the interior, too, in the touch-sensitive steering wheel controls, for example: presumably to ensure you don’t brush them by mistake, these have been set to require a firm prod – so much so that you often have to have two or three attempts before activating them.

The rest of the dashboard is fine, really, if a trifle uninspiring; there are high-quality plastics and flashes of real metal, but clamber into the Touareg from a Volvo XC90 and you’ll probably find it rather dour by comparison.

The sheer size of the screen means the rest of the dashboard design must revolve around it, too, and the discordant, angular lines aren’t particularly welcoming. That huge screen nudges the supposedly face-level air vents down to crotch level, too.

Space? Well, there’s plenty of it. There’s room to stretch your legs in the rear seats and you actually have to lean forward to be able to touch the backs of the front seats. The panoramic roof makes the whole car feel delightfully airy, too.

Volkswagen Toureg eHybrid
The Toureg seats only five people

On the downside, the Touareg only ever seats five people – you can’t have it with the seven that are standard in the XC90. And while the boot is vast, it’s a shame there’s no underfloor storage for the electric cables, which live in a bag that’s buckled to the boot floor, taking up space and getting in the way when loading bulkier items.

On the road

First impressions aren’t bad – the electric motor powers you pretty well and when the petrol engine joins in there’s no doubting the amount of sheer urgency the Touareg delivers. It even sounds rather good, in a muted way.

However the switch-over between the two isn’t particularly smooth. When you put your foot down to overtake, the Touareg takes a beat or two to work out which combination of gear ratio, engine and motor will yield the best result, by which time the gap is fast disappearing.

The brakes aren’t brilliant, either; they fool you slightly with the top third of the pedal travel, which feels pretty responsive, but then the lower two-thirds feel rather wooden by comparison.

As a result, you often find yourself pressing harder in a mild panic as you realise the Touareg isn’t drawing to a halt quite as rapidly as you’d expected. You might at least be expecting a smooth ride – indeed, comfort is an area in which Touaregs have traditionally scored well.

Volkswagen Toureg
It would be a stretch to call the Toureg ‘fun’ to drive, says Robbins

But this entry-level Elegance version has steel springs, rather than the air suspension of pricier versions; while this is OK on reasonably smooth Tarmac, the Touareg pitches and thumps over larger divots and rougher sections elicit a nasty side-to-side head toss.

Meanwhile the huge wheels and narrow-sidewalled tyres pick up minor imperfections. This trait continues on motorways, meaning the Touareg doesn’t feel settled at speed.

You wouldn’t expect such a vast, heavy, softly sprung SUV to handle brilliantly, yet the Touareg is better than you might imagine. There is plenty of grip and traction, while the nose is willing, if not eager, to turn in on demand.

Feed in the power and the Touareg hooks up and goes around the bend neatly, with body lean surprisingly well controlled. It would be a stretch to call it fun, though.

The Telegraph verdict

The trouble with the Touareg is that its rivals are more comfortable, more luxurious and/or better to drive, while almost all integrate their electric motor and petrol engine more convincingly.

It could get away with being pretty average in plug-in hybrid form if it undercut rivals with super-low company car tax rates. Sadly, the opposite is true.

With a diesel engine, as a private purchase, its relatively decent value and solid towing capabilities might be a saving grace.

But in plug-in hybrid form, as a company car – as most will surely be – the Touareg forces you to pay a significant premium for mediocrity.

Who exactly is this car for, then? I’m still not certain – but if you’re choosing a company car, it probably isn’t for you.

Telegraph rating: Two stars out of five

The facts

On test: Volkswagen Touareg 3.0 TSI eHybrid Elegance 4Motion

Body style: Five-door SUV

On sale: Now

How much? £68,950 on the road (range from £68,455)

How fast? 155mph, 0-62mph in 5.9sec

How economical? 128mpg (WLTP Combined)

Engine & gearbox: 2,995cc six-cylinder petrol engine, eight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive

Electric powertrain: AC permanent magnet synchronous motor with 14.3kWh (usable) battery, 7.2kW on-board charger, Type 2 charging socket

Electric range: 31 miles

Maximum power/torque: 376bhp/332lb ft

CO2 emissions: 51g/km (WLTP Combined)

VED: £20 first year, £560 next five years, then £170

Warranty: 3 years/60,000 miles (no mileage limit in first two years)

Spare wheel as standard: no (not available)

The rivals

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge

449bhp, 217.3mpg, £73,503 on the road

Volvo XC90 T8 Recharge
A seven-seater (as opposed to a five-seater) with a beautiful finish

Probably the best large plug-in hybrid SUV to carry the family. Yes, it costs a little more than the Touareg, but don’t forget you get two extra seats, more electric-only range and a whole lot more power. What’s more, the XC90 is beautifully finished and highly practical inside.

BMW X5 xDrive50e M Sport

482bhp, 313.9mpg, £80,835 on the road

The BMW X5 is a sharp, smart drive
The BMW X5 is a sharp, smart drive

It’s not cheap, but the large battery means this X5 can go 65 miles on a charge – if electric range is important, it’s worth a look regardless. It’s much sharper to drive than the Touareg and smarter inside, while the large battery means it will be cheaper on company car tax.

Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid

464bhp, 188.3mpg, £79,800 on the road

Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid
The Porsche Cayenne is in a lower tax band, and also has more power

Despite being based on the same platform as the Touareg, this is very different. An uprated battery gives it better electric range and therefore drops it into a lower tax band; there’s also more power, sharper handling and a higher-quality interior. If you can convince your fleet manager to let you have one, it’ll cost less to run, while also being a much better car.

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