Giant touchscreens in cars usually make me mad. And certainly, the optional one in the new VW Touareg ticks all the right - or perhaps wrong - boxes.
First off, it’s huge: it’s a 15-inch, 1920x1080 display, and it simply dominates the centre console. It’s feature-packed and therefore quite complicated, and finally, it commits that worst transgression of all: it contains all the climate controls, with VW’s flagship SUV entirely doing away with physical dials and buttons for things like fan speed and temperature.
I’d been preparing myself to do a standalone article purely for the purposes of whingeing about this enormo-tablet that’s been stuffed into the dashboard, but I can’t. Because - and this is quite difficult for me to say - I quite like it.
It looks gorgeous, particularly when you switch to the larger map view. And the mapping - by the way - has been taken from Google. It’s disarmingly simple to use, with a clear menu that appears when proximity sensor are triggered.
There are two main screens that can be switched between using a two-finger swipe and customisable icons that allow quick access to all your most-used features. VW has even managed to get around the usual problem of ‘lost’ climate control functions by having them permanently displayed at the bottom of the screen. It is - I say through gritted teeth - all very impressive.
It’s not the only intetesting piece of tech you’ll find in the car, either. The Touareg has the clearest and most comprehensive head-up display I’ve ever used, clever matrix LED headlights that illuminate the road ahead based on GPS information and a 12-inch digital cockpit that’s light years ahead of the basic one used by the Golf.
There’s hidden techy shnizz to make the car drive better, including all-wheel steering and electronically-controlled, air-filled dampers that work together with an active rear anti-roll bar that stiffens and slackens as necessary. The end result isn’t a car that can manages Porsche Cayenne-levels of SUV cornering heroics, but the Touareg is impressively composed nonetheless, considering its size, weight and ride height. The sole engine available from launch is a 276bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel, and it’s punchy enough for most, while being reasonably refined.
When you’re driving like a normal person it’s nicely wafty, gracefully gliding over the majority of road surfaces.
It’s the tech that makes this car, really. But it’s also within the tech where almost everything that annoys me about the Touareg lies.
The biggest complaint concerns the throttle lift warning. An ever-more common feature on new cars, this is usually just a symbol consisting of a shoe and an upwards-pointing arrow, but in the Touareg, it’s accompanied by a vibration sent through the pedal. And I hate it. The warning goes off frequently, usually when the ‘hazard’ is a roundabout or T-junction half a mile away. Anyone who needs a function like this simply shouldn’t be driving. It doesn’t help at all, and it can’t be turned off.
The aforementioned proximity sensor menu thing often seems to stay up well past its welcome, blocking the view of the clock, and although there is that fixed climate control menu, it only gives access to basic functions. For anything else, you have to expand it, and it starts to get fiddly. Coming close to the vibrating pedal on the annoyance scale is the lane assist, which turns itself back on every time you restart the car. I didn’t want it last time, so why does it keep coming back? It’s like being stalked by an ex-girlfriend.
On the more mechanical side of things, it’s worth noting the automatic gearbox isn’t quite up to scratch. It swaps cogs merrily enough, but it often feels like it takes an age to wake up and kick down when you put your foot down. It’s sluggish off the line too - that roundabout gap you thought you could easily make suddenly becomes a little too close for comfort.
Regardless, it’s still a solid competitor to the likes of the Land Rover Discovery, Volvo XC90 and the related Audi Q7. For the technology, the way it looks and (mostly) the way it drives, I’d be tempted to go with the Touareg. It’s just seems a shame, as with a few of the above faults ironed out, it’d be a much more clear-cut choice.