First drive: Volkswagen Touran
What is it?
VW's offering in the compact MPV market, which offers seating for seven for those who'd rather not drive around in the bigger (and more van-like) Sharan. It's got a large 1913 litre boot, which in standard MPV fashion drops to a piddly 121 litres when then rearmost seats are in place, and is styled in the same contemporary but conservative way as the rest of the VW range.
What's under the bonnet?
A decent selection of VW's excellent turbocharged four-cylinder engines are on offer. In the petrol camp there is the 104bhp 1.2-litre and a 138bhp 1.4. While a city-car sized engine may seem out of its depth in a car as large as the Touran, a 0-60mph time of 11.9 seconds from the 1.2-litre is at least credible, if not quick. A broad torque band also means that once underway, the small motor doesn't struggle to keep up with the demands of give-and-take traffic, and should definitely be considered if you're looking at entry-level models. Of the diesels, the 105bhp 1.6-litre of our test car proved a good all rounder, with enough power to make light work of the urban grind, while remaining impressively refined and returning excellent fuel economy at a motorway cruise. If that isn't quite enough power, a 2.0-litre diesel is also available, in 138bhp and 175bhp states of tune.
What's the spec like?
The Touran is available in three trim levels: S, SE and Sport. All models come with niceties such as cruise control, alloy wheels, remote central locking, eight-speaker digital radio and a third row of seats that fold flat into the boot floor. Mid range SE models are further equipped with tinted windows, 16-inch alloys, a leather wrapped steering wheel and parking sensors front and rear. There is little to visually distinguish range-topping sport models, besides the addition of a pair of discreet fog lights mounted in the front bumper. The interior is lifted by more heavily bolstered Sports seats, a touchscreen interface stereo with six-CD changer and dual-zone climate control. Our test car was optionally specified with some high quality extras, including a DVD based sat-nav and rear-view camera, the latter of which was a tad unnecessary given the plethora of sensors dotted around the car. Go for one of the Bluemotion engine options and you'll also get additional fuel-saving tech like auto start-stop, which cuts the engine when at a standstill, and battery regeneration, which uses the energy normally wasted during braking to top-up the car's battery.
Buyers in this market are spoilt for choice, with manufacturers offering something for everyone, regardless of your priorities. Want to make a style statement? Consider the chic Citroen Grand C4 Picasso. If a generous amount of standard equipment and the longest warranty currently available are more of a priority, then the Kia Carens is the one for you. If you want a convincing blend of style, practicality and driver appeal, then the outstanding Ford S-Max should be high on your shortlist. We'd recommend you have a thorough look at any potential purchase, particularly if you plan to use the rearmost seats regularly, as you may find they're not as spacious as you may have thought.
What's it like to drive?
Sitting on the same underpinnings as the Golf hatchback, the Touran does a good impression of feeling like a smaller car on the road, changing direction keenly and with body roll kept to acceptable levels in the bends. It's no thrill machine, but its safe and secure demeanor will prove appealing when you're faced with a rain-soaked school run. A relatively hard suspension setup does mean it can feel less floaty than some rivals, but the Touran never feels anything less than comfortable, even on badly rutted surfaces.
The AOL Cars verdict
While it may look a tad dull and lack the driver interaction offered elsewhere in the compact MPV market, the Touran's strong appeal is in its high quality, practical cabin, and the fuss-free way it goes about its business. It's the sort of car you become instantly familiar with and feels as though it will last long after your children have flown the nest. Buyers shouldn't be put off by the relatively high purchase price either, as not only will the Touran prove cheap to run, the snob appeal of its VW badge means it will hold its value better when the time comes to sell.
Model: Volkswagen Touran 1.6-litre TDI Bluemotion
List price: £23,350
Engine: 1.6-litre, four cylinder, turbodiesel
Power: 104bhp, 250NM
Max speed: 116mph
0-62mph: 12.8 seconds
MPG: 61.4mpg (combined)
Emissions: 121g/km CO2