Volkswagen Touareg VS Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
- Steering’s modest road feel
- Sport mode too harsh
- Lane guidance overly keen in corners
- In-line six engine
- Grand interior
- High-tech features
- Three-year warranty
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|
Not so long ago, even the idea of 'coupe SUV' would have been considered just a little bit silly.
But not anymore. This almost contradictory bodystyle is well and truly here to stay, as evidenced by the expanding catalog of available models pouring out of premium automakers.
Benz tells us, for example, that coupe versions make up some 25 per cent of its GLE sales in Australia.
Which brings us to this car – the second-generation GLE coupe. We were sent to its international launch to find out what’s new, what’s changed, and what Benz has in store for the Australian market, come its arrival in Q3 of 2020. Read on to find out what we discovered.
|Engine Type||2.0L 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.
Whether you like Coupe SUVs or not is an entirely subjective matter, but there’s no denying the GLE 53 is a tech and spec showcase – some of the best Mercedes has to offer. If you can get past its relatively enormous dimensions and naturally compromised visibility – it’s even a hoot to drive.
The significant proportion of GLE consumers who are picking one of these over the regular version will be pleased with its many improvements. We’ll know more about how its price and specification lines up against primary rivals closer to its Australian launch date, so stay tuned.
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.
The GLE Coupe has improved so much in its looks it’s easy to see when it came to the second-generation GLE underpinnings, Benz had it planned from the beginning.
It looks mean, especially the 53 with its giant toothy grille. The stance is low and wide for an SUV, and I’m especially a fan of the much more resolved rear end.
It’s less bulbous and frumpy, more slick and menacing, rounded out nicely by the flick of a lip spoiler jutting out the rear.
You might think proportionally, the very idea of a coupe SUV is silly, and there’s no denying that, but then, you and I might not be the target audience.
That audience is someone looking for an avant-garde take on what a sports car actually looks like. They will be pleased – I’d say its even more resolved than BMW’s X Coupes and a little less science-fiction than Audi’s Q8. The incoming Coupe version of the Porsche Cayenne will be a real challenger.
The presence the GLE Coupe exudes extends to the inside, where there’s plenty of Mercedes wow factor. Level what you might at the brand’s use of silver fittings and flat dual-screen set-up, there’s no denying Benz offers an interior entirely unlike its competition.
The GLE has one of the best of the recent Benz interiors, too. I love the way the big dual-screen set-up is framed in a 'leather'-clad bay of vents.
I also like the real wood trim on our test car which runs across the dash and flows into the doors, and of course the wholly unnecessary vent-overload (becoming a Benz signature) pride of place in the centre of the dash.
It’s complemented by the tape-deck style silver switches for the climate controls which protrudes underneath.
The materials are great, with Artico trim running down the centre console, and across each doorcard. Almost every surface you’ll reasonably come into contact with is soft, and the commitment to real metals and wood is admirable.
Other highlights include the comfortable seats (with heating which extends into the armrests!) and AMG wheel which is flashy and aggressive, well suited to such a gratuitous vehicle.
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.
Naturally, the entire idea of shaving a solid bit of roof off of an SUV is going to compromise the amount of ‘practicality’ you get from such a large footprint.
Those compromises are not only there, but they are quite obvious. The sheer height of the GLE makes peering over the edge of the bonnet difficult for parking, and the sloped roofline causes the A-pillar to eat quite a bit of your field of vision.
As you might imagine, it’s genuinely difficult to see much out of the back of the GLE Coupe. I caught myself continually adjusting the rear vision mirror – as though somehow it would grant me more vision out of the letterbox rear window.
While front passengers get away with plenty of room, rear passengers are a little harder done by. This is again, largely due to the roof pillar, which eats into headroom and gives the cabin a claustrophobic feel.
Thankfully, legroom is fantastic (largely due to that massive GLE platform), the trim is all just as good as it is in the front seats, and the back of the centre console gets its own set of climate controls, adjustable air vents and USB-C power outlets.
I’d hardly say there’s an abundance of bottle holders for occupants, but there are a few. They aren’t big or packaged in ideal locations, but you’ll be able to get away with four 300ml containers in the front and four in the rear.
The boot has been re-worked from the GLE Coupe’s predecessor, there’s five extra litres on tap, for a total of 655 litres (VDA) – so it’s far from useless, but still down significantly from the full size GLE which has a massive 825L of space.
Benz has made the boot more useful, too, lowering the sill by 60mm for easier access.
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.
There’s no dancing around the fact that the GLE Coupe is a niche, gratuitous product, targeted at a well-off consumer.
We don’t know what the pricing will be for the Australian range yet – and we won’t for a few months. But what we do know is Mercedes-Benz will only bring two highly specified variants to our market for the launch.
Those two will be the AMG-tuned GLE 53 which we were able to test at the launch, and a slightly lesser specified GLE 450.
Expect tall pricing, north of the wagon bodied GLE 450 ($111,341) for the 450 Coupe and outgoing GLE 43 Coupe ($145,829) for the GLE 53 Coupe.
Standard features, as with the rest of the second-generation GLE range will be pretty good. We don’t know exactly what Australian-specified vehicles will get, but the GLE 53 as tested in Europe came with an extensive list of items.
You can expect all variants to get 20- to 22-inch alloys, electric tailgates, LED headlights, and Benz’ signature ‘Artico’ faux leather interior trim. The 53 also had a swish fully RGB adjustable interior ambient lighting suite and real wood in the dash. Very nice.
