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The Volkswagen Touran has a good chassis but little inspiration and a bland appearance

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Given the success of the 1996 Renault Scénic, it was unsurprising that back in 2003 and after due consideration, Volkswagen launched its own answer to the problems of the large family not wanting an equally large car to cart them around in. The Touran was offered with five and seven seats, the latter owing its creation to the sales achieved by the original Vauxhall Zafira

Seven years and 1.1 million sales after the Touran first hit the scene, VW launched this, what it calls a new Touran. It’s more of a major facelift, really. There’s crisper styling, and the big news is the arrival of a range of modern new four-cylinder engines, but this Touran has the same basic but re-engineered VW Golf Mk5 underpinnings as before and the same basic interior in five or seven-seat guises.

The Touran rides on a Golf platform

Competition in the segment is as tough as it’s ever been, with entrants feeling more car-like to drive than ever and growing in versatility. So will the Touran’s tried and trusted formula – including its family ties to the Golf as a trump card – be enough for it to compete?

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DESIGN & STYLING

Volkswagen Touran rear end

You have to hand it to Volkswagen. When it competes in a market sector, it does so wholeheartedly. Cars in the compact MPV class are typically available in either five or seven-seat form, so VW sells the Touran in both formats to cover both eventualities.

If you opt to do without the rearmost pair of seats, you save no money but do benefit from a full-size spare wheel.

Five and seven seat options are available

And then, of course, there are those looks. Mid-sized MPVs often look rather bland, so VW has created perhaps the blandest-looking of them all. It figures, no doubt, that owners will prefer to concentrate on its badge, which is rather more prestigious than is common in this class, and its Golf underpinnings.

Indeed, the Touran was the very first VW to use the PQ35 platform with its expensive multi-link rear suspension and, like those that followed, is equipped with the full range of VW’s TSI petrol and TDI diesel four-cylinder engines.

The Touran sports the typical crisp VW family look that appears on every other model in the VW range. So there’s the familiar headlights, grille design and wide lower intake at the front, clean surfaces at the side and the equally familiar lights and bumper at the rear.

One thing the Touran lacks next to some of its more innovative rivals is rear sliding doors. Sliding rear doors feature on models like the Ford Grand C-Max and Mazda 5, but the Touran makes do with a traditional pair of entry points for rear passengers. 

INTERIOR

Volkswagen Touran dashboard

Volkswagen’s ad men boast of 39 different seating configurations for the Touran. Nice copy line, and there’s no denying the flexibility on offer.

The middle row of seats comprises two full-sized outer seats, both with Isofix fittings and a smaller centre seat. All three have three-point seatbelts, and slide fore and aft on runners.

The Touran's cabin lacks flair

Collapsing and removing the seats are easy, but their shape makes them awkward to manoeuvre, although at 15.9kg (15.7kg for the centre seat) they’re not overly heavy.

With the centre seat removed, the outer pair can be mounted slightly inboard, giving passengers more elbow room. You sit high, in comfy (if hard) seats with decent legroom, but it’s an uninspiring place to be, with grey plastic everywhere.

In the rear, the optional third row collapses into the boot floor, requiring you to remove the headrests, which fit into a special compartment.

These are kids’ seats; anyone over 6ft will have their knees around their ears and access requires a convoluted approach – useful for families, then, but no match for the Vauxhall Zafira in execution. There’s very little boot space with the rearmost seats raised, too.

From the driver’s seat, things are typically VW. That means the usual clear instruments, excellent ergonomics and a great range of steering wheel and seat adjustment.

Unfortunately the dash, and cabin in general, is as deathly dull to look at as the outside of the car. We don’t quibble with the quality, which is well up to Volkswagen standards – just the unremitting predictability of it all.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Volkswagen Touran side profile

A strong contingent of Volkswagen's generally excellent four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines are on offer in the Volkswagen Touran. On the petrol side, there are 104bhp 1.2 and 138bhp 1.4 options, and on the diesel buyers can opt for an entry-level 89bhp 1.6, or more palatable 104bhp 1.6, 138bhp 2.0 and 168bhp 2.0 options.

The 1.2 TSI unit is smooth, quiet and refined. Off the line it can feel underpowered, as it does near the top of the rev range, but progress is swift when peak torque kicks in between 1550rpm and 4100rpm.

The 1.6-litre TDI is our engine choice

The 1.4 TSI model never feels underpowered, even when crammed with a taxi load of Autocar staffers. Power delivery is smooth and consistently linear, plenty of torque makes it responsive and there’s plenty of in-gear flexibility. It feels refined on motorway cruises too and when the engine is idling, virtually no noise filtrates to the cabin.

Diesel wise, the 89bhp 1.6 feels gutless and should be avoided unless you really have to have that Volkswagen badge; that being so, save yourself a few hundred quid and buy the entry-level – and more powerful – 1.2 TSI model.

