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The new Volkswagen Touareg aims for big-screen success in Singapore

VW launched its biggest, most expensive car here last week. How will it fare in a crowded field of luxury SUVs?

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"The Touareg will be well appreciated by car buyers who want something slightly higher up the luxury scale. Standing on top of the model range, the Touareg is essentially a first class seat for the price of a business class ticket." - Volkswagen Group Singapore MD Ricky Tay (above).

Singapore

A NEW flagship for Volkswagen has wandered into town. VW Group Singapore launched the new Touareg here last week, putting it on sale more than a year after the previous model was discontinued.

Named after a nomadic desert tribe, the large, luxurious sport utility vehicle (SUV) is VW's most expensive car here. Prices start at S$289,900 with Certificate Of Entitlement for the Atmosphere and Elegance versions, which differ in terms of cabin trim and upholstery. A more extensively-equipped R-Line model costs S$321,900.

The money buys a big, imposing car that's also quick on its feet. A 3.0-litre V6 engine gives the Touareg 340 horsepower, enough to send it galloping to 100km/h in a speedy 5.9 seconds.

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The new car is longer than before (by 77m) and wider (44mm), but it has a lower roofline for a more sporty silhouette. The extra size has created room for an enormous, 810 litre boot (113 litres bigger than before), though the Touareg remains a five-seater.

But the new flagship has more than size on its side. Volkswagen Group Singapore's managing director Ricky Tay told The Business Times that the Touareg is something of a technology leader for the carmaker. "While the Golf remains one of the most iconic Volkswagens ever, the brand is also breaking new ground in terms of new technologies and the Touareg is testament to that," he said.

Many of the improvements to the car are under the skin. New manufacturing techniques let Volkswagen shave more than 100kg off the Touareg's weight, and agile handling was a high priority for its development team; VW asked Hans-Joachim Stuck, a German racing driver who has stood on the podium in Formula One and won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, to help engineers tune the Touareg's steering.

But the most eye-catching new feature is a digital cockpit designed around two screens, one of them measuring a whopping 15 inches diagonally. VW calls the enormous setup the Innovision Cockpit, and apart from operating the navigation and infotainment systems, it lets drivers customise the car's settings. "Customers can now adjust the driving dynamics, assistance and comfort systems to their own preferences, creating their very own personal Touareg," said Mr Tay. The Touareg is the first VW to come with the big-screen interface, he added.

Yet, while the original Touareg was relatively early to the luxury SUV party when it came out in 2002, the dance floor is now crowded with strong competitors, all vying for the attention of well-heeled drivers.

Mercedes's GLE is ageing but has a more prestigious badge, while BMW's newly redesigned X5 and Volvo's XC90 offer seven seats. On top of it all, the VW has to deal with sibling rivalry: the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne are both sister cars that share their basic structure with the Touareg, since the VW Group owns their makers.

But Mr Tay sees a clear target group for the car. "The Touareg will be well appreciated by car buyers who want something slightly higher up the luxury scale. Standing on top of the model range, the Touareg is essentially a first class seat for the price of a business class ticket," he said.

The R-Line version does more to back up that claim than the other Touaregs. It comes with features that are either still rare in the market even among luxury cars, or only available as optional extras.

One of these is a rear axle steering system that makes the big SUV more stable on the highway, yet more agile at low speeds. With four-wheel steering, the Touareg R-Line can pull off such tight turns that it only needs 20cm more space than the Golf, a compact hatchback, to execute a U-turn.

The R-Line model also comes with driver assistance systems that automatically control the steering, accelerator and brakes to make pesky traffic jams effortless.

The high equipment count means that the Touareg sticks to VW's playbook of bringing the latest technology to the market as soon as possible. "It has everything that the premium class SUV segment and its customers expect - expressive design, innovative technologies, assistance systems, dynamic handling properties and craftsmanship," said Mr Tay.

With the Innovision Cockpit, in particular, VW is hoping the Touareg will find big-screen success.