Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class VS Volkswagen Touareg
- Modest steering feel
- So-so warranty
- Pricey servicing
- Steering’s modest road feel
- Sport mode too harsh
- Lane guidance overly keen in corners
If you’re in the market for a full-size, seven-seat, luxury SUV you’re obviously living life large. Big family, lots of friends, dogs and cats, and heaps of activity - horses, boats, camping?
You’re aiming at a six-figure bullseye between $130,000 and around $150,000. On a three-year novated lease, somewhere around three grand a month.
Mercedes-Benz Australia invited us to experience the car on a launch drive across city, suburban and rural roads.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
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|
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.
As mentioned, the GLS is big; a step up from the already substantial model it replaces. Built with the US market in mind, in fact it’s produced in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, it’s more than five metres long, close to two metres wide, and over 1.8m tall. And there’s more than three metres between the axles, a 60mm wheelbase increase over the previous model.
And despite the size of the canvas, the Benz design team has managed to make the GLS look like a modern Merc. Signature elements include obvious ones like the slatted grille with a couple of three-pointed stars on the nose.
But there’s also, the carefully chiselled twin ‘power dome’ bonnet, scowling LED headlights and vents to aid front brake cooling and smooth aero performance around the front of the car.
The big beast’s off-road intent is highlighted by extensions around the wheelarches, with big optional 22-inch rims sitting underneath. The fact they look right-sized for the car speaks volumes about its scale.
The racy AMG Line package is standard, and a recess and pronounced character line, tightening the lower waistline is a familiar Merc treatment, plus alloy roof rails toughen the look while dialling up practicality.
The rear is relatively simple, borderline generic, with tapered tail-lights offering the only strong whiff of design personality. But believe it or not, thanks to careful detail sculpting of the body, and smoothing underneath the car it boasts a drag figure of Cd 0.32. Outstanding aero performance for a large SUV.
The driver and front passenger are presented with a sweeping dashboard dominated by twin 12.3-inch digital screens, one primarily covering the instruments, and the central screen managing the MBUX media system, including audio, nav, phone integration, car set-up, and more, plus ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice control.
The overall feel is simple, and restrained, yet massively confident, with a subtle colour palette, large squared-off elements defined by brushed metal finishes, and an obvious, intense attention to detail, from the haptic controls to the beautifully finished, multi-function steering wheel.
And the standard Burmester audio system includes a two-way in-car communication function that subtly amplifies the driver and front passenger’s voices for those in the third row, and vice versa. Sheer genius.
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.
Space is obviously a critical factor here, and no surprise there’s copious amounts of it inside the GLS.
Front seat passengers enjoy plenty of breathing room, without feeling remote from one another, and there’s lots of storage in the shape of a large lidded box/armrest between the seats, a decent glove box, two big cupholders and jumbo door pockets with room for large bottles.
There’s one data-enabled USB port in the front, two charge-ports in the second row, and four in the third row. Shouldn’t be any complaints about powering mobiles, tablets or games.
The second row feels every millimetre the SUV limo. Simply getting in and out is made easier because an auto lowering function drops the car 25mm when one of the doors is opened.
I was able to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer. And there’s an extra 10cm of electrically adjustable travel to play with if those in the third row agree.
The fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders. There are netted pockets on the front seatbacks, and again, the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles.
Three adults across the rear is a breeze, there’s climate control ventilation, and a huge glass sunroof is standard. Rather than asking ‘Are we there yet?’ the kids will be disappointed when you arrive!
Then there’s what the Cleary family refers to as ‘the way back seat.’ A pair of third row seats for the lucky kids that get to inhabit their own little world. Getting in and out is relatively civilised thanks to electric slide and tilt for the second row seats, and space is generous. I could sit comfortably, so the kids will be all smiles.
With all seats upright cargo capacity is enough for a seven-person day trip (355L VDA). Press the button to fold the 50/50 split-fold third row down and your options expand substantially (890L). And with 40/20/40 split-folding second row lowered, transportation of a full, three-ring circus is on the cards (2400L). Overall, more space than the arch enemy BMW X7.
Plus, the ability to lower the car 50mm thanks to the standard air suspension makes life even easier. And one button lowers the second and third rows at the same time.
The spare is a collapsible space-saver, and towing capacity for a braked trailer is 3500kg, with a tow ball weight of up to 140kg. The ESP system also features a trailer stabilisation function that counters oscillation with “braking intervention.”
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
Aside from the comprehensive suite of safety tech, covered in the Safety section below, the GLS equipment list includes, 21-inch alloy rims, adaptive high beam assist, air suspension, alloy roof rails, AMG body kit, a huge panoramic sliding glass sunroof, privacy glass from the B-pillar back, auto tailgate, keyless entry and start, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, LED headlights, and power closing doors.
The power closing doors are a big plus for parents not wanting to disturb kids nodding off in the car, with the soft-touch function drawing the door in for the last few millimetres to an almost silent close.
Inside there’s ambient lighting (64 colours), strategically placed open pore oak wood trim, 13-speaker/590-watt Burmester surround sound audio, electric folding second and third row seats, a head-up display, ‘Mercedes-Benz’ branded illuminated sills, leather seat upholstery (‘Artico’ faux leather on the dash and doors), multi-adjustable electric seats in the front and second row (memory in the front), electrically adjustable steering column, leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel, and five-zone climate control.
The multi-media system is spectacular, incorporating the twin 12.3-inch digital screens, the central media unit managing nav, digital radio, mobile device connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus vehicle tracking. There are also remote vehicle status functions (door locking, valet parking, etc), global search (Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Yelp, and Trip Advisor), and a wireless device charging pad.
