Mud and Machines: Putting Volkswagen’s 4Motion to the Test

Putting two tonnes of SUV into motion takes Volkswagen’s 4Motion.

The average buyer of a stylish SUV is unlikely to look towards the untarmaced wilds of Cambridgeshire and think of setting off across country. But what if you had such a car and, for some reason, desperately needed to wade across a lake, climb a muddy hill and then traverse an unnecessarily steeply angled embankment?

There was one obvious way of finding out; I had to borrow a suitable vehicle from Volkswagen and go to a remote forest near Wolfsburg in Germany. Yes, there are probably easier and cheaper ways of testing this, but it gave me a good excuse to visit Volkswagen’s Autostadt. This is a brand experience centre covering every VW company from Skoda to Bugatti, and houses an incredible museum, design centre and even fine dining options. It’s like Disneyland for car fans.

Play time.

Taking the large Touareg to the forest track involved wading through a water splash that was a couple of feet deep with dark, muddy water. Fitted with the optional off-road pack, the Touareg could be raised by a few extra centimetres and driven through the deluge from the leather-clad interior as if it was just a big puddle.

Slippy from snow and rain, the forest track soon gave way to steep hills that would test out the four-wheel drive system, especially as the cars were on normal road tyres. A heavy right foot saw the two-tonnes of Volkswagen scrabble to the top of the 45-degree slope. It’ll tackle anything up to 60 degrees but, being such a long vehicle, it’s easy to scrape the underside as you reach the crest.

Steep climbs and drops were no issue, but crests got a tad tight.

Coming down the other side is even less dramatic, thanks to hill descent control. This system monitors the grip levels and speed, applying individual brakes in order to keep the car moving down in a slow and controlled fashion. Physics will take over eventually, but it’ll get you further than you think possible.

That includes driving on two wheels. Forget stunt driving; this was through huge ruts and bumps, at times leaving the Touareg balanced on the left-front and right-rear wheels, the other two dangling free on their suspension, a couple of feet from terra firma. Ordinarily, this might cause problems but Volkswagen’s 4Motion system spotted that two of the wheels were in the air (it probably wasn’t difficult) and then diverted power to the two wheels that were connected to the ground.

The 4Motion system ensures power is sent to a wheel in contact with the ground.

There was a risk of having none on the ground at one point, as we traversed an embankment. Volkswagen says the Touareg will lean at up to 35-degrees before falling over, but I’d have fallen over long before that. Still, held into place by big, comfy seats, I went steeper and steeper until the tyres eventually started to give up. The on-screen display said we were at 34-degrees and that’s close enough to prove the point.

On flatter ground, navigating between trees proved easy thank to on-board cameras that offer a 360-degree view of what’s going on outside. Yes, you’ve got windows you can look out of, but that doesn’t allow you to see the rock hiding beside the left-front wheel. Impressively, you can spin the image around on the 15-inch screen in the cabin, viewing the car and its surroundings from any angle. It’s like having your own personal drone hovering above, able to zip round at your command.

The Touareg will lean at up to 35 degrees.

The technology makes the interior feel a bit like mission control rather than just another car, especially as so many different systems were in use around the forest. There’s settings for snow, mud, sand, gravel and more, along with height adjustable suspension, all-wheel steering, active roll control and different levels of firmness. While you sit back in luxury, enjoying digital radio from the heated seats and climate controlled cabin, the gubbins under the metalwork keeps you out of trouble in seemingly impossible circumstances.

Of course, it doesn’t come cheap. The Touareg starts at £49,095, and only goes up from there, so you might expect it to cope with whatever life throws at it, be that family detritus and drama, or the Australian outback. But I came here to prove a point, so I took Volkswagen’s new compact SUV, the T-Roc that starts at well under half the price of a Touareg, and did it all over again. Point proven.

Doing it all again in the Volkswagen T-Roc.
Model Tested: Volkswagen Touareg SEL V6 TDI 4MOTION
Price: £49,095
Range: £49,095 – £58,295
Top speed: 135 mph
0-62 mph: 7.5 seconds
Power: 231 PS (228 bhp)
Torque: 500 Nm (369 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £891
Official fuel economy: 42.8 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 173 g/km
Car Tax: £450
Insurance group: 38E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.

Phil Huff

Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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