The VW Touareg is top notch in terms of fit and finish, quality and on-road driving capabilities and doesn't have to stand back for anybody.
Take it off-road and you will find that it is in the same league as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Prado and Land Rover Discovery, whereas in terms of its quality it's in the same bracket as softroaders such as the Mercedes ML, BMW X5 and Volvo XC 90.
In other words, as a package it is raising the game in the 4x4 segment.
In South Africa there are three Touareg models - the R5 TDI, the 4.2 V8 and the 5.0 V10 TDI. All models come well equipped and there are loads of comfort features. And while there are no compromises on safety.
A host of optional extras such as satellite navigation, sunroof, keyless entry (standard on V10 TDI) and much more are also available.
On the launch there was ample time to drive all three Touareg derivatives, and each model impressed us.
First in line is the entry-level R5 TDI with six-speed manual transmission - a Tiptronic automatic gearbox is optional on the R5. Its price tag is R454 700 and VWSA expects it to be the volume seller.
The "R" of R5 means Reiche, which is the German for "in-line", and the "5" refers to the car's five cylinders. It has 2.5-litre turbo-diesel engine with a power output of 128 kW at 3 500 r/min. Torque is a useful 400 Nm at 2 000 r/min and the car reach its top speed of 184 km/h with ease.
Despite its entry-level status these figures prove that the R5 has more than enough wooma to outrun its competitors.
In its price segment the R5's diesel rivals are the Volvo XC90 D5 (R450 000) and the Toyota Prado 3.0 DT (R419 800). According to the Wheels24 comparison tool the R5 beats both SUVs in terms of power and torque output.
The 4.2 V8 Touareg is a mean machine and is priced at R553 500, which is about R40 000 less than its fiercest competitor, the BMW X5 4.4i.
Although the Touareg V8's on-road performance is not quite on par with the X5, the VW is still a better package because of its advanced off-road features.
But the real jewel in the Touareg's crown is the range-topping 5-litre V10 TDI model. It is unlike anything in its class, and is plain brutal. In 2003 an international jury of motor journalists awarded this one's engine the "Engine of the Year Award".
The 10-cylinder turbo-charged diesel develops its maximum torque of 750 Nm as low down the engine-speed scale as 2 000 r/min.
The 5-litre displacement motor has a power output of 230 kW and offers amazing performance. Top speed is 225 km/h and you will reach 0-100 km/h in 7.8 seconds - and it's all due to the Volkswagen pump-injector high-pressure direct fuel injection system and twin turbochargers. Simplistically, it is two 2.5 TDi engines in one.
The Touareg is a big vehicle, but at no stage you feel intimidated by its size. It is a car you can get in and drive, and pure enjoyment is very much part of the driving experiences.
No matter the engine guise, drivers will find that it is a willing cruiser on-road. The V8 and V10 models also have quite sporty feelings.
The Touareg shares its underpinnings with the Porsche Cayenne, and therefore its excellent handling comes as no surprise. In corners there is more than enough grip ,while body roll is kept to the minimum.
When you take the Touareg off-road you are even more amazed by its driving dynamics. The Touareg comes with VW's 4Xmotion, which is a proper four-wheel-drive set-up.
This system uses a combination of axle differentials, the transfer gearbox, and centre differentials. There is also a choice of low and high range. The Touareg comes standard with a centre differential lock, while a rear differential lock is optional.
Another very useful off-road gizmo is the Touareg's CDC air suspension - it is standard on the V10 and optional on the other two models.
The air suspension, which gives the Touareg another advantage above its rivals, means that the Touareg's normal ground clearance of 237 mm can be raised to 300 mm. At speeds of 180 km/h and above the suspension is lowered to 180 mm.
At the picturesque Klipbokkop 4x4 trail, between Villiersdorp and Worcester, we had the opportunity to experience the Touareg's 4x4 capabilites. It proved to be a formidable off-roader and was at ease in sand, rocky conditions and hill climb.
The Klipbokkop trail took us about 800m above sea level and in theV10 there was never a lack of power. The Touareg can also conquer gradients of up to 45 degrees and although the driver can choose between low and high range the automatic setting is a good choice for most 4x4 drivers.
The Tiptronic models come with a hill starting assistant (HAS) which is automatically activated when the vehicle is stopped on an incline with the parking brake engaged.
Another very useful feature is the Continuous Damping Control (CDC) which monitors the acceleration of the body and wheels. CDC will detect the slightest unevenness in the surface and then it will adjust the shock absorbers according to it.
The result is that the passengers will most of the time feel as if they are cruising over a smooth surface.
Thanks to its short overhangs the Touareg's approach and departure angles are excellent.
VW South Africa is indeed proud of the newest addition to its line-up and new local product range-topper. August Junkel, VWSA's head of product engineering, told us that it is the "greatest" Volkswagen launched in South Africa yet.
We tend to agree with him because this is a no-compromise vehicle and offers luxury sedan-like driving, sports car performance and rugged off-road capabilities.
It is a real beast in on and off-road conditions. The Touareg is probably creating quite a stir among its competitors thanks to its amazing all-round characteristics and competitive pricing.
In short it is an extraordinary SUV and a welcome addition to this segment. The new Touareg is a job well done for Volkswagen and lives up to VW's idea of building people's cars, because as a package buyers get a lot of car for their money.