Making a combined 456bhp and more than 500lb ft of torque, the powertrain’s got reasonable performance credentials on paper. In practice, though, the Touareg R feels fast enough in outright terms but not that eager or effusive; and while the electric motor does add plenty of instant torque, the car doesn’t feel as urgent or responsive in the way it picks up from low speed as you might like. Every bit of urge it makes is routed through an eight-speed automatic gearbox and a Torsen centre diff that can feel slightly cloying in their style of delivery at times. They seem to need a split second to think every time you ask for forward impetus particularly when moving the car away from stationary, where other plug-in SUVs would have been off down the road already with a more abiding sense of both smoothness and potency.
As for what this electrified powertrain can do, the Touareg’s running efficiency and real-world carbon emissions: that’s also something vulnerable to criticism. The Touareg R uses a drive battery with 14.3kWh of usable capacity, which costs it a little bit of boot space compared with its sister models. But that’s not big enough to cut much mustard in 2021 in a PHEV SUV niche in which both BMW and Mercedes now offer more than 20kWh of the stuff. The Touareg R’s good for only about 20 miles of electric running after a full charge. Once the battery’s spent, it will return between 28mpg and 30mpg on a longer run but, unlike some of the latest-to-market plug-in SUVs, it can’t be DC rapid-charged while you’re out and about either.
The car’s chassis has plenty of grip, and good low-speed agility and wieldiness. Body control is reasonable when tackling a testing road for what is a two-and-a-half-tonne car. Even in Sport mode, though, the outright handling precision, cornering balance, control feedback and general potential for driver engagement that you expect of an R-branded performance car are notable by their absence in this one.
The Touareg R is comfortable enough at other times, and is generally quite well-isolated and plush-feeling. But the optional 22in wheels of our test car (which made for ride quality that seemed clunkier and fussier than necessary) are probably to be avoided if you want a car with the broadest possible sense of dynamic adaptability.