VW Touareg on Alpes Maritimes expedition

Fraser Martin takes the VW 4x4s up into the spectacular Alps and discovers ‘ze nature toilet’

By Fraser Martin

Volkswagen Touareg on Alpes Maritimes expedition

Garage Start: getting underway with the Touaregs at Turin


It’s a bit late in the day for a Press Drive, I thought, when the invitation came through to join the Volkswagen Driving Experience. The Touareg is not brand-spanking new, and indeed one or other of my intrepid colleagues would no doubt have driven it when it was [Ed: we did, but that was back in the days of CAR ME. For a more recent review, click here]. Had Volkswagen sneaked in a variation that we had not heard about? Was this even a new car launch?

Whilst Imthi manfully struggled with his decision to take the luxury route and the new Rolls Royce Wraith in wet and windy Vienna, and Shahzad, not-so-fresh from the Frankfurt Motor Show, opted for the stay-at-home, heat-of-the-desert General Motors truck event, I packed my thermals for the thinner air of Les Alpes Maritimes and an activity-packed four day expedition with Volkswagen’s best-kept secret.

Volkswagen Touareg on Alpes Maritimes expedition

Wheel and tyre: Good combination for rocky track work: General Grabbers at a sensible 18-inchs


I suppose the first giveaway that this was no ordinary Motoring Press Trip was the assembled company in the lounge as we waited to board the outbound first leg flight to Munich: a couple of people I have travelled with before and quite a few new faces from the Lifestyle tribes.

Ah-ha – it is all becoming clearer… Munich to Turin and into the airport garage to receive our charges for the coming days (yes, you will be driving straight off the plane!) and the mystery is revealed. Diesel Touaregs, sensible wheels, chunky tyres and not a single slick-backed, Armani-suited, designer-stubbled, smooth Italian PR officer in sight! This could be a bit of fun.

Volkswagen Touareg on Alpes Maritimes expedition

The roadwork took us through some lovely villages – this is San Giovanni about 1500 metres up, and quietly waiting for the snow


We were handed keys and reminded of the convoy principals by Peter Weil and Heike Hecht, the VW Driving Experience double-act. Straight from the extras cast on BBC’s “Allo, Allo!”, Peter and Heike were to be our minders, guides, provisioners and translators for the next four days. I should not be too cheeky – they both speak four more languages than I do and we would have been lost without them – but such expressions as ‘ze nature toilet’, used to describe non-existent facilities at 8000 feet, could not have been scripted!

Volkswagen Touareg on Alpes Maritimes expedition

Road closed – yeah, right!


The diesel Touaregs don’t work their way into our markets here in the Middle East, principally because of the appalling quality of fuel in this region, but it is almost impossible to tell them apart from the cars we do get.

The diesel 3.0-litre V6 is next to silent, the 8-speed box shifts seamlessly and there are loads of driver aids available through the two ‘turnkeyknobs’ (thank you, Peter!) on the centre console, which cleverly control suspension adjustments, high and low gear selections, differential locks, hill hold and descent control and just about anything else you can think of that might be needed whilst off piste.

Volkswagen Touareg on Alpes Maritimes expedition

Helping out: It might look sunny but this was at 2000metres, so that black shirt is a thermal one! It was wise to guide over some of the bigger rocks to save damaging the car


The Touaregs really are a bit clever; they are deceptively simple to use and off-road, given the right shoes will quite literally go wherever you point them.

They were comfortable too. I was not at my best, having contracted a nasty flu bug from someone near me who did not know what a handkerchief was for, on a flight from Bahrain the previous week, and had to rely, unfairly, on Ross, my driving partner for much of the trip. I can therefore confirm first hand that both front seats were accommodating and afforded an excellent view forward – and down, in some corners – through the spectacular countryside of north-west Italy.

Volkswagen Touareg on Alpes Maritimes expedition

Articulation: You can still get a big lift if you position the car properly! The strength of the Touareg means this can still be done, and the doors can be opened and closed!


Billeted in Cuneo, the provincial capital of the Piedmont Region, we were well located to take a couple of day trips out and up in to the mountains, using passable tracks once the tarmac had run out. None of the tracks we were on would have been passable in the winter, either because they would have disappeared or would have been just too dangerous – we were above the tree line in some places, and well above the snow line as could be seen by the occasional ski-lift criss-crossing above us.

The tracks mainly link old military installations, many of which are still intact though sadly neglected. Built in the previous century or before it is a wonder how materials were brought to these heights without either motorised transport or much in the way support along the way.

Volkswagen Touareg on Alpes Maritimes expedition

Road and p/lunch: After a picnic lunch – great cheeses and bread – we head higher still


The trails were not particularly challenging for someone with experience of similar conditions, but they were enough to have a couple of our travellers locking their eyes shut in the passenger seats – think of the sliding gold bars in the back of the bus, at the end of the original version of The Italian Job, and you’ll not be far wrong geographically!

With spectacular scenery at every turn and just enough of a challenge to keep you attentive, the only competitive element was to see who could get round some of the corners without having to take a cut and reverse. It was pretty tight in places and there were odd moments when the navigator needed to be out of the car to help negotiate the ground. It really was a well-balanced and enjoyable trip.

Volkswagen Touareg on Alpes Maritimes expedition

On top almost: It does not get much higher than this: Mont Pelat is just over 3000metres


Volkswagen, like most manufacturers, have an ‘experience centre’ with people like Peter and Heike based in interesting places around the world depending on the time of year.

The Alpes Maritimes expedition is a summer activity, but in winter, there will be excursions to the frozen north for ice driving and to our own region for sand work. It may sound like a rather nice and jolly way to spend your days, but the teams work very hard and the testing conditions often highlight real-world opportunities to improve vehicles.

Volkswagen Touareg on Alpes Maritimes expedition

Fraser Martin on the roads that are quite literally carved out of the sides of the mountains


I have worked on such programmes myself so I know what the problems can be, but it was an eye-opener to have the shoe on the other foot, and I am indebted to the good folks at Volkswagen for the chance to experience their Experience.

I can also tell you that they do it rather well!

Volkswagen Touareg on Alpes Maritimes expedition

They don’t get much twistier than this. Heading back to Cuneo


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