Another week, another plug. It’s fair to say at this stage I’ve recharged a lot more batteries in 2021 than I’ve filled fuel tanks.
As is the current fad, this VW behemoth has both. Plug-in hybrids offer the sort of belt-and-braces reassurance that some Irish motorists appreciate, though there are marginally more buyers now prepared to go full-electric.
The pros and cons of plug-in hybrids have been well-discussed on these pages over the past few years. They remain a bridge to the electric future for some buyers, eager to get into the habit of life with an electric car, but the reassurance of having a combustion engine to deliver range when needed.
The variety of PHEVs is also more in keeping with traditional model ranges, so the leap to electric is not as great. Yet the sales figures show that buyers are equally prepared to make that leap. Both PHEV and all-electric sales account for roughly 7 per cent of the new car market to date.
The idea of spinning some eco credentials on to a VW Touareg highlights the pitfalls of hyping up the claims about PHEVs. After all, what you have here is really a performance-orientated SUV, with a battery pack that’s there to deliver punch as much as it is to save the planet. The fact our test car is the Touareg R version tells its own tale.
What we have here is largely the same electrified platform that underpins the likes of the Bentley Bentayga Hybrid. As such, in the performance R variant it matches a 3-litre 335bhp V6 turbo petrol engine with a 134bhp electric motor, delivering a net performance output of 462bhp and 700Nm of torque, with a 0-100km/h time of just 5.1 seconds.
For a big, bulky SUV those figures are pretty eye-watering.
If you are looking for some of the environmental spin, VW claims this Touareg can run in full electric mode up to 140km/h, and certainly it sat at 120km/h on the Irish motorways in E Mode without ever calling upon the engine for back-up. As usual with these PHEVs, you can also spare the 14.3 kWh net battery charge and run as a regular hybrid, just in case you need to run on full electric later on in designated city areas. VW claims a full electric range of just over 45km, with a recharge time on a 7.2kW home wallbox of two hours and 30 minutes.
Clearly the Touareg is not going to spend much time hauling turf from the bog, yet the all-wheel drive SUV does have the full panopoly of off-road features, including specific drive settings for gravel and sand, though few owners are going to take this well-dressed Touareg shod on gorgeous black alloys (19-inch standard or 22-inch options) into the mud if they can help it.
What many Touareg owners do is tow, however, and the new hybrid can still tug 3.5 tonnes even in electric mode. Also fitted to the car are the latest driving aids, to enable assisted steering, speed-limit recognition and a host of other features showcasing how close we are to autonomous age. Included in this is an assistance system for automated manoeuvring with a trailer, so no more red faces in the car park at the horse show.
Our test car was fitted with optional air suspension that can lower the car by 50mm for easing loading, or raise it by an extra 258mm if you’re dealing with some particularly troubling craters.
Handling and poise
It also helps the car to hunker down when you push it on and makes it far more compliant in corners that you’d expect from a car of this size. Yet the steering still feels a little numb, too light perhaps for a car that claims to be so focused on performance. Certainly in straight-line performance this is an impressive beast, but you never quite get that sense of agility and nimbleness normally associated with Volkswagens adorned with an R badge. You simply can’t take a hot hatch and hoist it into the air without some consequence to its handling and poise.
And there’s the rub. The R moniker is meant to adorn the hottest VWs, yet here it’s fitted to a car more tuned for comfort, practicality and hoping to garner some eco kudos. It simply can’t deliver on all these and still be the SUV sibling of the Golf R.
While it certainly looks the part, and certainly delivers in terms of comfort and refinement, our R Version test car clocked in at €101,756, while the PHEV R-Line starts at €95,630.
That’s €3,160 less than the 3-litre diesel Touareg in R trim, so a better buy on that front, but it’s worth noting that there is also a slightly less powerful 381bhp version of the Touareg PHEV on offer, priced at €83,230 and dressed with VW’s Elegance trim. That still gives you all the latest toys, like the 15-inch centre console screen and the 12-inch digital driver’s display, plus 20-inch alloys.
The €12,400 price difference to the R version is a big ask. The stats show it gets an extra 81bhp, an extra 100Nm of torque and a 0-100km/h time of 5.1 seconds compared to 6.3 seconds for the R verison.
If you are into performance then you may think it’s worth the price, but then is a 2.5 tonne SUV really the car you should be considering in the first place?
Lowdown: VW Touareg R PHEV
Power: 2995cc V6 petrol engine matched with a 100kW electric motor powered via 14.3kWh (net) lithium-ion battery pack delivering a combined output of 462bhp and 700Nm of torque
0-100km/h: 5.1 seconds
L/100km (combined WLTP): 2.7 (105mpg)
Emissions (WLTP): 62 g/km
Price: €95,630 (Touareg eHybrid starts at €83,230)
Verdict: Fast and furious SUV, but doesn't quite live up to the R badge billing