How do you judge a market and its trends? The best and presumably foolproof way would be to analyse the business strategy of leading players in that particular industry. Why? Because in order to stay ahead of the competition and to know their customers better, corporate giants spend millions on market research and base their every move on the findings. But that method hasn't worked for me. Either their research methodology is wrong, or the market is as fickle-minded as the Roman mob. Because observing their moves to see where our market's headed has honestly left me utterly confused.
Take the SUV market. When Infiniti launched its revised QX and offered just the gas-guzzling 5.6-litre V8 with it, I thought it must be true after all that the region's love affair with V8s will never end. But, just a few months later, Audi announced that it's ditching the 4.2-litre V8 and 3.6-litre V6 units in the Q7 for a leaner, cleaner supercharged 3.0-litre. OK, the global trend of downsizing has finally caught on here as well, I thought. It turns out I was wrong. Because Volkswagen has just added a V8 petrol engine to its Touareg line-up for the Middle East, when most of the other markets get just the 3.6-litre V6, a hybrid and two diesels.
There's nothing new about the engine, though. It's the same 4.2-litre FSI that does service in a few Audis, including our favourite, the R8. In any form, under the bonnet of any car, we've always loved this lump. In the Touareg, it develops 360bhp and a decent 430Nm of torque and unsurprisingly, it is as sublime as it's always been. It purrs to life with a subtle grunt and is impressively quiet and smooth through all the ratio of the new eight-speed auto 'box it shares with the Porsche Cayenne.
With the Comfort suspension mode selected, the V8 Touareg is without doubt one of the most comfortable SUVs out there. In fact, cruising along the highway, it feels as refined and sophisticated as even a Range Rover HSE or a Lexus LX570. But floor it, and it's no more the muted cruiser, with 430Nm of torque being sent to all four corners and the engine letting out a deep growl that's an aural delight.
Although it's a far cry from the scary 700Nm of thrust you get from its cousin the Cayenne Turbo, progress is rapid, with 0-100kph crossed in a tad above 7.0 seconds. And once it gathers pace, it's amazingly fast for its size. Having much less power and torque to manage than in the top-end Cayenne, the eight-speed auto does a great job in the Touareg, managing near-seamless shifts, even in Sport mode.
The ride and the performance are right up there, but when it comes to handling, the Touareg leaves something to be desired. Obviously, the V8's handling is no different to the rest of the line-up, but it could be better. Flicking it into Sport mode does stiffen up the dynamics a bit, but trying to be enthusiastic in Comfort mode could unsettle things, with body lean especially noticeable to those sitting in the back seat. So, more than anything else, the Touareg V8 is at least a great long-distance cruiser.
And now you can add to the experience by ordering the optional Volkswagen Exclusive trim, which includes upgrades such as two-tone leather combinations like the Pepper Beige-Titan Black that ours had. And apparently, this special ‘cool leather' minimises heat absorption by the seats — a really cool feature indeed for our kind of climate. Other Exclusive options include special leather door inserts, a black roofliner that accentuates the panoramic glass roof, genuine wood inserts and so on.
As brilliant as the 4.2-litre V8 engine is, VW Middle East would have done better by bringing in the Touareg Hybrid with its cleaner, more efficient supercharged V6. Agreed, the region still remains one of the few markets in the world where V8s are snapped up without any prick of conscience or fear of taxation (yes, I guess I'd go with the majority, and also that Audi needs to review the contract with their market research guys).
Let alone efficiency or emissions figures, even if performance was the consideration, the Hybrid would have been the better choice, with its combined output of 380bhp and 580Nm of torque. But that's my opinion, although I'm sure VW will find enough takers in the UAE for the V8 Touareg.
Model Touareg V8
Engine 4.2-litre V8
Transmission Eight-speed auto, AWD
Max power 360bhp @ 6,800rpm
Max torque 430Nm @ 3,500rpm
Top speed N/A
Price Dh338,500 as tested
Plus Powerful, smooth engine, great gearbox
Minus Hybrid has more power