By most measures, the VW Touareg R is a decent car. It just has one whopping problem of a more existential kind, and we’ll get back to that. But for now, let’s start with a whistle-stop tour of the good stuff, of which there is plenty.
First off, it’s a good looking thing, isn’t it? The boggo Touareg is already quite handsome, so fitting nicer wheels and slightly angrier front and rear bumpers hasn’t done it any harm at all. Lapiz Blue suits it down to the ground, also.
It’s clever, too. Unlike a lot of plug-in hybrids that involve powering one end of the car with dinosaur juice and the other with electricity, the Touareg R’s sole electric motor lives in the eight-speed automatic gearbox. This transmission then feeds all four wheels via a centre differential which can chuck either 70 per cent of torque to the front axle or 80 to the rear if the situation demands it.
Fully charged, the 14.1kWh battery gives a real-world range of over 20 miles (officially 27 miles), even at motorway speeds. Fuel economy will vary wildly depending on the kind of journey and how much charge you start off with, but it’s worth bearing in mind that once the battery is empty, it goes back to being a very heavy SUV with a V6 under the bonnet and the average MPG plummets.
You lose a couple of hundred litres of boot space due to the location of the cells, but with 610 litres to play with, it’s still plenty big enough back there. With the rear seats dropped, there’s a vast load bay you’ll want to keep quiet to avoid getting roped into the next house move within your friendship group.
The interior’s a pleasant space, with a giant touchscreen decreasing the clutter while keeping irritation to a minor degree. It’s not as responsive as we’d like and having to use it for the climate controls is - as ever - quite annoying, but it’s a far better setup than the irredeemably naff system used by the likes of the VW Golf 8 and Skoda Octavia.
On the move, it’s quiet and comfortable, with great refinement and a brilliantly supple ride from the standard-fit air suspension. It’s at this point I’d love to say that the Touareg R has a Jekyll/Hyde-style character transformation when flicked into Sport mode, but no.
However set, that V6 is barely audible. For once, I found myself hankering for the kind of fake engine noise we’d normally rather do without. As it was, I had to turn the radio down just to hear the 3.0-litre turbocharged engine humming away quietly.
The little noise you do hear is hardly inspiring, and although the speed does rise nicely with your foot down, it never feels that fast. 456bhp and 516lb ft of torque sound reasonable enough until you learn the hybrid stuff adds several hundred kilos to the already bulky SUV, giving a weight figure of around two and a half tonnes. So while being the most powerful car in the range, it isn’t the fastest third-gen Touareg we’ve yet seen - the discontinued V8 diesel dispatches 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds, a couple of tenths quicker. Yes, with the R you get the torque-filling action of the motor, but most of its work is undone by the laggy reactions of the eight-speed automatic gearbox.
It isn’t the most dynamic vehicle either. The R doesn’t have the active rear anti-roll bar and rear-wheel steering systems that make other Touaregs feel weirdly light on their feet. It hasn’t been possible to package them with the hybrid bits, although there are reportedly plans to introduce these elements at a later date.
As it is, there’s a reasonable degree of body roll but nothing too horrific, while the lateral grip is best described as ‘decent’. Also, although the centre diff can theoretically lob that 80 per cent of torque to the rear, the R is not a vehicle you can push into power oversteer particularly easy. Generally, understeer is going to be the order of the day.
It’s far tidier than the average SUV was only a few years ago, and the straight-line speed is more than enough for most. The problem is, with that R badge spread liberally around the cabin and the bodywork, expectations are higher. And those expectations are far from met.
Compared to the brilliant new Golf R with its trick, oversteer-inducing all-wheel drive system, the Touareg R just seems a little half baked. It has the feeling of something that wasn’t originally intended as an R, reminding me of that woeful 2.0-litre eight-valve MkIV VW Golf GTI, which was only given the famous badge in the UK at the behest of marketing types.
The Touareg R isn’t anything like as tragic, but it’s still smacks of a cash grab. VW will no doubt shift a lot of them, with its hybrid nature making for low company car payments. I’m just not sure that should be the biggest selling point of a car using VW’s fanciest performance badge.
VW Touareg R stats
Engine: Twin-turbo V6 and electric motor
Torque: 516lb ft
Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)