New 2017 Volkswagen Touareg prototype spotted testing


VW’s next Touareg large SUV hits the road in disguise, heavily previewed by T-Prime concept

Volkswagen‘s current flagship SUV is nearing the end of its life, and the replacement for the slow-selling Touareg has been snapped limbering up before its 2017 arrival. 

The Volvo XC60 rival was previewed at this year’s Beijing Motor Show by the T-Prime concept, and its clear from these spy images that the production car will look similar. While the front and rear-ends are covered by cladding, the undisguised side profile of the new Touareg is almost identical to the concept car.

Auto Express had an exclusive tour of the T-Prime concept, an imposing large four-seat SUV, before Beijing this year. It looks considerably wider and lower than the existing Touareg – but senior Volkswagen sources told us then to expect the finished car not to change much.

“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.

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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. 

The Touareg will be sold across Europe and Asia, but there are doubts on whether it will make it to the United States. The production version of the next Touareg is likely to make its public debut in spring next year, with sales and deliveries to European markets, including the UK, starting in late summer or early autumn. It’ll be built at VW’s plant in Bratislava, alongside the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne.

Infotainment revolution

With the demise of the Phaeton limousine, the next generation of Touareg will be VW’s global flagship – and as such, it gets the job of introducing the company’s latest infotainment system. 

So while most Touaregs will undoubtedly ship with a conventional central infotainment screen, possibly combined with VW’s digital instrument panel, the T-Prime’s radical touch-screen system will be offered, at least as an option. In hardware terms, it uses a 15in display that’s angled towards the driver – and could well be slightly curved in the final production model, in an attempt to reduce glare and reflections. 

It’s the software that will bring the biggest revolution for VW owners. The huge desktop area can be completely tailored to the driver’s tastes, prioritising the size and position of ‘tiles’ containing everything from sat-nav instructions to audio information or the latest weather forecast. These ‘tiles’ can be moved around – or even pulled or swiped across from the central screen to the active instrument panel.

VW’s software engineers are said to be evaluating whether customers want this level of smartphone interaction, or if they’d prefer a double-tap or single-tap to maximise windows. Either way, a central button, permanently displayed at the base of the screen, will always allow users the security of returning to their saved home screen layout – again, a feature borrowed from smartphones.

The system won’t be limited to one user, either. Different drivers will be able to bring up their own preferred layout, either through use of their own key or by selecting their ‘user’ at start-up, much like during a computer login.

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