BMW X3 VS Volkswagen Touareg
- Scorchingly fast
- Gives its rivals a run
- Terrific chassis
- Apple CarPlay price is extortion
- Some (not me) find the ride too hard
- Needs more visual aggro
- Steering’s modest road feel
- Sport mode too harsh
- Lane guidance overly keen in corners
Big fast SUVs have long been a guilty pleasure of mine. My brain has been telling me for years, since the first time I drove one - the first-gen Audi SQ5 - that they're silly and wasteful and 'not my kind of car'.
The Europeans - and latterly, the Americans - seem to be playing to an audience of me, convincing my prejudiced head that my try-anything heart is right: over-engined, jacked-up, stiffly-sprung family wagons are as much fun as anything else.
The X3 M is BMW's first full-fat M version of the X3, a car that has never really fired the imagination until this third generation. First we got the very good X3 M40i, now we have a 375kW, twin-turbo straight-six screamer, the M Competition.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Synergy. A corporate buzzword that’s hard to kill. Up there with drilling down, reaching out, and moving forward.
But it’s surely still a favourite in the VW Group boardroom, because the MLBevo platform this new, third-generation Volkswagen Touareg sits on, also underpins the Audi Q7, Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Urus, and Porsche Cayenne.
Talk about shifting the paradigm… it’s pretty much a synergasm!
And rather than the previous multi-model range, the 2019 Australian Touareg launch line-up has been stripped back to just one… appropriately called the Launch Edition.
And we’ve driven it on some great touring roads across Tasmania from east to west to find out how it measures up.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
As much as I love the mental GLC63 - complete with V8 bellow - the X3 M is the one for drivers. While that's a silly thing to say on the surface - what 'driver' is going to buy an SUV? - this is the new reality. We love these things and they're not going away.
While it may not be quite as comfortable as any of its competition or have the V8 cachet of the Jag and the Merc, it still takes the fight to them in what is easily the roomiest and most practical in this niche part of the segment. And it's an enormous amount of fun.
You have plenty of choices in the mid-size fast SUV market - X3 M, GLC63, Alfa Stelvio Quadrifoglio - what's your choice?
The third-gen Touareg has been updated in all the right areas, especially safety, dynamics, and media. It’s beautifully built, ultra-practical, and even though it’s playing in the around $100k premium SUV space the value equation stacks up. Question only time can answer is whether the VW badge on the grille can match the premium cred of its top-shelf competitors. We’re looking forward to driving the variants above and below it, arriving before the end of the year.
Can the Touareg cut it in the premium SUV big league? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
The third-generation X3 is by far the best-looking and isn't as badly blighted by BMW's current oversized, hatchback-straining grilles. It's not small, no, but in the flesh, it looks fine.
The usual M accoutrements are present, with new front and rear bumpers, skirts and a whopping set of 21-inch alloys. It looks different and marginally more aggro than the M40i and just enough so a vaguely interested observer will notice.
A quick look at the rest of the similarly-sized hard-and-fast SUVs reveals a similar approach.
The seats add some serious excitement, they're a proper set of M seats, complete with the slightly naff light-up X3 M logos in the backrest. But it's predictably well-made, is very comfortable and is full of nice materials.
VW’s sleek and serious corporate look has been successfully applied to this sizeable canvas. It’s undoubtedly conservative, but to my eyes anyway, refined and neatly composed.
Lots of strong, horizontal lines characterise the exterior design, and even though the car stands close to 1.7m high, its turret slopes gently towards the rear where the bulbous wheelarches form a distinctively broad hipline.
The narrow headlights are tricky ‘IQ’ LED matrix units, standard rims are no less than 20-inch ‘Braga’ design alloys and liberal application of chrome and other bright metal finishes stands the Touareg apart. And 2019 is fast becoming the year of the font, with VW joining several other makers (Hyundai, Haval, Porsche) in applying ultra-cool, minimalist typefaces to the branding of their cars.
Inside is a world of top-shelf leather and bright metal details, and the big news is availability of the ‘Innovision Cockpit’ a combination of a 12.3-inch configurable instrument display, and a 15.0-inch TFT media touchscreen. All customisable, all beautiful. But… it costs $8000 extra.
Standard issue is a conventional analogue instrument cluster with a 7.0-inch info screen in the centre, and a 9.2-inch media screen alongside.
The horizontal theme is continued by the bright finish air vent grilles, and ambient strip lighting.
A range of high-quality soft-touch materials around the dash and doors are complemented by black surfaces on the console and brushed metallic highlights around the cabin.
‘Pure White’ is the only no-cost paint finish, with ‘Reef Blue’, ‘Silicone Grey’, and ‘Deep Black’ on the options list.
This X3, if you need reminding, is bigger than BMW's first SAV (ugh), the X5. That means plenty of room up front, heaps of legroom for most in the back and enough room for five aboard.
