Volkswagen Touareg VS BMW X4
- Steering’s modest road feel
- Sport mode too harsh
- Lane guidance overly keen in corners
- Fabulous engine
- M-spec interior/seats
- 4WD Sport setting
- Confusing combination of style and substance
- Not pretty
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|
Launching new cars must be an endlessly repetitive job, and trying to keep over-fed, overly feted and ostentatious motoring journalists entertained would strain the will to live of any human being, or even a house elf. So it’s easy to see why the people at BMW tried something different when it came time to launch its new X4 M Competition.
They were also dealing with a very strange car; not just an M version, but a Competition variant of a mid-size SUV (or SAV, as they prefer) with a kind of quirky coupe roofline that makes it look like it would prefer not be an SUV (or SAV) at all.
While the idea that someone might use this car for any kind of motorsport “Competition” seems as likely as Clive Palmer running for the bus, what it means is that this X4 gets an absolute rocket of an engine and all kinds of go-faster bits.
So, BMW decided to create a place called M Town - “a place where too much is just right”, as they put it - where we could experience this car in what you would have to call its unnatural environment.
M Town, in this case, was a giant clay pan hidden in the middle of the South Australian outback, with a rally circuit laid out on it, where we would be invited to drive the X4 M Competition as no one intended.
Cue much hilarity, and a highly unconventional non-road test.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
Clearly it is hard to give a verdict on what car generally bought to be driven on public roads 99.9 per cent of the time is like to drive when you've only smashed it around a clay pan like a (very) amateur rally drive.
What we can tell you is that the X4 M Competition is a far more serious, exciting version of the (small) family friendly/cool and trendy young couple mid-size SUV, the basic X4. It also has a very exciting engine, and lots of polished gloss black bits on it and, for some reason, seems slightly more fun than the X3 it is closely twinned with.
It is not a car that will attract, or makes sense to, everyone, and its high price will scare a lot of sensible people away. But clearly BMW believes there is a niche market of people who will want one, and will pay top dollar for one. There's no doubt Aussie buyers do love an M badge, and they may well warm to this one.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
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.
It only seems reasonable to give the X4 M one more point out of 10 for deign than its X3 non-identical twin sister, because at least the designers have had a bit of a go at the rear.
The idea of a coupe SUV has always seemed like something a hunchback came up with so that people wouldn’t only stare at him, but it obviously appeals to some people.
And yes, parked next to an X3, this version looks better, with sleeker tail lights and a more stylish rear altogether. The more pronounced swoop of the roofline is also an improvement.
But my argument remains that BMW calls this X4 M Competition “bold and functional”, which tells you all you need to know. When a marketing department can’t come up with a better term than “functional” when talking about design, for a BMW, it’s just not hat exciting to look at.
In fact, it looks like a shopping trolley with bigger wheels and go-faster stripes.
The non-M X4 is not exciting to look at it, either, it’s even more… functional, and this version is delineated as being M special by covering as many things as possible with “black high-gloss bits”, so black mirrors, black side gills, black chrome tail pipes, you get the picture.
BMW might have also used the word “tough” to describe this X4, and they did keep talking about how people might track it, which seems as likely as me entering a rocking horse in the Melbourne Cup, but I think they’re having a lend of themselves.
The interior feels like a proper M car, though, with the big red, programmable M buttons on the chunky steering wheel particularly eye catching, and a very cool looking gear stick. The M Sport seats also both look and feel fantastic, and the Merino Leather is lovely.
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.
In practicality terms, the X4 loses the gains it made on looks against the X3, because you’re obviously getting less headroom in the rear, and slightly less boot space as well.
For a vehicle of its mid-size, the X4 isn’t too badly sorted for interior space, however. The rear seats, in particular, are impressive, in terms of knee room at least, although headroom is not fabulous.
I’m 176cm tall, and I could comfortably sit behind my own seating position without my knees even touching the seat in front, and headroom is also excellent, front and rear.
