MotoGP Weekend With The VW Touran
By James Wong
I had quite a dilemma choosing between driving my VW GTI or my father’s VW Touran up to the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We were to catch the MotoGP race, which would be the first time I’ve ever been to any MotoGP event, not to mention my first time at SIC. If I brought my GTI, I reckon I would be having some serious fun on the North-South Highway (as mentioned in my earlier article about the road trip with the GT3) but since it was a long drive, it also meant it was going to be rather uncomfortable with five people packing the car. In the decision process comfort took precedence over speed, so I settled for the Touran, expecting nothing more than a normal MPV on a mundane road trip on a lone highway. But make no mistake, the Touran is no ordinary MPV, especially this family mover injected with some adrenaline in its mechanical body.
For people in other parts of the world, this is the locally-branded Touran Sport (henceforth referred to as the Touran), equipped with the 1.4 supercharged and turbocharged engine that pushes out 170bhp and 240Nm of torque. The idea of a twincharged engine is that the supercharger solves the low-end lag associated with a turbocharger, as the supercharger provides almost instantaneous boost, though it might lose its effectiveness higher in the rev band. And when that happens, the turbocharger takes over when it has already spooled while the supercharger was doing its part. The Touran also comes with a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox (dubbed the familiar DSG) which further makes its performance one of a kind, especially in this class of car.
The result? Although the Touran is not a particularly fast car, with it doing 0-100km/h in 8.5 seconds, it gives a linear power delivery dished out with a punch which would smack any unsuspecting boy racer. The engine, having this ingenious technological prowess (though VW is not the first manufacturer to think of this idea), feels like a naturally-aspirated unit that is at least double its displacement. And having been through 20,000 tough kilometers in just one year, it is still running as well as when it was new, and trust me when I say that because I am especially particular about this. I have been skeptical about the Touran’s abilities since the day my dad bought it, because I didn’t believe in the longevity of the engine, and whether we needed an MPV in the first place. But even after persistent derisions of the car, my dad believed it was the car for him. And in the months that followed, I too was won over by the charms of this staid-looking car. It might not appeal to everybody on the get-go, but take a drive and you will be taken in. As I will find out in the drive towards SIC, the Touran is more than just the soccer mum’s MPV.
The one joy that I revel in when driving the Touran is how easy it is to drive. Turn the ignition on and the engine is so refined, sometimes you don’t even notice it is on. Immediately that makes you feel at ease in the car. That’s no mean feat for a small engine tuned and worked on to produce so much power. Back it out of the driveway and you notice that its boxy shape offers an excellent all-round view of the road around you; there are no nasty blind spots and the windows are so huge, they offer great visibility. Say all you want about the looks of the Touran, the boxy shape makes this car more practical than if it were to adopt any other shape. Drive gently to warm the car up and the car offers surprising low-end urge with the supercharger, all the while never needing to rev high enough to activate the turbocharger. Even so, the car felt brisk. The gearbox also offers flawless changes, causing me to have a smudge of worry for my own GTI which has a far more challenging gearbox to work with (although technically, they are the same thing).
And one thing that you don’t usually mention about MPVs – the Touran handles. Granted, it has a high centre of gravity and rather soft-set suspension. But give it a good corner and the car will surprise you with the amount of speed it can carry through it. The steering is also sweetly weighted, I daresay feeling all too similar to the GTI’s. Its chassis is also extremely stiff, so you can really feel what the suspension is doing. The car will roll but you always feel that it is in control, and that you know its limits quite acutely. So you find yourself taking corners at ridiculous speed for a 7 seater, with tyres screeching resoundingly. At the traffic lights, you will also be tempted to floor it and let the driver in the convertible next to you gape in astonishment as the front wheels scream for grip with all the torque from the engine and then pull away like a train. Yet while it offers seating for 7 it is also rather compact on the exterior, so it doesn’t feel like a big car at all. The Touran then is truly a multi-purpose vehicle – and it fits the role of a sports car quite well. You don’t have to be fast to derive joy from driving, and in the case of the Touran that can’t be further from the truth.
On the road trip up, overtaking required a kick-down of one or two gears but the car never feels slow. From the get-go, you also get the supercharger whine at the low-end which is replaced by the booming soundtrack of the turbocharger at the high-end, which is definitely a unique exhaust note by any standard. It is muted though so don’t expect a symphony. But there are limitations to its small, 4 cylinder engine. After 200km/h (124 mph), the car simply crawls to gain any more speed. And despite the engine revving cleanly, you never feel that you have a lot of power – it just feels adequate, and just right for the Touran, which is no bad thing either. You don’t crave for anything more in a car of this class, and if you do then you shouldn’t be getting an MPV anyway.
Now for the practicality stakes, the Touran’s big trump card. A third row of seats allows the car to seat 7 people quite comfortably, but the last row might be best reserved for children or for short journeys. There is a bit of problem if you carry 7 too – if you have the third-row up, storage space for luggage becomes severely compromised at the boot. So for extended holidays that might be an issue. But at this side of the world, our journeys rarely exceed 100km so it works for us. Just a side note – this week I took the Touran again to transport some furniture from Ikea. The car swallowed the goods impressively, and while initially I didn’t believe the car would fit everything, it can and had space for more. That said, we had to fold down the second row to do this and in the Touran, you do not get a flat-floor with the second row folded. It instead pushes the second row up against the front seats, and has stilts to prevent it from folding back. This folding system is rather inefficient and the stilts are flimsy, sometimes causing a loud “THUMP!” with brisk acceleration as it gave way.
Everybody who sat in the Touran could never believe it is a 1.4. My passengers also praised its space, with ample legroom all round and massive cubbyholes everywhere. It covered the North-South Highway without a fuss, averaging a fast pace while being completely stable, even over some uneven roads. Its fuel consumption of 10.6km/l on average for the whole journey was completely understandable, considering that I did nothing but spirited driving most of the way. The route to SIC and back was very straightforward, covering a total of more than 600km, and it was simply a joy to drive. I never regretted taking the Touran, as it made me appreciate the car even more. MotoGP was an exhilarating experience that I am glad I had a chance to partake in, and SIC is a magnificent track which I hope to try driving in in the future.
So, don’t judge a car by its looks. Otherwise you’ll be missing out on one of the best family movers on the road today. I know some readers may think I will be biased, but I am saying this with complete impartiality. I really didn’t want to like the Touran. But I did anyway. What a car and what utility.
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