The Tiguan has stepped up in every way. But does it do enough to win the sector?
For: Strong standard equipment, much improved chassis and bigger inside.
Against: Slightly expensive, some interior plastics disappoint, diesel-like engine note.
BUILDING a bridge between mainstream and luxury: That’s one of the primary roles Volkswagen has set for the new Tiguan.
Well, that’s the company line. Realistically, this model is also out to build sales and, yes, also to repair VW’s image, now somewhat tarnished – if not so much here, but certainly in key export markets (and in Germany, too) – due to Dieselgate. A not-so-small matter.
Really, fixing the brand’s boo-boo is way too big a job for one car alone. Even if Tiguan became VW’s biggest-selling model ever – and it won’t, because with 21.5 million built between 1938 and 2003, the ‘original’ Beetle is simply untouchable – and even if every cent of profit went into reparation for the emissions cheating saga, it would barely cover the reparations bill for North America, let alone the other markets that feel hard done by as result of this saga.
Even so, with this being the first model that VW has released since that unfortunate incident, the Tiguan does represent a fresh start. Probably just as well it looks, and drives, like one, too.
Tiguan takes a level of technology and safety equipment not seen before in the compact sports utility sector – its autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detect, lane-keeping assistance, heads-up display and digital widescreen instrument display – is all fresh from the Audi side of the family.
While picking up four-ringed smarts, it doesn’t take Ingolstadt looks, however. Volkswagen’s SUV styling theme is hardly innocuous, but it does tend toward the unfussy; Wolfsburg’s idea of ‘flashy’ is less expressive than how they do it down Ingolstadt way.
Conservative is not the right word to attach to a vehicle with LED lights and smart-looking alloys, but suggesting that this car demonstrates a degree of carefully considered constraint is not being unkind. It’s neat enough, though, and certainly a step up from the old car; while a lot of lines appear to have been drawn up with a T-square, it has a much better stance and the rendering is tidier. Assembly quality, the paint finish – these are all expertly done, too. But in the form and functionality balance, it tilts toward the latter. Having a bluff front-end, muscular haunches and a squared-off rear is safe box-ticking, but VW generic, too.
No matter. The sense of it blending sensibility with sophistication is clearly apparent to anyone scrutinizing the interior. The basic mod cons are more than you see in some rivals; Apple CarPlay, electronic park brake, a rear view camera, nifty fold down tray tables on the backs of the front seats and power sources for rear seat occupants. The test car, a $57,990 TSi Highline 4Motion, also came with 19-inch alloys, LED headlights, keyless entry and start and an electric tailgate.
You’ll nod approvingly at these and be all the more impressed if your last ride was the equivalent in the old model line, as that car had none of these things. And to think that, above the TSI, sits a new flagship above it with even more, including the Golf GTi engine.
As much as I like how VW has made the Tiguan a poster child for its latest tech push yet it is disappointing that the setting is a touch dull; too much grey going on and they could do better with some materials, too. While the majority of the interior is swathed in nice soft-touch plastic, there are some elements of hard, scratchy stuff placed all too obviously.
A more celebratory atmosphere is deserved because this car is a tech landmark. That all-digital instrument cluster can be changed by the driver from having the tachometer and speedometer in the foreground, to having the entire dash area filled by a 3D satellite navigation map with the speedo and tacho moved right out to the edges of the screen.
Ingolstadt-tithed owners miffed that the array has gone to VW can take some solace that, while the Tiguan’s is just as smart in function, it is more rudimentary in appearance. Operationally? Yes, there’s a bit of learning to do, but it’s not so difficult to come to terms with that you’ll wish you could step back to last century and an analogue dash. Everything is controlled either by using buttons on the steering wheel on a dial on the centre console.
There’s also a centre console screen that can be personalised and used in a number of ways, and connectivity caters for the Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink platforms to cover virtually every smartphone. This is a trickier thing to master. Thankfully, there are clearly marked shortcut buttons on both sides of the screen and the tri-zone climate control, also separate, sits below the screen and is easy to control.
Tiguan tells a strong safety story, getting seven airbags and a multi-collision braking system that applies the brakes when the system has detected a collision to avoid it being shunted along by a secondary hit. One interesting quirk is that this setup is wholly radar-guided; many other systems work in conjunction with a multi-view camera.
It also has a reversing camera with guide lines and, as a Highline, this one adds Lane Assist which offers a certain amount of self-steer, Side Assist with rear traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring and, for those who cannot cope with parking, Park Assist which self-steers the vehicle into parallel and vertical (but not angled) spots. An Area View camera gives something akin to a birds-eye view of what is surrounding the vehicle.