The impressive 104bhp 1.6 TDI suits the Touran well. It is surprisingly nippy in stop-start town traffic and its refined cruising ability makes motorway travel genuinely relaxing. Best of all, Volkswagen claims 61mpg on the combined cycle, which equates to a range of over 800 miles.

The 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel is a responsive, quiet thing, mated to a slick-shifting manual gearbox, while the more powerful Volkswagen Touran 168bhp 2.0 TDI gives the Touran flexible performance and relaxed motorway manners, along with a 0-62mph time of 8.9sec and a 132mph top speed. Although the 2.0-litre diesels are impressive, the smaller and cheaper 1.6 TDI does much the same, so this would be where our money went on a Touran.

RIDE & HANDLING

Volkswagen Touran rear cornering

Dynamically, the Volkswagen Touran is safe and predictable. But what the Volkswagen lacks in fun, it more than makes up for in ride quality, versatility, space and quality, all of which are first rate.

Given the excellence of its Volkswagen Golf underpinnings, it would be something of a surprise if VW had misjudged the dynamics of the Touran and, despite the fact that it’s both higher and heavier than a Golf, it still offers handling and performance that can be credibly compared with the best offerings in the class.

A good balance of ride and handling

The Golf chassis has enabled VW’s engineers to actually use quite firm spring ratings for the Touran to improve handling, without it being to the detriment of ride quality. Indeed the Touran corners surprisingly flat and fast for a car of this genre yet remains comfortable in all conditions, even when you load it to its chromed roof rails with children or luggage.

Only the electric power steering is slightly questionable. It’s light at town speed for easy parking, but as the pace increases it doesn’t impart quite the feel you’d like, particularly given the excellence of the chassis in other areas.

The PQ35 Golf-based chassis is, on the whole then, well judged. Never entertaining, it’ll slip into terminal understeer when pushed, but it rides, steers and grips with a polished feel, retaining good body control even over bumps. The Vauxhall Zafira will still be the driver’s choice, but considering how most Tourans will be driven, it’s a good balance.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Volkswagen Touran 2010-2015

The Volkswagen Touran is a safe place to put your money, given Volkswagen's typically strong residuals. That desirable badge on the nose is perhaps the Touran’s biggest weapon in its assault on Britain’s family driveways.

Against rivals, the Touran is expensive but generally well equipped. The entry-level 1.2 TSI comes in at around £18,300. For that, you’ll get 15in alloy wheels, air-con and cruise control, but items ranging from the fairly essential front foglights to the more desirable panoramic roof are left on the options list in base S trim.

The Touran's running costs impress

SE trim starts considerably higher than the S – at around £21,000 for the 1.2 TSI Bluemotion Technology model – but the equipment list lengthens with it. Range-topping Sport models start from around £25,000.

The Touran is not left out in receiving VW’s excellent range of fuel-saving Bluemotion Technology. Both 104bhp and 138bhp diesels and the base 1.2 TSI are offered with stop-start and a brake energy recuperation system to create eco flagships for the Touran range.

At its most frugal – in 104bhp 1.6 Bluemotion Technology guise – the Touran returns 61.4mpg, although at 121g/km, the CO2 emissions of this model are agonizingly close to the 120g/km threshold you’d expect an eco special to breach.

The 2.0 TDI Bluemotion Technology is something of an all-rounder for both performance and economy. It can crack 0-62mph in 9.9sec, and still return 58.9mpg. CO2 emissions of this model are also impressive, at 127g/km.

Insurance-wise, the Touran also scores. It sits in Group 10E in base diesel form, and 19E in the most potent oil-burner. 

VERDICT

4 star Volkswagen Touran

The Touran is a good, if predictable, effort from Volkswagen. It scores highly for its practicality, overall quality, decent chassis and excellent standard-fit safety kit.

It is one of the better mid-sized MPVs and for many will be the natural choice because it has a badge with infinitely greater snob value than the Mazda, Vauxhall or Renault alternatives. It will also be likely to hang on to its value for longer.

Competent but costly to buy

It’s pretty capable, too, in other departments, with that flexible, spacious interior and the impressive Golf-based chassis, not to mention strong and frugal engines.

Line it up next to rivals, however, and our major gripe with the Touran is exposed. All that really stands against it is the stultifying dullness of its design.

Compared with the light and airy feel of, say, a Renault Scénic’s cabin and exterior styling, the Touran is conspicuously dull. Inside and out it, does little to make the owner feel like he or she is driving anything other than a service unit for their children. Of course, this is exactly what the car is, but it’s not something parents usually like to be reminded about.

If you’re not worried by that previous sentence and the classy image the VW brand exudes makes sense to you, then the Touran makes a fine, if pricey, choice.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Volkswagen Touran 2010-2015 First drives