Car Reviews

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan Prototype Review: Karpool Koenig

VW joins the tiny ranks of the three-row compact CUVs

VW joins the tiny ranks of the three-row compact CUVs

Let’s face it. VW’s Tiguan is long in the tooth. Introduced in 2007 and face-lifted for 2011, it’s among the silverbacks in an ever-growing band of compact CUVs. Nevertheless, so voracious is the public’s appetite for all such perky two-box vehicular high chairs that 2016 is shaping up to be Tiguan’s best sales year. Mind you, at 38,063 units through November, it’s not exactly keeping Honda and Toyota planners up at night. In hopes of scaling the sales ladder and helping to grow back the limb of VW-brand sales volume amputated by the diesel difficulties, the Tiguan is exploring a subniche in the segment by stretching the wheelbase and slipping in an optional third row of seating suitable for occasional carpooling use by the youngest family members.

Toyota offered a third row in its third-generation RAV4 but dropped it after 2012. Nowadays, the only compact-class three-row CUVs available are the Nissan Rogue, the Mitsubishi Outlander, and (starting this summer) the VW Tiguan. Of these, the VW would appear to be the roomiest. We’re still months away from full specs becoming available, but Motor Trend was invited to South Africa’s Kalahari Desert to sample some prototype Tiguans that had just completed their final sign-off drives with the various engineering chiefs the day before. Your humble former packaging engineer busted out his tape measure to estimate the interior volumes. The tape confirms the general impression that by stretching the wheelbase by 7.4 inches and the overall length by 10.7 (those numbers are official), the new Tiguan’s front-seat travel and middle-row legroom have both increased noticeably and should rank near the top of the class.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace Euro Spec prototype front three quarter 03

At 109.9 inches, the wheelbase is 3.4 inches longer than the Rogue’s and 4.8 inches longer than the Outlander’s. It’s even 0.5 inch longer than that of the Kia Sorento—one of our favorite budget-priced midsize three-row crossovers. Overall length, however, is within an inch of the compacts and 2.2 inches shorter than the Sorento.

Third-row headroom is tight, but legroom can be augmented by sliding the second row forward as much as 7.0 inches. This makes it geometrically feasible for shorter adults to ride in the back, but they won’t be comfortable on the low cushion. One nice touch is that once seated in back, the third-row occupant can determine how far back the seat comes by pulling the backrest upright at the desired position—an improvement over even our beloved Volvo XC90, which only relatches in the full-rear position. The tape measure indicates the third row, with the seat full rear, is smaller than the Rogue’s and larger than the Outlander’s by about 4 percent each. (It’s 12 percent smaller than Sorento’s.) But the second row, which gets way more use, appears to measure 13 percent bigger than both compacts and within 2 percent of Sorento. Base Tiguans come with seating for five but still get the sliding 60/40 split rear seat. VW expects a 95 percent take rate on the way back seat. Expect cargo volume to also increase on the order of 40 percent versus today’s wee Tiguan. Oh, and a small under-floor compartment behind the third row can stow the cargo shade. Nice.

Tiguan joins the MQB A platform, which makes deluxe driver-assist and infotainment systems available. Top SEL trim models we sampled featured Audi-esque virtual cockpit instrumentation and an 8.0-inch center touchscreen, both of which offer myriad information display screen options. Under the hood is a revised version of the EA888 2.0-liter TSI turbo-four bolted to a six-speed automatic with front- or 4Motion all-wheel drive. Sadly, at 186 hp the engine produces 14 fewer horses in this bigger, heavier Tiguan. VW claims it optimized the engine for a broader torque curve (the peak is 221 lb-ft, up 14 from today’s car), but our experience in a front-drive variant with four adults onboard suggests that one of the gillion juicier versions of this engine family, perhaps backed by a twin-clutch tranny (European Tiguans get a 217-hp DSG option) should be fast-tracked for a midcycle update or R-Line upgrade. It’s not dangerously slow as is, but neither does it feel Fahrvergnügen-fleet like the big brother of a GTI should.

An off-road package brings with it a four-position rotary terrain-select knob with snow, highway, mountain, and custom settings. The latter allows control freaks to tweak steering and throttle mapping, 4Motion logic, adaptive lighting control, climate controls, hill-descent and hill-hold functions, and even parking assist. A second mode button tailors on-road driving to Eco, Normal, Sport, and once again Custom settings. A continuously controlled variable damping system will also be offered; it uses Teneco twin-tube shocks with the variable-damping valve located outside the tubes to preserve the full suspension stroke. Damping can be adjusted faster than the 12–14 Hz natural frequency of the unsprung suspension corners. This allows jounce and rebound to be tailored independently on each bump. VW’s control logic firms the shocks slightly in Sport mode but generally tightens damping only as necessary to suit dynamic driving conditions.

All of our Tiguan driving, including some exposure to the short-wheelbase version not offered in North America, was on gravel roads. That makes it impossible to comment definitively on interior wind or road noise, lateral grip, or even steering feel (except that it completely isolates the driver from harsh one-wheel impacts). The seats are comfortable, the user interface appears to have taken a solid step forward, and the body structure feels a bit less solid on the long-wheelbase than on the short, but again that’s in somewhat extreme circumstances.

Pricing won’t be available until much closer to the vehicle’s launch, but expect the NAFTA-built (Puebla, Mexico) CUV to carry an attractive entry price near the current vehicle’s $25,860 USD for the front-drive five-seater. Top-drawer SEL 4Motion examples could crest $40K USD. Don’t expect it to dice with CR-V and RAV4 for segment sales leadership, but if it can nab a healthy fraction of Rogue sales (289K through November), VW management will be elated.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan
BASE PRICE $26,500 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/186-hp/221-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3,800-3,950 lb (est)
WHEELBASE 109.9 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 185.2 x 72.4 x 65.0 in
0-60 MPH 7.5-8.0 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S. Summer 2017