Tow test: Volkswagen Touareg

By: Chris Lorigan, Photography by: Matthew Jones


Sure, you can pick up a big old 4WD for ten grand, but when you’re pulling a 2980kg boat worth over $200,000 you need to feel confident and comfortable behind the wheel — especially if you get into a bit of trouble at the boat ramp. You can trust the Touareg.

At one time I thought the only VW Touareg worth buying was the one with the V10 engine. What a fantastic thing it was: a smooth, refined diesel with enough power and torque to pull the armour off a Panzer tank. Put your foot down and it willingly surged forward to eat up the tarmac before you even had a chance to grin like an idiot. I decided that one day I would park one in my garage ready to tow the boat.

But following a fortunate blast in the 3.0-litre V6 diesel the other day, all that has changed. I discovered this: you don't necessarily need ten cylinders to swallow up the road; you don't necessarily need ten cylinders to effortlessly tow your boat up and down New Zealand's winding hills; and you don't necessarily need ten cylinders to be bloody impressed. I now know you can get the same feeling of power, the same ballsy refinement, without the hefty fuel bill and the guilty feeling that perhaps it's you melting the ice caps.

After racing a Rayglass Legend 2500 from Half Moon Bay, East Auckland to Omaha, 94km north (see p22), it was time to tow the big boat back to town. If I'm being honest, I was a little apprehensive about it, as it's not often I'm in sole charge of over $300,000 worth of equipment. But I put my trust in the Touareg and got on with it.

No sweat

First, though, I needed to retrieve the 2980kg Rayglass from the Omaha estuary. The V6 has massive torque pretty low in the rev range, attesting to its pulling power from a standing start. With a low first gear and seven more to come, it's like a little truck that will pull any boat out of virtually any muddy, slushy, boggy beach and up any steep hill on the way home to the filleting — and that's exactly what happened on our test.

I don't know if you're familiar with the boat ramp at Omaha, but it's at a very shallow incline, particularly at low tide — you need to reverse the trailer a long way to get deep enough for launching or retrieval. What I didn't know, having never launched there before, was the ramp suddenly drops off at the end — it's quite easy for the uninitiated to go back too far and drop the trailer wheels over the ledge into the sand, and you won't necessarily feel it when it happens. No one had warned me, but I guess I'll forgive them, as what happened next made me want to rush out and buy a Touareg. I'm not exaggerating.

Scott Little, Rayglass sales and marketing manager, calmly drove the Legend 2500 onto the easy-catch trailer and gave the thumbs up, and I gently eased my foot onto the gas. Nothing. I didn't think it was because of the weight of the boat, and I was pretty sure I didn't need to get out and sit down for a cup of tea before pushing, pulling and panicking. "The ramp drops off there, mate. You've gone over the edge," someone cheerfully suggested. I could feel the blood rising in my face as embarrassment and a bit of frustration started to kick in. I was worried I would soon be sheepishly asking a tractor-owning local to haul me out of the drink. I gave it another go, not quite as tentatively this time.

A second later, the Touareg's 550Nm of torque, 240 horses and 4Motion permanent all-wheel drive sorted out the issue. With even pressure on the gas, the big VW flexed its not insignificant muscle and pulled forward with three tonnes of boat and trailer over a ledge behind it, finding grip and getting to work. I gave it a touch more gas. The embarrassment started to drain from my face, the slight anger due to no one warning me eased away, and the Touareg hauled the boat out of the soft sand, up over the concrete ledge, back onto the ramp and up into the car park without breaking a sweat.

My colleagues joined me. "The ramp drops off down there, mate. You went over the edge." It was only because of the Touareg I was able to laugh it off: "You don't say? Cheers for that..."

Most dangerous

Next on the agenda was towing the boat south to Rayglass HQ. There are a few steep hills and winding roads among the long, flat bits between Omaha and the northern-most end of the Auckland motorway, and this would be a good test of the Touareg's road-going ability with a big boat on the back.

I didn't have much time to get up a good head of steam before the first real hill, so I decided to see what would happen if I floored it in 'drive' (I would test the tiptronic box a little later). The Touareg smartly dropped from eighth to fifth and hit the slope, easily ascending at 80km/h. Near the top, the VW changed into seventh as if the boat was half the weight. Impressive. On the other side, we hit 93km/h and I could then see how the vehicle coped downhill at speed. The boat's weight barely made an impact, and as I began to slow us down I felt in control at all times.

This is when a towing trip is at its most dangerous: head downhill too fast and things can come a bit unstuck. The trailer could start to sway and you risk jack-knifing or flipping, ending up in a ditch or worse. Testing the Touareg on a decent downhill slope with a bit of speed proved the VW will help you maintain control if you get too keen or suddenly find yourself at the crest of a steep hill.

For the next hill climb I used the tiptronic gearbox, which gives you even more control if you're familiar with how these gears work and are happy to take your hand off the wheel to change. With a steep slope ahead I was doing a little over 90km/h in eighth gear. Just before the road began to rise I manually dropped into fifth and the vehicle didn't slow down, simply taking the extra demand in its stride with a few more revs. I changed into seventh and, once again, found we'd hit the top of the hill with minimal effort.

Sure, without the load on the back we would have been flying up, but that's not the point: many vehicles would find this kind of work tough going, and who needs to take the risk of an out-of-control hill descent when pulling their pride and joy home after a great weekend? This hill had some bends in it as it dropped to a river flat and, while I could feel the vehicle handling like it had some weight on the back, it felt stable and secure. Once again I felt in control, considering downhill bends can spell the undoing of more than just a towing trip. The vehicle's Anti-lock Braking System, Brake Assist, Anti-Slip Regulation traction control and Electronic Stabilisation Program (ESP) all help the driver in case things get a bit hairy (they're pretty useful on a boat ramp, too), and all work quietly behind the scenes to make towing and on-road performance set the benchmark for SUV competitors.

Class and comfort

The current Touareg is a versatile, capable and stylish SUV that doesn't stint on creature comforts. The interior exudes European class, with graphite-look details, high quality ergonomic controls and dash, leather steering wheel and comfortable seats for all — you won't find yourself missing any features. The steering is directional and firm, the cornering giving a sports-car feel. It's smooth, solid and powerful on the road and experience tells me it's still a good off-road performer, too. There's plenty of room for occupants and plenty of boot space. It's a dynamic and classy drive — the reassuring heavy thud when closing the doors attests to the quality and solid craftsmanship you'd expect from a top auto brand.

In short, the Touareg is more than powerful and clever enough to cope with towing a big boat. Sure it's $108,000 worth of quality German engineering, but I reckon it's worth it when you're towing your rig to or from the boat ramp or bach, especially when the boat's worth twice as much as the vehicle. After all, it's safety first when the friends and family are on board, and the bonus here is you get to do it with the affordable grunt that would make a V10 jealous.

SPECIFICATIONS

VW Touareg

Engine

2967cc V6 TDI

Power

180kW (240hp) at 3800rpm

Torque

550Nm at 1750rpm

Towing limit (braked)

3500kg (750kg unbraked)

Top speed

218kph

0-100kph

7.8 sec

Weight

2104kg

Fuel economy (combined)

7.4L/100km

CO2 emissions

195g/km

Price

$108,000 (incl. $16k extras)

For more information call (09) 951 7021 or visit volkswagen.co.nz.

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