On a sunny Friday afternoon this July, cricket lovers around the world were working themselves into a frenzy. Sachin Tendulkar was due to hit his 100th Test century in this, the 1,000th Test match at Lord's. Batting alongside him was the perennially under-rated Rahul Dravid but the script called for him to be a side-show. Everyone had come for Tendulkar's 100th century. The evening ended with only Dravid's name being etched on the Lord's honours board for Test centurions. Later, the ever-phlegmatic Dravid would say that all the buzz and attention around the Little Master suited him just fine. "I can slip by quietly and get on with my business," he would say.
I was reminded of Dravid's understated talent for the three days that I tested the new Volkswagen Touareg V8. Not without cause - the V8 will never quite evoke the same sentiment as its Teutonic peers but that doesn't take away from the fact that this is one of the most quietly competent luxury SUVs I've driven in a while.
If this car needs a face for the brand, I wouldn't look beyond Dravid. You can accuse him of being prosaic at times but if your life depended on his batting skills, you know you'd be safe.
The new Touareg is leaner and more athletic than its predecessor. The new VW corporate grill might make it look a bit like an overgrown Golf at some angles but that's just a minor niggle. Not that the old Touareg looked bad but the new edition looks better than ever.
The car runs the 4.2-litre FSI engine also seen in Audis including the R8. With 360 horses underneath the bonnet and a slimmer, meaner appearance, the V8 is responsive and refined. Why Volkswagen decided not to bring the hybrid version of the Touareg here, I do not know but if there's one place on earth people will still buy a V8 without any iota of guilt, it has to be here in the Gulf. The move is strange, considering some American SUVs now come with smaller, more efficient engines. But still, it does seem a bit regressive to launch a V8 at a time like this especially when the hybrid's creating a fair bit of buzz the world over.
The inside of the new V8 Touareg is an example of understated luxury. Volkswagen has really taken the game to its more affluent rivals here. Spot plenty of wood and silver inserts, the two-tone climate-controlled leather seats look and feel great and there's plenty of room at the back. A giant panoramic sunroof adds to the overall roomy appearance.
The Dynaudio sound system has ten speakers with low resonance, a 12-channel amplifier and two central speakers for full, transparent sound. An AUX-IN multimedia socket connects external audio devices but the iPod interface on the entertain system is a bit slow. It takes a lot longer than it should on the touch screen - try searching for your favourite song at a traffic signal and you'll know what I mean. I would suggest having your playlist sorted before setting off on long trips.
I've never solely trusted rear-view cameras but on the Touareg I was confident enough to ignore the wing mirrors while reversing. The Area View - that gives the driver a bird's eye view of the area directly behind the vehicle - is a clever piece of gadgetry.
The V8 has a dynamic suspension system. In Sport mode, the car drops a few inches in height and the ride gets a lot stiffer. But for that weekend ride out of town, switch to comfort and the car glides across tarmac. There's a tricked-out version that participates in the Dakar rally so the car can be pretty competent off-road. Though they are mostly driven in urban environments, the V8 has enough pep to get you out of a spot in a wadi.
So where does that leave the Touareg? It seems to tick all the boxes, even the one that says ‘expensive' at over Dh330,000. But can it lure buyers away from a Cayenne, a Range Rover or the X5? It all boils down to badge value - if you can reconcile with that, you'll be all right in the new Touareg V8.