Front seat passengers score a pair of cupholders with a cover and the centre rear armrest has two more for a total of four. Add to that bottle holders in each door and your beverage holding capabilities are pretty standard.
The boot starts at an impressive 550 litres, almost tripling to 1600 litres when you drop the 40/20/40 split fold seat. You get a good flat load space when you do that, too.
Still a five-seater, this Touareg is longer, wider, and lower than the close to 10-year old second-gen model it replaces.
There’s stacks of space in the front and plenty of storage options, including a lidded box between the seats (with USB port inside), a pair of large cupholders in the centre console, a generous glove box (with SD and SIM card slots) and door pockets with bottle holders.
A covered compartment in front of the gearshift houses a wireless charging platform for compatible mobile devices as well as a 12-volt outlet and another USB port. Plus, there’s a netted pocket on the passenger side of the transmission tunnel.
Rear passengers benefit from backrest angle adjustment of up to 21 degrees and a slide mechanism that shifts their seat up to 160 mm fore and aft.
Not surprisingly, there’s heaps of head, leg and shoulder room on offer, the door bins again cope easily with medium to large bottles, there are two cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest and netted pockets on the front seat backs.
Dual-zone ventilation and climate control adjustment is built into the rear of the front console, with two USB power sockets and another 12-volt outlet in a drop-down drawer below. Family road trips would be a breeze.
And around the back, there may not be a third row of seats, but the cargo space is huge; at 810 litres with the rear seats upright, around 16 per cent bigger than the out-going model’s 697 litres.
This massive boot would swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres) or the CarsGuide pram like a St Bernard hoovering up doggie treats.
Air-suspension (with easy to reach buttons near the rear door) means you can lower the car when required for heavier loads and folding the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats (via handy release levers on either side of the load space) delivers a footprint large enough for a small suburban sub-division, or at least a claimed 1800-litre volume.
There’s yet another 12-volt outlet back there, as well as tie-down anchors at each corner of the floor and a couple of flip-out shopping bag hooks.
The spare is the odd looking, but actually amazing collapsible Vredstein ‘Space Master’ that inflates from a tiny sidewall special to a full-size temporary, speed-limited replacement.
Towing capacity is 750kg for an unbraked trailer and an impressive 3500kg braked, and you can bet everything from a horse float to a boat or van will be a regular attachment for many Touareg owners.
Price and features
For $157,900, before on-road costs, you may think this car should be absolutely loaded with stuff. And it is. Whether that's enough is up to you, but the price is about right for its segment.
It's worth remembering we only get the up-spec Competition version, BMW saw no point in offering the 'normal' version nobody was going to buy.
For your cash you get 21-inch alloys, multi-zone climate control, ambient interior lighting, keyless entry and start, active cruise control, electronic damper control, digital instrument cluster (not the new 'Live Cockpit'), sat nav, auto high beam, auto LED headlights, launch control, leather seats and steering wheel, electric front seats, head-up display, auto parking, power everything, auto wipers, huge panorama sunroof and a tyre repair kit.
The big central screen features BMW's iDrive, controlled by either the rotary dial or via touchscreen. It's a belter of a system and I reckon it's still the best, although you have to pay for Apple CarPlay - this remains controversial and I wonder how long the company will persist.
And VW says this Launch Edition’s standard spec is like a tasting plate of available options, with an entry model below it, and a flagship above due before the end of the year.
And that plate is more like a smorgasbord. Over and above the included safety tech (covered in the safety section below), the Touareg features the 20-inch alloys, ‘IQ Matrix’ LED headlights (high and low beam) with integrated LED DRLs and dynamic indicators, four-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control (including programable speed limiter), inductive wireless phone charging, air suspension with adaptive damping, Park Assist (parallel and perpendicular) front and rear parking distance sensors, as well as a reversing camera (with multi-angle views and dynamic guidelines) and an ‘Optical Parking System’ in the multimedia display.
The “leather-appointed” upholstery is Savona leather (which VW alleges is a notch above Nappa), the eight-speaker ‘Discover Premium’ audio and sat nav system is run through a 9.2-inch colour touchscreen (with voice and gesture control) with Bluetooth phone connectivity and a USB interface for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink.
There’s also keyless entry and start, a 7.0-inch colour screen in the instrument display (covering nav, audio, phone, vehicle status, driving data and assist systems), auto headlights, LED ambient lighting (in door trim inserts) as well as lighting in the front and rear footwells, an electric auto tailgate, a three-spoke leather-trimmed flat-bottom steering wheel (with electric height and reach adjust), rain-sensing wipers, and roll-up sunshades in the rear doors.
Then there are the ‘ergoComfort’ front seats. Not only are they 18-way electrically adjustable (with three-position memory) but heated and ventilated, with pneumatic side bolsters (cushion and backrest) and lumbar adjustment and a massage function with 10 cushions and eight programs. Wow.
