Volkswagen Touareg VS Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class
- Steering’s modest road feel
- Sport mode too harsh
- Lane guidance overly keen in corners
- Exterior styling
- Interior and cabin appeal
- Rear space, and space overall
- Lack of boot space
- Driving position not too high for some
- Engine noise slightly un-sexy
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|
Apparently there is an ugly Kardashian, but you don’t care, or if you do, you shouldn’t, so let’s talk about the Hemsworth brothers instead.
In any other family, Luke Hemsworth would probably be called handsome, if a little short. Unfortunately for him, standing next to Liam and the God who walks amongst us that is Chris (I had to interview him once, he really is dreamy), Luke looks like he’s barely keeping his chin above the water line at the shallow end of the gene pool.
The Mercedes-Benz SUV range has quite a variation of lookers in its family tree as well, but I would argue that the new, entry-level GLA is pretty much the Chris of the range, or at least the Liam. The unfortunate, slightly large-foreheaded GLB would obviously be the Luke.
The only problem with all this, of course, is that the car that originally gave birth to the GLA - the A-Class - is more attractive than all of them, and Craig Hemsworth, sire of the family, doesn’t quite pull that off.
The point is that the new GLA is going to be even more popular than the original one, which sold a staggering one million units worldwide, because it is not only bigger and taller, but better looking, inside and out.
And let’s face it, no one is buying an urban SUV like this for the way it can climb a snow-covered alpine pass. Even all-wheel drive is optional.
But the GLA has this niche nailed, and the new one - thanks to its style, space and the effortless way it rides - is going to be an even bigger success.
|Engine Type||2.0L 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.
You can tell that this car is going to be a success just by looking at it. For a lot of people, to see one will be to want one, and when they sit in that hugely high driving position and gaze upon the future-fabulous interior they’ll be even more sold.
It’s fair to say the GLA 250 does everything well - aside from providing boot space - and with great comfort, and in terms of looks, inside and out, it reaches the level of outstanding.
Personally, I’d take the lower and sleeker A Class every time.
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.
I have to say that it’s quite an effort for a car company to get me interested in the look of an SUV, but from its tough, bold and yet stylish grille to its taut back end and BMW-aping rear light cluster, the new GLA really is a looker.
I had the good fortune to bring our GLA 250 test vehicle home and park it right next to the previous model, in the same colour, thus properly ruining the day of one of my neighbours.
The growth in size is clear - the new car is 12cm taller, 30mm wider and has a 30mm-longer wheelbase, yet overall it is 14mm shorter, which makes it look neater as well as stronger - but it’s the little tucks and tweaks of design that have really improved the look. The rear-light cluster is worth mentioning again, as it's just so much nicer.
While the original GLA was simply a case of making an A Class on stilettos, its success has encouraged Benz to really pour some effort into its successor, and the result is clear. This thing is a real looker.
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.
The main goal of the GLA’s new, more SUV-like shape, in practicality terms, seems to have been to lift the driver even further off the ground, because the command-seating position is obviously a big selling point for someone who finds the A Class too ground-hugging.
So, while some of that growth in height has been used to increase head room to the point where I could easily wear Abraham Lincoln’s hat while driving, much of it has gone to making the driving position a full 10cm higher than in the previous GLA (it’s also 14cm higher than in an A Class).
Personally, the height of the seat drove me slightly spare, and every time I got in I tried to lower it, only to find it doesn’t go any lower, but, tellingly, my wife - who is not far off being an elf - loved it.
What I did like was the back seat, which is truly voluminous. Through clever packaging, Benz has managed to liberate no less than 12cm of extra legroom back there, and I could properly stretch out.
With its standard double-paned panoramic roof and huge windows (part of huge doors, which do come close to scraping on any gutter higher than a match box), it’s a very glassy interior indeed, and visibility is excellent.
There are two cupholders between the front seats, and there’s storage for big bottles in each door. Oddment storage is plentiful, although they could have more if they did away with the now redundant mouse pad and the so-called “arm rest” behind that, which feels more like a gear-shift lever they forgot to remove when they put the shifting functions up on a column stalk.
There’s no need for the track pad any more because the giant and truly very lovely 10.25-inch touch screen does everything via touch, and sits next to another screen the same size that acts as your dash readout, making the whole thing look like a particularly long iPad.
While other car companies, including Audi, which has long been the winner in any interior-design conversation, are still just jamming big screens on top of dashboards, Benz has turned its entire dash into a digital display, and it looks amazing, and futuristic. Like a concept car you can actually buy.
The overall feeling of quality and tech - particularly at night when it all lights up beautifully in a colour of your choosing - in this alluring interior is one of the main reasons buyers will flock to the new GLA.
The seats are not as sporty as some, but they’re comfortable enough.
The one letdown, however, which comes as a shock with all that space in the rear, is the boot, which is just 435 litres, compared to the Audi Q3’s far more practical 530 litres. It really is a surprise when you open the back and see so little there, and that really does lower the practicality mark.
