Volkswagen's latest full-size sport utility vehicle is sleeker and comes with a drastically different cockpit
A high-tech ride The Volkswagen Touareg will arrive in Singapore early next year with a 3-litre V6 turbocharged petrol engine. PHOTO: VOLKSWAGEN

The Touareg is not Volkswagen's first sport utility vehicle. That title belongs to a quirky one-off called the Golf Country that was made in Austria in 1990 and 1991.

But the Touareg is certainly Volkswagen's most famous SUV. It was launched in 2002 and is now in its third generation.

A common criticism of the second-generation model was that it was plain-looking for a flagship SUV.

Volkswagen must have heard the feedback. The latest Touareg is a sharp-looking car. The first thing that strikes you is its massive grille stretching across the bonnet and fusing with the headlights.

Compared with its predecessor, the car is 77mm longer at 4,878mm, 44mm wider at 1,984mm, but stands 7mm shorter at 1,702mm. This gives the car a less bulky and more dynamic look, especially when viewed from the side.

The wheelbase is 1mm longer at 2,894mm. Magically, it is 106kg lighter because of the use of more aluminium and high-tech steel.

Its boot has grown from an already massive 697 litres to 810 litres. With rear seats folded, the car can carry several kitchen sinks, literally.

The car is currently available with a 3-litre V6 turbodiesel in two output versions - 228bhp/500Nm and 282bhp/600Nm.

Inside, the cockpit sees the most drastic change. A 12-inch virtual instrument cluster flows into another laptop-size 15-inch infotainment touchscreen. Gone are all the buttons of the centre console, including the one that shuts off the engine when the car is stationary. That button is now on the touchscreen.

The car has head-up display, road sign recognition and what Volkswagen calls a self-learning navigation system, which can automatically predict where a driver is heading based on previous journey patterns.

The most impressive feature is a Lexus-rivalling massage function on the front seats. Look up and you will see a massive panoramic sunroof, which Volkswagen says is the biggest it has ever made.

The car is loaded with safety features. A notable addition is a radar that can detect oncoming vehicles at intersections and apply emergency braking if necessary.

Over a 184km test-drive which includes expressways with 130kmh speed limits, twisty mountain roads and small-town roads, the Touareg feels at home. But it lacks steering feedback, even in its sportiest drive mode.

There is an offroad function, but that was not called into use.

The car is equipped with air suspension, allowing its ride height to rise by 70mm for offroad driving, lower by 15mm for stability at speeds above 120kmh or 40mm for easier ingress and egress.

It also has rear-wheel steering. At under 37kmh, the rear wheels steer in the opposite direction of the front wheels, making the turning circle tighter. This gives the Touareg an 11.19m turning circle, which is even smaller than that of the mid-size Volkswagen sedan Passat ( 11.7m).

But at speeds above 37kmh, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front wheels, making the car more agile and lane changes snappier.

The Touareg's rivals include the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90, with the latter two being seven seaters.

At its current dimensions, the Touareg can easily be a seven seater, but Volkswagen has decided to keep it to five seats.

It will arrive in Singapore early next year with a 3-litre V6 turbocharged petrol engine that churns out 335bhp and 450Nm.

The price has not been fixed, but it may well be above $300,000, which will make it the most expensive Volkswagen car after the discontinued Phaeton, a full-size luxury sedan.