A giant panoramic glass sunroof (with electric slide and tilt adjust for the front section) will set you back $3000. Metallic/pearl effect paint (three of the four shades available) costs no less than $2000, and the glass-fronted Innovision package will set you back an extra eight big ones.
As well as the 12.3-inch instrument display (with customisable menus) and the giant 15.0-inch colour media touchscreen, the Innovision pack includes a screen projected colour head-up display (speed, nav and driver assist read-outs), additional multi-colour ambient interior lighting in the dash trim (with a selection of 30 colours), illuminated stainless steel scuff plates and the centre console in gloss black.
Engine & trans
The X3 M arrives from the US with a shiny new version of BMW's modular six-cylinder performance engine. While the M Performance M40i has a single turbo (B58) straight six, one tiny change to the name - from B58 to S58 - means a heck of a lot.
The S58 takes the same fundamental formula, bolts in two new single-scroll turbos, throws in forged conrods and a few other changes to boost the power to 375kW (500 horsepower) and 600Nm.
That torque figure is available across a nice wide 3350 revs, between 2600rpm and 5950rpm.
Getting all that to the wheels is the M version of BMW's all-wheel drive system xDrive and an active rear differential. The near-ubiquitous eight-speed ZF brokers the connection between that system and the flywheel and it's all impossibly smooth and feels bulletproof.
It uses an iron block, alloy heads and common rail direct-injection with peak power of 190kW developed at 4000rpm, and a stonking 600Nm of maximum torque arriving at 2250rpm. That power number is 20kW down on the European version, with similar reductions applied to other VW models due to Australia’s status as an extreme climate market.
Drive goes to all four wheels via an eight speed automatic transmission, with a centre diff (in the transmission) enabling the system to send up to 70 per cent of drive to the front wheels and up to 80 per cent to the rear.
The reality, of course, is different but not unexpectedly so - a week in my hands in the suburbs and a cobweb-clearing early morning run delivered a 14.1L/100km average. Again, not bad given the kind grunt that's on tap.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 7.4L/100km, with CO2 emissions pegged at 194g/km.
Over two days of mostly highway running on the launch drive program we weren’t able to match that number, with the on-board computer ranging between an average of 10.0-12.5L/00km.
The fuel tank is able to swallow 75 litres of diesel, which translates to a range of 600km on our launch drive figure, and just over a thousand kays using the ADR claimed number.
One of the things I love about BMW is the company's ability to produce a car that on one hand is so normal and competent for the every day but also produce a version that is completely doolally.
The fine folk at M obviously involve themselves from day one so that when they get a finished car they can get cracking on making it properly fast. Obviously, quite a bit has to change for that to happen.
The X3 M is very stiff. Pop the bonnet and you'll see a piece of whatever the metal equivalent of four-by-two keeping the two sides of the car apart.
This is something M does whenever it gets a vanilla BMW, as it has with the M2 and outgoing M3 and M4 pair. To name three. The difference from the driver's seat, when compared to, say, the M40i, is immediate.
The steering is super-responsive, the front of the car reacting incredibly quickly given the X3 M's two-tonne weight.
Even in Comfort mode, the X3 M's ride is pretty firm. That doesn't bother me especially, nor my wife, who has a keen sense of ride quality. It never really falls over the line of being uncomfortable but it's worth knowing if you're considering this and you have to carry passengers.
If you drive around town in either M1 or M2 (in the factory settings at least), you're mad - the suspension becomes very hard and the steering too heavy. In fact, the steering in its Super Sport setting is just too heavy and uncooperative.
Cheerfully belting the 7200rpm redline at every upshift, barking between gears and delivering torque the way a hungry Labrador delivers a headbutt if you get in between it and food, the straight-six is glorious.
The 4.1-second sprint from 0-100km/h is only part of the story. Not many cars can cover ground so quickly and fewer still SUVs of this size and weight can do it with such precision.
When you turn the wheel on the X3 M, the front goes where you want it, instantly. All that under-bonnet bracing prevents the front flexing and shimmying, which is the enemy of going fast. So that sorts out getting into the corner. The best thing is you can push through corners and slingshot out the other side, riding that huge torque slab, the rear wheels doing most of the work with the occasional wriggle to keep you smiling.
A good chunk of the applause goes to the way the xDrive all-wheel drive system and its 'M Active' diff at the rear work together in Sport+ mode.
As colleague Steve Corby discovered at this car's clay-pan launch, the front wheels aren't doing much of the driving when you've turned it all up to 11 in '4WD Sport'.
When the road goes from straight to twisty, the excellent brakes come in to play, hauling the car down from big speeds without complaint. Even better is that in normal driving, they're not grabby and the pedal always lets you know what shape you're in.