Those sporty front seats do make things feel slightly squeezed in the front, and the width of the headrests effects forward visibility for those in the rear, but they’re so great to sit in that you’d put up with that.
The rear seat splits 40:20:40, giving you access to the boot, which is 525 litres in the X4 M with the seats up, because you’ve chosen the more practical option (the X3 gets 25 litres more).
Drop the rear seats and you’ve got a useful 1430 litres of loadspace when you’re driving two-up, although you’d have 1600 litres if you’d chosen the cheaper X3 M.
There’s plenty of space for your phone, on its wireless charging pad, and you also get two cupholders for the front chairs, with another two in the rear armrest.
Price and features
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.
It’s a tricky thing to evaluate such a weird beard of a car as this in terms of value, because normally when you’re being asked to spend $164,900 for a BMW you’re getting something that’s all sports car, wrapped in sexiness.
To be fair, the X4 M has a more coupe-shaped roofline than the X3 version it shares its M Competition badging with, but this is a case of being less unattractive rather than better looking.
And, on the downside, you’re paying $7000 more than you would for the ever-so-slightly more practical X3 version, which would be hard to justify even if the X3 M wasn’t already very expensive.
What you are getting for the money is an engine that will blow you away, so that’s worth a bit.
The car only comes with the Standard Competition Package in Australia (it’s the top option elsewhere), due to the popularity of that kind of thing in our market, apparently.
That gets you the amazing engine plus a standard M Sport Exhaust, connected to four, black-tipped tailpipes, an eight-speed sports automatic, xDrive with 4WD and 4WD Sport modes, and an Active M Differential.
You’ll also score “Professional” satellite navigation, Comfort Access, a Panorama sunroof, M Head Up Display, Driving Assistant Plus with semi-autonomous functionality including Active Cruise Control and Parking Assistant Plus, plus Hill Descent Control.
And don’t forget 21-inch light alloy wheels, Adaptive LED headlights, ambient interior lighting with six colour options, and alarm system, very sexy M Sport seats (the M logo on the headrests even glows at night when you open the door) with Extended Leather Merino trim, a 16-speaker harman/kardon stereo system, tyre-pressure monitoring, lane-keeping assistant, wireless charging, individual roof rails, rear roller sunblinds and BMW Connected Drive.
Are there any options you could even want on top of all that? Have you ever seen a BMW offered without them?
Strangely and uniquely, BMW asks you to pay for Apple CarPlay, which everyone will, at $623, and you can have your seats ($700), or steering wheel ($500) heated for winter mornings. Active seat ventilation is $1600 more, and metallic paint will sock you $2000, or $2350 for Individual Metallic (you can have Alpine White, non-metallic, for free).
Engine & trans
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.
No matter what you think of the X4 M Competition - its looks, its very existence - there’s no denying that its engine is something to be very excited about.
The 3.0-litre in-line six with M TwinPower Turbo technology is 90 per cent new, according to BMW, and will soon see action in the new BMW M3 and M4, and it is a rip snorter. The folks at M have thrown everything at it, using 3D printing to make the cylinder head, a forged crankshaft, and two new mono-scroll turbochargers, which are obviously different from the twin-scroll versions in the M5, and lift direct fuel-injection pressure from 200 bar to 350 bar. Apparently they’re even better. It also gets an electrically controlled wastegate for maximum efficiency.
The goal was an impressive 500 horsepower, or 375kW in our lingo, and they’ve achieved it. They’ve also made magic by combining both traditional BMW free-revvingness and savage turbo torque. With all of its maximum 600Nm available from 2600rpm to 5950rpm, it has the highest torque bandwidth of any BMW engine.
The screaming six can rev all the way to 7200rpm, at which point it sounds truly Wagnerian in its magnificence, and that 375kW peak point arrives at a dizzying 6250rpm.
This really is an engine that wants you to belt the hell out of it, and when you choose its most aggressive modes, and turn the adjustable M exhaust to its noisiest setting, it’s a joyful experience.