The basket of goodies can hold its head high in this part of the market, so the value equation stacks up well.
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
There are two engines on offer. The 3.0-litre (M256) in-line six-cylinder turbo-petrol GLS 450 4Matic, and the 2.9-litre (OM656) in-line six-cylinder turbo-diesel GLS 400 d 4Matic.
The all-alloy, twin-scroll single-turbo petrol engine delivers peak power of 270kW from 5500-6100rpm, and maximum torque of 500Nm across a broad plateau from 1600-4500rpm. It also features a 48-volt electrical system driving the ‘EQ Boost’ set-up, able to deliver an extra 16kW/250Nm for short periods. The integrated starter-generator also enables energy recuperation.
Although the all-alloy, twin-turbo diesel features variable valve lift it gives some ground on power, offering up 243kW between 3600-4000rpm, but torque is a solid whack, with 700Nm on tap from 1200-3000rpm. Worth noting, that to minimise emissions this engine features a “selective catalytic reduction converter” in the exhaust, which brings with it the use of an ‘AdBlue’ reducing agent. The separate AdBlue tank has a capacity of 31.6 litres.
The nine-speed auto transmission is the same in both versions, although the diesel has a slightly lower final drive ratio.
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.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle for the GLS 450 is 9.2L/100km, the more frugal GLS 400 d trimming that to 7.7L/100km. The petrol 450 emits 210g/km of CO2 in the process, the diesel 400d dropping that slightly to 202g/km.
Stop-start is standard, you’re looking at premium unleaded for the 450 GLS, and you’ll need 90 litres of dinosaur juice to full the tank on both models.
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.
Merc claims the GLS 450 will sprint from 0-100km/h in 6.2sec, and the 400 d in 6.3sec. Not hanging around for a 2.5 tonne mothership. But the standout is the 400 d’s torque. All 700Nm of it available from just 1200rpm to 3000rpm; right in the mid-range sweet spot.
The nine-speed auto transmission is smooth yet responsive, with paddles on the wheel for manual shifts when you want to pick the ratio. The combination of effortless grunt and the nine-speeder keeping things on the boil is an impressive one.
Suspension is by double wishbones at the front and multi-links at the rear, and while you can feel the weight in cornering, the standard Airmatic air suspension (which does away with steel springs) is superb in terms of ride comfort and body control.
We took a deep breath and pushed enthusiastically through a series of sweeping corners and the fat (285/45 fr - 325/40 rr) Continental ‘PremiumContact 6’ rubber wrapped around our car’s (optional) 22-inch rims gripped hard.
The ‘4Matic’ all-wheel drive system also seamlessly shuffles torque between the front and rear axles (theoretically up to 100 per cent in each direction).
Merc has put extra focus on body rigidity, the tuning of engine and suspension mounts, and sound absorption, and it shows. The GLS 400 d is beautifully refined on the highway. A neat touch is the car automatically lowering 15mm at motorway speeds or when ‘Sport’ mode is selected.
Steering is electromechanically assisted, and Merc says the front suspension geometry has been revised to minimise vibration through the wheel. And yes, feedback is minimal, but unfortunately so is road feel with only a general connection between your hands on the wheel and the front tyres on the bitumen.
When you’re steering a large beast like this, often with something substantial hitched to the back, you want to know braking performance is up to the task, and the GLS’s big ventilated discs all around deliver reassuringly strong stopping power, with nice, progressive pedal feel to boot.
The seats are adjustable six ways to Sunday, but beyond that they’re comfortable and supportive, even over long stints behind the wheel.
We stayed on the bitumen, because, let’s face it, that’s where this car will spend 99.9 per cent of its time, with the exceptions of the boat ramp, a ski weekend or pony club.
For those special occasions the optional ‘Off-road engineering package’ adds a low-range transfer case, inter-axle locking, hill descent control, and under body armour for more serious work.
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.
At the time of this launch drive the GLS hadn’t been safety assessed by ANCAP, but you could make a small wager, like every penny you have to your name, that it will score a maximum five stars.
The expected active features are there, including ABS, ASR, and ESP, with additional tech including ‘Active Blind-Spot Assist’, ‘Active Brake Assist' (Merc-speak for AEB), active lane keeping and lane change assist, ‘Adaptive Brake’, ‘Attention Assist’, ‘Evasive Steering Assist’, ‘Parktronic’ (active parking assist with 360-degre camera), rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign assist, and a tyre pressure warning system.
Then, if all that isn’t enough to avoid an impact the GLS is equipped with nine airbags (front and pelvis side for driver and front passenger, side for outer rear seat occupants, full-length curtain, and a driver’s knee bag), an active bonnet to minimise pedestrian injuries, and the ‘Pre-Safe Plus’ (flashes rear hazards to warn drivers closing too quickly from behind, tightening the belts at the same time, and locking the brakes if the GLS is stationary with a rear impact imminent).
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.
The Mercedes-Benz range is covered by a three year/unlimited km warranty, which, like Audi and BMW continues to lag behind the mainstream market where the majority of players are now at five years/unlimited km, with some at seven years.
On the upside, Mercedes-Benz ‘Road Care’ roadside assistance is included in the deal for three years.
Service is scheduled for 12 months/25,000km (whichever comes first) with pricing available on an 'Up-front' or 'Pay-as-you-go' basis.
As a guide, service pricing for the outgoing GLS is set at $2600 per service (up-front) and $3250 (PAYG), a saving of $650 a pop. Fourth and fifth services are also available for pre-purchase ($3550 and $4900).
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.