Since its launch in the early noughties Volkswagen believes the Touareg has evolved from an off-highway bias to become an all-rounder. And on the basis of the Australian launch drive it definitely stands up as a comfortable and capable touring car.
With 600Nm available from just 2250rpm acceleration is rapid, with 0-100km/h covered in 6.5sec. Not bad for a 2.1-tonne SUV, and mid-range thrust is prodigious. There’s half a beat’s wait for turbo spool-up when pushing the right-hand pedal firmly, but nothing you’d classify as serious lag.
The new Touareg is around 100kg lighter than the outgoing model because close to half the metal used in its body’s construction is now aluminium. And similarly, the strut front / multi-link rear suspension set-up is mostly light alloy.
The result is the big Touareg feels surprisingly light on its feet. And while the electromechanical power steering isn’t exactly the last word in terms of road feel, it’s nicely weighted and points well enough.
I’ll put my hand up to unchecking lane guidance in the vehicle settings, though. Even in relatively gentle bends it wants to point the car into the corner early and with steely determination. Best for the freeway.
Shifts from the ZF-sourced eight-speed auto transmission are silky smooth, and a flick over to manual mode brings the wheel-mounted paddles into play. While changes aren’t as snappy as a high-end dual-clutch auto, they’re quick enough to add an extra fun factor.
That said, the combination of the standard air suspension and adaptive dampers delivers the ability to dial in your preferred setting, and as the name implies ‘Comfort’ is superb.
Even over typically coarse rural bitumen surfaces and quick sweeping corners the Touareg remained quiet, stable and predictable. The 285/45 road-focused rubber performed well on range of surfaces including pock-marked dirt, snow and a slushy combination of the two.
Add VW’s Extended Electronic Differential Lock (XDL) helping to direct power to where it’s best applied and you have a car that super easy car to drive on just about any surface (skiiers queue here).
But the ‘Sport’ mode feels out of place. Instantly firming the ride to an uncomfortable degree, it’s pretty much surplus to requirements unless you’re part of the 0.001 per cent of intending Touareg Launch Edition owners intent on gridding up for track days on a regular basis.
More likely is towing duty, so the ability to wash off speed effectively is crucial, and brakes are big discs with six-piston calipers up front. They work with impressive efficiency and smooth progression.
The X3 M rolls out the door of BMW's North Carolina factory with six airbags, stability and traction controls, front and rear parking sensors, around view camera (including reversing camera), forward and reverse AEB, blind spot sensor, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, reverse cross traffic alert, speed limit recognition and tyre pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether restraints.
The X3 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2017.
Safety has taken a giant step forward in the third-gen Touareg, which has scored a maximum five stars from Euro NCAP and ANCAP.
Active safety features include AEB (up to 201km/h!), ABS (with emergency brake lighting), BA, EBD, multi-collision brake, traction control, ASR, ESP, ‘Side Assist’ (lane changing assistant), front and rear cross traffic alert, driver fatigue detection, tyre pressure monitoring, ‘Front Assist’ (with City Emergency Brake and Predictive Pedestrian Monitoring), ‘Lane Assist’ (with adaptive guidance), ‘Manoeuvre braking’ (front and rear auto obstacle braking), ‘Emergency Assist’, and ‘Traffic Jam Assist’.
Phew… you kinda need spec assist to take it all in.
And it’s worth calling out the ‘IQ Matrix’ LED headlights with interactive high and low beam beams. Using signals from the front camera a total of 128 LEDs per headlight adjust the light spread to accommodate on-coming traffic and cars ahead, by knocking out individual LEDs in multiple configurations. A neat expression of tech that’s gradually spreading into the mainstream market.
If all that still isn’t enough to avoid an impact, eight airbags are installed (driver and front passenger, front side, rear side, and dual curtain) as well as three baby capsule/child seat top-tether points across the back seat, with ISOFIX child seat anchorage points on the two outer rear positions.
BMW offers a segment standard, but increasingly mean-looking, three years/unlimited kilometre warranty. It's not just BMW, though, it's all of the premium Germans. You do get three years roadside assist into the bargain and you can pay to extend the warranty, too.
You can pre-pay your servicing, with a five-year/80,000km Basic package for $3685. If you think you're going to give your X3 M a proper walloping you can opt for the the 'Plus Package'. For a not-inconsiderable $8173.
BMW will cover your brake pads and rotors for the same period as the Basic package.
Service intervals are variable because, as ever, BMWs tell you when they need a trip to the dealer.
The Touareg is covered by a five year/unlimited km warranty with the (galvanised) body also covered by a 12 year anti-corrosion perforation warranty.
One year of roadside assist is thrown into the deal, and service is required every 12 months/15,000km.
Although service pricing is yet to be finalised the outgoing model’s ‘Assured Service’ capped price plan offers a guide with annual service averaging $665 for the first five years.