December 9 2010 at 03:14pm
Volkswagen’s second-generation Touareg SUV was unveiled in South Africa just over a month ago, while almost simultaneously BMW launched its facelifted X5.
Although the vehicles are two slightly different spins on the SUV theme – the Touareg purports to be the more capable offroader and the X5 the more tar-based vehicle – we decided to subject them to a comparison test as they still share enough crossover of abilities to find themselves on the same shortlist of many an aspirant weekend warrior.
Without artificially building up to some trumpet-blaring climax and confirm the obvious, we can confirm that the Touareg is indeed the more hardcore bundu basher while the X5’s talents are better served on tar, but the purpose of this shootout is to determine which vehicle makes the best all-rounder with the fewest compromises.
After all, SUV buyers have high expectations (as they should at the price) and modern SUVs are expected to be all-singing, all-dancing vehicles capable on just about any road surface.
For our comparison we chose the most powerful diesel models on offer in each range: the X5 40d selling for R759 169 is powered by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo, straight-six diesel with a snarling 225kW and 600Nm; the Touareg 4.2-litre V8 turbodiesel retails for R776 000 and offers 250kW and a colossal 800Nm under the bonnet – even more than the 230kW/750Nm Touareg 5-litre V10 TDi it replaces.
The flagship Touareg has also taken a major price cut despite the power increase, as the outgoing V10 cost R881 735.
For such heavy behemoths these SUVs feel impressively responsive and really fly out of the starting gates, with the Beemer reaching the 100km/h mark in 7.7 seconds and the Touareg in just 6.7. They’re also child’s play to launch thanks to their automatic transmissions – just punch the throttle pedal and you’re doing hothatch-matching acceleration times.
Mighty cruising ability is common to both our contenders but it’s in overtaking that the Toureg’s 200Nm torque advantage really comes into play with the VW taking just 5.8 seconds to shoot from 60-120km/h, against the Beemer’s 7.7 secs. Not surprisingly, the bigger-muscled Toureg out-drinks the X5, averaging a consumption of 12.2 litres per 100km/h versus the BMW’s 11.1 litres.
The X5’s drivetrain is a little smoother with the typical strawberries-and-cream character of a straight six, versus the Touareg’s ever-so-slightly coarser V8. But they still both qualify as super refined and they coast along with minimal wind, road or mechanical noise intruding into the cabins.
There was a time when the cabin quality of a VW wasn’t quite in the BMW league, but Volksie’s made some great strides. The Touareg, with its plush leather, wood and neat trimmings, is in every way a match for the X5’s classy cabin; in fact the VW does it with a tad more styling flair than the Beemer’s elegant soberness – or was it just the charmingly smooth feel of the Touareg’s wooden steering wheel that swayed me?
There’s little to tell these two German SUVs apart in cabin space – both are large enough to swing a German Shepherd by the tail in. The Beemer has the slightly larger boot (620-1750 litres versus 580-1641 litres) and also the advantage of being optionally available with two extra seats if you need to lug seven passengers. The Touareg offers no third row.
Both the X5 and the Touareg are adorned with safety features and gadgets galore, and both do a good job of providing simple and intuitive user interfaces. The VW’s is possibly the easier of the two with its touchscreeen interface, though BMW’s iDrive system is also very user friendly.
In the ride and handling stakes there were few surprises, with the Touareg offering better ride comfort and the X5 the happier of the two in the twisties.
The Touareg unit we tested was equipped with optional height-adjustable air suspension which offers three settings to suit your driving mood: comfort, normal and sport.
But even in sport mode it offers better bump-soaking ability than the Beemer; the Touareg feels like you’re piloting your favourite armchair. For its size and bulk the VW really doesn’t handle too badly and can be pushed through twisty mountain passes at a fair lick.
For buyers seeking a sportscar on stilts the Beemer is the hands-down winner here, with its firmer suspension and sharper steering making it clearly the more agile of the two. BMWs have a way of shrinking around you and the X5, though also being a large behemoth, makes you feel like you’re piloting something smaller and lighter.
Offroad the X5 is a lot better than most people realise if you fit the right tyres (our test car had low-profiles). The Xdrive permanent all-wheel drive system, combined with dynamic stability control, is very good at maintaining traction in uneven and slippery turf and it also has generous ground clearance of 222mm to prevent belly-scraping.
The Touareg’s standard ride height is 220mm but can be raised up to a boulder-straddling 300mm with the optional air suspension if you’re really into hardcore eco-adventuring.
The VW’s also permanently all-wheel driven via its 4Motion system, and has a switch that allows you to select between “road” and “offroad” mode which instantly calibrates the ABS brakes, throttle and gearshift settings to suit.
Hill descent control is also standard in both vehicles, making for a far less sphincter-tightening experience on steep downhills.
These are two SUVs of formidable comfort, power and multi-terrain versatility, with decent fuel consumption to boot.
For day to day living I’d choose the more comfy-riding Touareg over the sharper-handling X5. After all, how much time does the average SUV spend being thrashed through mountain passes?
For all its extra power the VW also costs only R17 000 more than the Beemer, which gives it impressive value for money.
But the X5 optionally comes with a third row of seats which makes it the better choice for bigger families.