Styling changes on the second-generation 2011-12 Touareg, relative to the first-generation 2003-10 models, are subtle but significant, ensuring continuity in design cues. It looks like a Touareg, but sufficiently tweaked to invite recognition as different.
The changes to the front end are little more than updates to a readily recognized design. Upper and lower grille openings get the horizontal chrome bars previously confined to the upper section. Housings for the compound, projector beam headlights and strings of LED running lights are squared off to achieve consistency with the styling motif of the latest Volkswagen Golf and Jetta. More dramatic body sculpting below the headlights emphasizes the more sharply outlined and pronounced arches over the front wheelwells.
Side perspective shows softer, more rounded lower door panels than the severely straight-edge indent carved into the pre-2011 models. Following suit, the beltline (the bottom edge of the side windows) sweeps slightly upward as it nears the C-pillar (the vertical section of the body behind the rearmost side window), which itself is wider than previously. The tires tend to be overwhelmed by the wheel openings, although this can be advantageous for the rare occasions a Touareg will be asked to explore anything less refined than the dirt lot at the hardware store. Pull-to-open door handles allow decent grip access, although not for seriously gloved hands.
Taillights have a bit of a raised eyebrow look, little changed from earlier models. The backlight (the rear window glass) isn't quite as rectangular as on the first generation. VW has decided to make one liftgate for all of the Touareg's world markets, so the license place recess is almost double the width it used to be, which seems to reduce the perceived mass of the Touareg's back end. The dual exhausts on all three models are decked out with stylized chrome tips.
The Volkswagen Touareg shares its basic platform with the Porsche Cayenne and the Audi Q7. The Q7 rides on a longer wheelbase.
There's very little not to like about the Touareg's creature comforts and accommodations. Everything is where it should be, works the way it should, some of it remarkably well, and for the most part shows commendable attention to details not only in fit and finish, but also in the extent of the capabilities given certain features.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, with adequate bolsters. The current Touareg interior offers as much room for people as the the Mercedes-Benz M350 and BMW X5. The Touareg has at least a half-inch more front-seat headroom than the Mercedes or BMW, and fractionally more front-seat legroom as well.
Climate controls are properly sized and positioned, as are the primary switches that bring up the touch-screen's icons for the sound and navigation systems' layers of options and functions. The keyless, push-button start stop feature seems overdone. We are not fans of keyless start-stop systems because we've seen them cause confusion, undue stress and dead batteries. When the dash-mounted slot for the key fob will start the engine in the normal way by twisting the fob like any regular key, why ask for future troubles by putting a push button in the center console? Here, it's optional, and we recommend avoiding it. The navigation system is superb, with a remarkably quick adaptation to course changes.
The new-for-2012 standard sound system is controlled through an 8-inch touch screen and includes a 6CD player with MP3 playback. Add navigation and the screen displays maps in high-definition 3D. The Nav system also adds a 60GB hard drive with 18GB available to upload media. Located in the glovebox is access for an iPod device or auxiliary input, SD cards and a DVD drive.
Trim materials are high quality. Tolerances between panels, coverings and metal or wood insets are tight and consistent. The faux leather seating upholstery is more comfortable than the real cowhide, though, being both more pliable and because it's perforated, less likely to be clammy in winter and sticky in summer. The six inches of fore and aft travel in the rear seat is hugely welcome, with one caveat: with the seat at its rearmost setting, the proximity of the rear wheelwell compels occupants to be very careful to avoid dirtying their backside when climbing in and out.
We found the panoramic sunroof a mixed bag. It blessed occupants with magnificent views of Nice's mountainous surrounds but failed miserably in blocking the heat of the afternoon Mediterranean sun.
Rear-seat legroom leads the class, topping 40 inches with the seat all the way back. Rear-seat headroom splits the difference with the Mercedes and the BMW. Rear seats aren't quite as cushy and sit a little higher than the fronts, although the front head restraints block any forward visibility that higher positioning might have added.
The new Touareg disappoints, however, when it's called upon to haul stuff. Maximum cargo space, with the rear seat folded flat (64 cubic feet), not only trails the Mercedes (71.0) and the BMW (75.2) by at least 7 cubic feet, but falls 7 cubic feet short of the 2010 Touareg; this despite the 2011-12 model casting a shadow that's about an inch larger in all directions than its predecessor.