All GLE Coupes will have the impressive MBUX (I’m told it’s said “em bee you ex”, not “em bucks”) digital dash and multimedia suite, consisting of two 12.3-inch screens, one a digital dash, the other a multimedia screen.
The flashy setup also supports Apple CarPlay and Android auto as well as the usual connectivity via Bluetooth and packs several USB C outlets alongside Aux and USB 2.0. Our test 53 had a head-up display, too.
Mercedes’ built-in assistant (summoned by uttering 'Hey Mercedes') has perhaps the best native voice recognition on the market in terms of its accuracy and what it can do.
You can do things like adjust air conditioning, open the sunroof shade (oh yes, the GLE comes with a panoramic sunroof, too), and even find your specific music tracks via internet radio.
Then there’s the built in nav suite which is also one of the better ones on the market, featuring some very cool innovations.
The system will switch to the forward-facing camera when approaching an intersection and show you where to exit using augmented reality. Neat.
The 53’s system is also uniquely adjustable with AMG-specific themes and modes for the dash cluster, setting it apart from the lesser GLE 450 when it arrives.
It’s safe to assume there will be an extensive options list, including the 'E-Active Body Control' system (a $13,000 option on the wagon version) which uses cameras to detect road quality and optimize the air suspension system to suit. It also leans into corners. We’re keen to test it when it becomes available on the GLE 450.
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.
Australia will only get one engine in the GLE Coupe – a 3.0-litre 48-volt mild-hybrid in-line six-cylinder twin-turbo petrol.
There will be two states of tune. The 450 will be able to make use of 270kW/500Nm, while the AMG-spec GLE 53 we were able to drive at the launch has more power still (thanks to extra hybrid augmentation on the turbo) for a total of 320kW/520Nm.
For a quick comparison, the single-variant Q8 produces 250kW/500Nm from a twin-turbo V6, while the equivalent X6 – the M40i packs a 3.0-litre twin-turbo in-line six to make 250kW/450Nm.
The GLE 53 has a nine-speed auto transmission which is specially tuned by AMG to go with the expanded list of available drive modes. All Australian GLE Coupes will be all-wheel drive via a permanently active '4Matic+' system.
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.
The claimed combined cycle fuel consumption figure for the GLE 53 Coupe is 9.3L/100km, and while that’s not bad for something this heavy – keep in mind it’s an NEDC figure and not the widely-used WLTP figure so it could be a bit different by the time the GLE Coupe launches here.
Regardless, the fuel consumption is helped along by the abundance of ratios in the transmission and 48-volt mild-hybrid additions which help to remove inefficiencies from the drivetrain.
Our sweet but brief drive route in the Austrian Alps was not a fair reflection of fuel consumption, so we don’t have a real-world figure for you yet.
Expect the GLE 53 to require premium 98 RON unleaded petrol to fill its 65-litre fuel tank.
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 resurgence of the in-line six engine is a glorious thing, and it makes the GLE 53 quite a fun, if chunky, unit to drive.
Acceleration is urgent thanks to the pre-spooled first-stage turbo, and the transmission flicks through the gears like there’s nothing to it.
It’s perhaps not as 'smart' on the downshifts as competitor transmissions from Audi or Porsche, although Mercedes was keen to point out this will get better over time as the car’s computer 'learns' your driving characteristics.
Thankfully though, unless you’re in 'Eco' mode, the GLE 53 does a great job of letting you ride each gear out, giving you that signature in-line six sensation of an entire revolution range of relatively even torque distribution – a characteristic which Mercedes has gone to pains to perfect on a turbocharged engine.
This has the result of letting you bask in the sound for precious extra seconds.
While not as furious as preceding V8s – it is distinct. It’s refined and rich, although more subdued than you might have come to expect from vehicles wearing the Affalterbach badge.
I’m a fan. It’s an engine befitting a more refined sports machine than a garish statement.
The AMG suspension tune was great, too, keeping the massive Coupe truly under control in the corners, while soaking up bumps (which we’ll admit, there were few of on Austria’s immaculate roads).
It was interesting to read colleague Matt Campbell found the standard suspension less than impressive on the regular SUV-shaped variants, so we’ll see what the more basic set-up on the 450 is like at the Coupe’s launch.
I have no complaints about the steering, which proved to be responsive, smooth and accurate, while not erring too far on the heavy side, even in 'Sport' or 'Sport+' mode.
My main complaints lie with outward visibility and the sheer size of the GLE’s body. There were some nerve-wracking moments piloting it at speed around narrow streets with tall snow embankments encroaching.
And no matter how much I adjusted my seat and mirrors, the view out the back was particularly compromised.
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.
We don’t know exactly how Australian cars will be specified yet, but expect the two GLE Coupes to come with flagship active features like high-speed auto emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning with lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear and front cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, 360 degree parking sensors and cameras, fully auto LED headlights, semi-autonomous parking, and driver attention alert.
The GLE has nine airbags and dual ISOFIX child seat mounting points in the outer rear seats.
Regular wagon bodied GLE class vehicles have maximum five-star ANCAP safety ratings as of 2019, and we’ll update you when we hear more about the Coupe variants.
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.
Mercedes continues with its three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty which is frustratingly standard across European premium car manufacturers in Australia– particularly its primary competitors, Audi and BMW. We doubt this will change any time soon.
Like VW Group competitors, though, Mercedes is now bundling in service costs in packages which can be tacked on to finance. The GLE requires servicing once a year or every 15,000km – we’ll update you on the cost of the packages closer to the Coupe’s local launch.