It’s also a weird one, because there’s just something so out of place about an engine like this in a car like this - it’s like finding out that your mum has secretly been cage fighting - but still, in pure engine terms, it’s a cracker.
The ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission is also silky smooth and seamless, as you’d expect.
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.
There’s no official Australian figure as yet, and we certainly didn’t do any testing that would be helpful, so all we can tell you is that the claimed figure is 10.6 litres per 100km. Which would be good, if you could actually achieve it. Good luck with all this temptation on board.
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.
In theory, the X4 M Competition shouldn’t be very different to drive at all from the X3 M Competition with which it shares an engine, and just about everything else. At the same time, it would be nice if was more fun to drive, because that would help to justify the fact that it costs $7000 more than the (slightly more practical) X3 version.
The differences are mainly about looks, of course, but those aesthetic changes also make the X4 ever so lightly longer, wider and lower than the X3.
That really shouldn’t make a difference you can feel, yet somehow, every time I switched into the X4 and began another wild, hooting, dusty circuit of the rally course set out for us be foolish on at M Town, I found myself having slightly more fun than I’d been in the X3.
An actual rally driver who was in attendance, mainly to laugh at our ineptitude and because their diet consists largely of dust particles, told me he’d also found the X4 ever so slightly more chuckable, and stable, also.
So perhaps there are two reasons for choosing to spend $7K more on an X4 - the rear end, and the fun, but then again, this is probably only a factor if you attend to take your new BMW on some kind of mad motorsport adventure.
Certainly, in the unreal environment in which we tested these cars, they were hugely fun - overly powerful, playful, sporty in terms of steering feel and cabin ambience - but we will have to wait and see what they’re like in the real world.
Reports from overseas have hinted at overly firm ride quality, even in Comfort mode, and other foibles for the new X3 M Competition - like the fact that it doesn't actually feel all that fast, thanks to the 1970kg it's carrying.
What we do know is that the engine is a crackerjack, the (adjustable) steering gives fabulous feedback, and, if you happen to be on a clay pan, it’s just the vehicle you need to plaster a huge smile across your face.
I recommend the video footage highly.
One touch of genius that was beautifully highlighted, though, was the combination of the properly sports-car spec M Differential with an M version of xDrive, which allows you to choose between two 4WD modes, normal and 4WD Sport, which “pretty much does become rear-wheel drive”, as BMW admitted to us.
This is such an M move it’s hilarious. Force us to make an all-wheel-drive car will you? Ha, we’ll put a button on it that turns it back into a proper BMW M car.
On a clay pan, where you can drive almost entirely sideways, sawing at the wheel and using that gorgeous engine to carve beautiful arcs in the Earth via the throttle,4WD Sport is a work of genius.
In the real world, in this car, it’s… still a bit weird.
The chassis feels super stiff as well, and the big strut braces under the bonnet show you how seriously they’ve taken that.
There’s no denying the how, or the know-how on display here, it’s just the why that’s hard to get your head around.
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 X4 M Competition has not been crash tested yet but the standard X4 previously received a five-star ANCAP rating. It comes with six airbags - driver, front passenger, head airbags for both rows, side airbags with seat occupancy detection for driver and passenger and side-impact protection for the front seats.
You also get DSC, ABS and DTC and driver-assistance systems including Driving Assistant Plus, Parking Assistant Plus, tyre-pressure monitoring and a speed limiter.
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.
As is typical for BMW, the maintenance requirements for the X3 M Competition are controlled by a Condition Based Servicing system, which constantly monitors the car, and the way it’s being driven, to determine when annual inspections or oil changes are required.
BMW is offering two service-inclusive packages, a five-year/80,000km Basic level for $3685, or the Plus, for $8173, which you should choose “if you drive spiritedly and you go through brakes a fair bit”, because it includes brake pads and discs over five years.
BMW seriously seems to think people are going to track this thing. Go figure.