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.
I find it hard to believe I’m saying this about a Benz, but at a starting price of $66,500, the GLA 250 4MATIC does seem like quite a lot of car for the money. This might be influenced by the fact that I know a couple who recently dropped more than $70K on the smaller A Class (they actually went shopping for a GLA, but then fell in love with the look of the little hatch).
There, are of course, always issues with the Germans when it comes to what you do and don’t get for your tempting entry price, and in the case of our test vehicle it would stick in my craw quite badly to pay $385 extra for its Polar White paint. Yes, white paint costs extra.
While the Titan Grey Pearl and Black Lugano Leather is nice, it’s only in the car as part of the $2838 AMG Exclusive Package. Throw in the Sports Package at $1915, which gets us the sexy 19-inch AMG alloys, and the Driving Assistance Package for $1531 worth of extra active safety, drop on a dollop of LCT at $1329 and the asking price for our urban SUV hits a less-enticing-sounding $74,498.
Your standard inclusions for the $66,500 are a very lovely panoramic electric sunroof, heated and electronically adjustable front seats, with memory function, lowered comfort suspension and sports-direct steering, plus the Off-Road Engineering Package, while the standard, non AMG wheels are also 19-inch alloys, presumably just less sexy ones.
And you don't have to pay extra for Apple CarPlay, which is nice.
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.
The GLA 250 comes with 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that makes a handy 165kW and 350Nm, which is sent to all four wheels using 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The claimed 0 to 100km/h time is 6.7 seconds.
Your silky smooth gearbox is an eight-speed, or 8G-DCT automatic, in Benz speak.
The engine feels powerful enough, without being exciting, and sounds pleasant enough, without sounding sporty - it's pretty much Goldilocks for an urban SUV.
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.
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.
With such a high driving position, the worry is that you’re going to feel like you’re sitting on the new GLA rather than in it.
But the fact is that, once I became accustomed to the fact that I couldn’t get the seat as low as I wanted to, it all became comfortable enough, and I could get on with fully appreciating the ride quality.
While the GLA has a good, Germanic solidity to the way the interior is bolted together - the doors are almost too heavy, I fact, and can be tough for little people to close - it’s the way it sits on the road that really impresses.
The little Benz soaks up the bumps, particularly in Comfort mode, and provides the kind of ride and handling quality that you’d expect in a six-figure German car. Or a Benz of old, you might say.
Critics of A Classes past were heard to complain that they just didn’t ride as softly or richly as a Mercedes should, but the company has put things to rights with its smaller cars in recent years and you really feel like you’re getting the badge you paid for here.
Step out of the cruisy, snoozy Comfort setting into Sport, however, and the CLA feels out of its, well, comfort zone. It’s almost too toey for its own good, wanting to lurch around, holding each gear desperately and making noises that are merely loud rather than sexy.
Engine noise is a little intrusive whenever you try and accelerate fiercely in the GLA, in fact, but there is some handy pace there if you really need it.
Fast driving does feel out of character for the GLA 250 variant, however, and those who want that kind of thing should wait for the AMG-fettled version that will arrive in the next month or so, bringing 225kW and 400Nm.
As a cornering weapon, this car is more of a butter knife, smoothing its way around bends with minimal bodyroll. It’s an urban SUV, and it drives like one, albeit a very good one.
Typically, the steering is also light and easy to use rather than heavy and talkative.
Being the 4-MATIC variant, the GLA 250 also offers an Off-Road mode, which takes full advantage of its torque-on-demand all-wheel-drive system, but sadly our slightly brief introduction to the car didn’t provide us with the chance to hurl it down a scree-covered mountain side, nor to test out its version of hill-descent control.
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 GLA has not been ANCAP or Euro NCAP crash rated yet, but the first car got five stars from the Euro test and was never ANCAP tested. It’s safe to say they design their cars around being damn sure they get five stars.
You’ll also be getting no less than nine airbags - front, pelvis side and window bags for driver and front passenger, sidebags for the rear occupants and a knee bag for the driver.
In terms of active safety, the Active Brake Assist - which works up to 60km/h - is standard, as is Blind Spot Assist, with exit-warning function, which alerts the driver to approaching cyclists or vehicles when they’re about to open their door. Active Lane Keep Assist is also standard, as are the Active Bonnet, Traffic Sign Assist and Cross Wind Assist.
But you will have to stump up for the Driving Assistance Package to get things like Active Lane Change Assist, Active Emergency Braking Assist and Evasive Steering Assist.
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.
Your GLA comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is Japanese good, if not Korean good.
In terms of servicing, you can choose to purchase a Service Plan or pay as you go with capped-price servicing.
The costs for three annual services are $2050 for the Service Plan, or $2550 with the Capped Price Servicing (first is $550, second is $750, third $1250).
Service Plans can be bought in four or five-year lots, at $2950 and $3500 respectively.