Being based on the MQB platform delivers more space, too. The main benefit from growing the wheelbase 76mm to 2681mm is to open interior room, particularly the back seat. It’s also 38mm lower, 30mm wider and 60mm longer than the old car. Whereas the front-drive models have 190mm ground clearance, the four-wheel-drives provide 201mm: Within class average, but still short of serious, but that’s generally the style with this kind of car.
The rear bench offers decent space for three adults, although the passenger in the middle will have to share foot well space due to the transmission tunnel. Air vents are provided in the back but the gadget-obsessed might note the absence of a USB port.
The boot space delivers an impressive 615 litres of storage space, expanding to 1655 litres when the 40:20:40 back seats are folded (they also slide forward). The boot floor can be raised or lowered to create a totally flat floor with no load lip if needed.
As with a lot of modern cars, when this one senses that you’re in range, it unlocks. Then, you wave your foot under the bumper, the boot will open; that’s not wholly out of the norm, either.
But, Volkswagen has gone a step further. On the key fob, and on the boot lid, are two buttons. One is to leave the boot open when you walk away, and the other is to have the boot close itself once you step away from the vehicle. A useful assist if you find yourself with your hands full and unable to press the auto close button.
The turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol on test is going to be the one most buyers will settle for, VW believes.
It’s an update of a familiar unit; the factory cites improved torque – up 40Nm - and fuel consumption but, funnily enough, the more immediately abiding memory from driving it was that, its idle note was uncannily diesel-like. Not as loud, agreed, but with an eerily similar chattering tone. When VW said it could create a diesel-like petrol, I’m not sure this was what I’d hoped they meant …
So serene refinement escapes this mill, yet it isn’t that unpleasant to live with. Doubtless the diesel will provide more muscularity, yet there’s honestly enough torque here to make you wonder if you need to bother about that Road User Charge inconvenience. The performance envelope is also pretty decent; it doesn’t feel hugely quick overall, yet step-off pep is excellent and it generally works really well with the seven-speed direct shift transmission, assuming you’re happy to lend a hand clicking through the shifts now and again, mostly on winding roads when it’s a little tardy in its fully automated state. Also, if you try the sport mode, it tends to hold down to a gear lower than seems necessary in our driving environment.
The new 4Motion and Active Control System tailors the fifth-generation Haldex all-wheel-drive system for conditions when max grip is required, with the choice of four different modes (normal, snow, off-road and individual). For all that, under normal dry-weather conditions, it functions as a front-wheel drive. Only when conditions become more challenging does it redirect up to 100 percent of the torque to the rear wheels.
Plenty of grip, limited body roll and good stability: Those are expected strengths of modern sports utilities and the Tiguan doesn’t disappoint.
Being significantly lighter than its forebear, this Tiguan does drive more assertively. It’s not quite Golf GTi fun, but feels more eager to carry speed through corners. The ride around town tends to be a touch unsettled, but on the open road the car is well controlled and entirely acceptable, with no lingering patter. The steering is light to the touch, but the response is precise enough.
You don’t get the agility of a Golf GTi but its responses are pretty good, even if it doesn’t go hugely out of its way to enhance the sensations associated with driving: So don’t go expecting it to dollop out a laugh-out-loud exhilaration when you punt it along. But neither is it as laidback as some rivals.
In being set up to run like some kind of high-stepping front-drive hatch on seal, it really relies on its electronic aides/interferences to ensure it stays tidy, and that’s not too disturbing because, by and large, they all intrude with sensible restraint.
What happens on surfaces that are less grippy is intriguing, but a lot less relevant, given that it’s safe to assume this car will be considered another member of that caste that, no matter how conceivably useful it might be tailored for off-road driving, it probably will never be used that way.
You can find out how the 4Motion works, and how reactive it is, simply by finding a gravel road. My experience on metal suggests that when the front starts to push wide, the stability control enacts and then the rear wheels start powering up. As for taking it into a more extreme environment? Though it feels robust, there’s nothing that lends impression this is the full German equivalent to a Land Rover Discovery Sport or even, perhaps, a Subaru Forest; even a heavy-duty under-body protection costs extra. Get it dirty, by all means, but don’t necessarily fire it through the deepest mudhole first.
In a category stacked with stars, the new Tiguan seeks your vote on the strength of being better sized and provisioned than before and something that, while not the most overt offer in the category, nonetheless suggests solidly sensible buying.
Upping the spec, size and, because of that, interior space, means a wider competitor set, not just the Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV-4 as previously but even some prestige performers. The Mercedes GLA is perhaps out of reach, but I’d bet on this vehicle being cross-shopped against the Volvo VC60, BMW X1 and, dare we say it, Audi’s Q5.