Volkswagen's latest Touareg SUV is high on features and quality, but relatively low on price
Works wagon: Volkswagen's latest Touareg SUV The Volkswagen Touareg serves the urbanite well with its smooth drivetrain, light and responsive throttle, tight turning circle and easy-to-modulate brakes. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Humans have trouble trusting other humans. But apparently, we have no trouble at all trusting machines.

We count on them to lead us to where we want to go, to transport us by the thousands in unlit tunnels and by the hundreds on thin air, and to tell us who we should date, or whether we need a major heart procedure.

And even if these machines fail, as they tend to ever so often, we blame the humans operating them.

As carmakers race towards removing drivers from the steering wheel, who do we blame when things go wrong with an autonomous vehicle?

The existential question arises as I wrestle with the new Volkswagen Touareg for control. The flagship Volkswagen's lane-keeping program is the most forceful one I have come across, yanking the wheel this way and that with the finesse of a petulant two-year-old.

Yet, should you abdicate your role at the helm, the system will remind you to keep your hands on the wheel.

Barring its incomprehensibility in this area - which you can avoid altogether by deactivating the system - the latest Touareg is as peachy as full-size sport utility vehicles (SUVs) go.

Slightly smaller than the BMW X5 (and substantially lighter), the big Volkswagen all-wheel-drive serves the urbanite well with its super smooth drivetrain, light and responsive throttle, tight turning circle - thanks to all-wheel steer - and easy-to-modulate brakes.

Hence, its positioning as the brand's new flagship, replacing the discontinued Phaeton limousine, is not at all frivolous.

With a plush interior, cushy and supportive seats, an expansive boot and a suite of electronic amenities, the Touareg is as accomplished as rivals in the luxury segment.

Front seats of the R-Line variant tested here come with a massage function, which, again, is quite apt for a flagship.

The fact that the car is significantly less expensive - some $50,000 less than an equivalent X5 - makes it even more alluring.

Despite wearing 21-inch wheels, the R-Line car affords a superb ride quality. Its dynamic chassis control, which uses electrically adjustable dampers, gives it an uncommon all-roundedness.

Whether cruising on the expressway, negotiating twisty lanes or traversing rutty stretches, the Touareg is unshakeably calm.

Within speed limits here, the Volkswagen is as creamy on the go as SUVs that cost twice as much. Its level of refinement is impressively high - with noise, vibration and harshness kept well at bay at expressway pace.

It is a tad more agile in the city like other big SUVs, but does not seem to coast as freely.

On board, its 15-inch infotainment screen is one of the largest in the business and blends almost seamlessly with its digital instrument screen.

This digital cockpit comes with a head-up display, but strangely, not a 360-degree camera system. But with semi-autonomous Park Assist, you do not really need an all-round camera system.

If you are happy to vest control over to the car, the Touareg has autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and Traffic Jam Assist - which technically allows it to move on its own in a low-speed convoy without driver input.

I say "technically" because the system will still ask you to keep your hands on the wheel. It seems the machine does not quite trust itself.