Touran takes the road less travelled to carve a niche
Volkswagen’s redesigned multi purpose vehicle is a dependable car for all seasons
A few years ago I bought a pair of those go-faster Puma racing drivers’ boots, with soles made to look like tyre treads. They are the commercial version of Formula One footwear, so obviously I was channelling my inner Fernando Alonso. Or something.
They re-emerged last week when I decided to give them some pedal time in the revamped Volkswagen Touran; but walking to the car I suddenly felt hopelessly overdressed, as though I had pitched up in black tie to play pin the tail on the donkey.
The initial cause of my embarrassment was an unabashed rear-window sticker – banner, more like – reading: “The New Touran. The 7 Seat Sports Car”. Clearly, someone in Volkswagen marketing was being wildly optimistic, or they had stolen half of the banner from another vehicle. (But hey, what did I know? More of that later.)
Now, my attitude to people carriers (there is no sneaking that seven-seat thing past me) is best described as militant, if not incendiary: they should all be blown up – preferably nuked – disfiguring town and country as they do and impairing visibility of everything else on the road for five miles. Boxy, ugly and a festering boil on wheels, your average people carrier looks about as aerodynamic as a mahogany wardrobe and half as fast.
Some hulking, some mean and squat, they gum up the roads at Sunday-driver speeds; safe to say then that my expectations languished somewhere south of Dixie. So of course the punchline to my prejudice was that the Touran turned out to be much more than I had given it credit for. Imagine my surprise.
It is not going to win many beauty contests, but most of those nasty, sharp people-carrier corners have been smoothed out on this charabanc, and anyway, practicality trumps looks in the multi-purpose vehicle galaxy (that band of the universe just below sport utility vehicle and above hatchback).
Then again, if you are going to be picky you could call the Touran a hatchback with headroom and an extra row of seats, which is what most mid-sized family runarounds really are. It is just that this one stacks up against BMW’s 2 Series Gran Tourer and the Ford S-Max, which is no faint praise. And ours rolled on 17-inch metallic grey Salvador alloy wheels.
The Touran emerges partly formed from the womb of Volkswagen’s MQB platform, which is also where procreation of the Golf, Skoda Superb and Audi A3 takes place, with many more models to follow. Naturally, such standardisation of components makes commercial sense for the company, but one wonders whether savings are passed on to the customer. With a mechanical tweak here and a slightly different decal there, the Touran range seems to stretch to the horizon; so we took our pick and tested the 1.4-litre TSI R-Line Sport, with the price starting at HK$309,980 – and I became acquainted with the taste of my hat.
Surprisingly sprightly on take-off, nimble on the motorway and agile through corners, the front-wheel drive R-Line, with seven-speed automatic gearbox and respectable 150 PS (148bhp), hits 100km/h in 8.9 seconds from a standing start. If you’re considering buying one for the school run you won’t be interested in any of that, but you might like to know that your passengers will appreciate the Touran’s deeply considerate suspension and that you’ll travel 17.9km to 18.5km on every litre of petrol. Those in economy class will also enjoy the airliner-style folding tables behind the front seats (which, incidentally, are racing snug, if not quite Recaro).
With one important exception the Touran is subject to the same laws of physics that control Doctor Who’s Tardis: it’s bigger on the inside than the outside. It might not be capable of time travel, but “space travel” it has licked, because there are all manner of cup-holders, recessed receptacles and stash pockets to be found in the doors, below the dashboard, above the dashboard, in the ceiling and behind the gear stick, all primed for coffee cups, baby wipes, children’s toys and documents the police like to inspect. Each of the middle three seats folds down and slides independently; and access to every part of the cabin is exemplary thanks to the Touran’s five wide-aperture doors.
Note, however, that if you are taking the extended family on holiday they had better be light travellers. With all seven seats occupied, suitcase space quickly vanishes – and you will be wishing those roof rack runners were not just for decoration. Fold down the two back-row seats though and the Touran distinguishes itself again, this time courtesy of its deep, wide boot, featuring a low-level lip for easy loading, which puts it among the best in its class.
Legroom for tall adults comes as standard and any lasting fears of claustrophobia should be banished by the picture-style windows all round, plus the panoramic sunroof, which help keep riders fully informed about the outside world.
For a family bus, the lively R-Line Touran is an unquestionably good sport. But it has much more going for it than just that. It’s dependable, trustworthy, solid, stolid: it’s German.