The VW Touareg was one of the first large SUVs from a mainstream manufacturer – but now it’s almost time for the large crossover to get a complete overhaul, and Auto Express has had an exclusive tour of the T-Prime concept that previews the new model.
Unveiled at the Beijing Motor Show earlier this year, the T-Prime is an imposing large four-seat SUV concept. It looks considerably wider and lower than the existing Touareg – but senior Volkswagen sources say it is a close preview of how the new generation will look.
“The wheelbase of the show car is an Audi Q7’s,” says Frank Thomas, VW’s sales and marketing boss for full-size vehicles, as we walk around the T-Prime in a studio in Hamburg, “so we’ll take a few millimetres out of the rear door length for the production car. If anything, we think the slightly shorter body makes the crease along the sides and the falling roofline look even more dramatic.”
The front end certainly doesn’t lack drama, with a huge chrome-plate grille, deep air intakes and aggressive running lights that actually stretch right across the base of the VW badge. At the rear, there are neat tail-lights whose graphics reference the symbol often used to show a mobile phone’s signal strength – or, you could imagine, the amount of charge left in a plug-in hybrid’s batteries. The overall look is a more dynamic one than the current Touareg’s – particularly around the rear wheelarch, where there’s a subtle blister to create a stronger shoulder line.
Despite the switch of platforms, Thomas says VW will resist the temptation to offer the T-Prime with a conventional four-cylinder diesel engine. “Our experience is that customers want the extra relaxed performance of six cylinders,” he says. “We’ll start with a V6 diesel – although we will also offer a V8 TDI at the top of the range.”
The Touareg will be offered with VW’s 2.0-litre TFSI turbocharged four-cylinder petrol motor in some markets – notably China. But the same unit will also be paired with an electric motor to power the Touareg GTE, a plug-in hybrid that can replenish its battery reserves by using a little more of the combustion engine’s capacity, or travel for small distances on electric power alone. “We’re thinking the pure-EV range of the Touareg GTE has to be at least 50km (30 miles),” says Thomas.
Inside, the T-Prime’s cabin is a showcase for the future direction of Volkswagen interiors. The front is dominated by the huge touch-screen mounted in the centre of the dashboard but angled towards the driver. It’s a 15in display – as large as many laptops, in fact – and VW’s engineers plan to use the increased desktop space to allow levels of configuration previously unseen on a car interface.
Sitting inside the concept, it’s clear that the switch to VW’s MLB chassis technology has helped the packaging; even with the lower roofline and the show car’s panoramic glass sunroof, there’s plenty of headroom for six-footers. “You sit very slightly lower than before,” admits Thomas, “and that makes all the difference with the headroom.”
The rear cabin is laid out in a two-seat format, with a large central tunnel between the pair of passengers and three more screens – one each on the back of the front headrests, and a portrait-oriented display low down near the centre console. The extra screens are not expected to make production – “We think our customers would rather have strong 4G connectivity for their own devices like iPads and smartphones,” says Thomas – but while the four-seat configuration will not be the Touareg’s standard layout, it could yet appear later in the car’s life.
“We are exploring the possibility of maybe a more luxurious version of the Touareg,” says Thomas. “It is now the global VW flagship [privately, VW sources say the prices of high-end, fully-optioned editions could even crack the £80,000 mark] so maybe there is the chance to do a four-seat version at some point, even more focused on luxury, with even higher-end materials and more complex stitching on the seats.” There will not be a seven-seat configuration, however.