Car Reviews First Drives

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: Growing in a Fast-Paced Segment

More space, more tech ... less power?

More space, more tech ... less power?

Right around the time I was walking across the stage of Houston’s Toyota Center to receive my high school diploma, Volkswagen was making the final touches to the first-generation Tiguan. I vividly remember listening to the boisterous whistles of my dad and the resounding “¡Sí se puede!” from the rest of my family as I shook hands with the top dogs of William P. Clements High School in the summer of 2007. I, along with my 600 classmates, was anxious to embark on a journey that would prepare me for my soon-to-come adult life. Although those memories seem recent, I felt old when I received the invitation to my 10-year high school reunion just a few months ago. It’s hard to imagine how rapidly we’ve evolved in a fast-paced environment that won’t slow down anytime soon. But one thing that remained nearly untouched was the Volkswagen Tiguan. Aside from the face-lift it received in 2011, the German crossover has been on the roads for close to a decade without getting a major overhaul. Until now.

Entering its second generation, the Tiguan uses the distinguished MQB architecture, which allowed VW to reduce costs and build the SUV in both short- and long-wheelbase versions. Volkswagen’s Puebla, Mexico, plant will serve as the only facility to build the Tiguan for the North American market, saving a few bucks to customers in the U.S. Americans will only receive the long-wheelbase model, which now comes with a third row and seven-seat capacity in some configurations. With a 109.8-inch wheelbase and 185.1 inches in overall length, the Tiguan we get here has grown by 7.3 and 10.6 inches, respectively. That means there’s 58 percent more cargo space and more legroom for second-row passengers.

That growth in size means an increase in weight. Two-wheel-drive models fatten up by over 300 pounds (136 kg) ( compared to the outgoing model, and all-wheel-drive variants gain 200-plus pounds (90-plus kg). The 2.0-liter turbo-four engine, the sole option in the 2018 Tiguan, delivers 184 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque, a decrease of 16 hp but a bump of 14 lb-ft. The motor is mated to a new eight-speed automatic gearbox that sends power to the front wheels, and models equipped with AWD will get traction on the rear wheels whenever it’s necessary.

For our hands-on experience, we headed to Denver and the surrounding Front Range, where we spent time driving both front- and all-wheel-drive variants on mountain roads. From the start, we noted a lack of power. Step hard on the throttle, and you’ll have to count a couple Mississippis before the power gets down to the wheels. Despite its turbo, the Tiguan felt sluggish from 0 to about 30 mph (48 km/h) at more than a mile high. (Perhaps a DSG transmission and more power would solve the problem for those high-altitude drives.) Once at freeway speeds, the Tiguan will swiftly pass 18-wheelers as you step on the throttle. We hope to see a more powerful engine in a midcycle refresh.

The first part of our drive included a short dirt road, and although we were driving the front-drive model at the time, we noted good traction. All-wheel-drive variants are equipped with 4Motion Active Control, a system that lets the driver select between Snow, On-Road, Off-Road, and Custom Off-Road modes. On-Road mode also lets the driver select between Eco, Normal, Sport, and Custom modes. We spent most of our time driving in Sport mode, which improved its performance, but we still noted a bit of lag from the turbo. The steering felt pretty light on both models, something that most drivers would appreciate, and the suspension did a good job absorbing the bumps on the road.

To achieve better fuel economy, all models have auto start/stop, which you can disable with the push of a button. Although we initially estimated digits upward of 30 mpg (7.8 L/100km), the EPA rated the front-drive Tiguan with 22/27/24 mpg (10.7/8.7/9.8 L/100km) city/highway/combined; all-wheel-drive models scored 21/27/23 mpg (11.2/8.7/9.8 L/100km). This is a moderate gap behind the Honda CR-V, which ranked 28/34/30 mpg (8.4/6.9/7.8 L/100km) for front-drive models with its 1.5-liter turbo engine. Even the front-drive Ford Escape 1.5T and the Toyota RAV4 scored better numbers than their German counterpart, with each earning 23/30/26 mpg (10.2/7.8/9 L/100km).

There will be four Tiguan variants available (S, SE, SEL, and SEL with the Premium package), which can be configured with front- or all-wheel drive. The third row is standard on front-drive models, and it’s a $500 USD option for all-wheel-drive versions. Yours truly, a 6-foot journalist, experienced plenty of headroom and legroom in the second row. I can assure you that only children should sit in the third row; headroom and legroom are extremely limited. All trims come standard with a rearview camera, roof rails, and automatic post-collision braking, which applies the brakes when the air bags deploy to prevent further damage in an accident.

Our time in the Tiguan was spent sampling the SEL and SEL Premium grades, and we enjoyed the new Volkswagen Digital Cockpit with a 12.3-inch digital display on the dashboard, which works similarly to Audi’s virtual cockpit. If the nav system is enabled, the driver can display the maps in the instrument cluster, making it easy to follow the directions. The map graphics are not as modern as the Google Maps satellite images that Audi models get, but the rest of the display, including the tachometer and speedometer, look fantastic. All models get an 8.0-inch center-console touchscreen with App-Connect, which supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink. SEL Premium models get a standard Fender premium audio system with nine speakers, including a subwoofer.

With a starting price of $26,245 USD, the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is more expensive than the competition, but it’s a little cheaper than the three-row Nissan Rogue. The SEL with Premium and AWD is pricey, costing $38,450 USD. There are many available options to choose from, including a panoramic sunroof with ambient lighting ($1,200 USD), a power liftgate with a hands-free option, and the Driver Assistance package ($850 USD). The R-Line package will be coming next year at an add-on price of $1,795 USD for SEL models ($300 USD less with the Premium package). Safety features include a blind-spot monitor, rear traffic alert with automatic braking, lane assist, a bird’s-eye-view camera, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, park distance control with automatic rear braking, and front assist with pedestrian monitoring.

After almost 10 years of offering the same product in a segment that’s hot and evolving, Volkswagen finally introduced a more mature Tiguan. It’s bigger, bolder, and modern, and it was designed with the American customer in mind. And just like my classmates and I felt a decade ago, the Tiguan is eager to start a new stage in its life.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan
BASE PRICE $26,245-$34,750
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/184-hp/221-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3,750-4,050 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 109.8 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 185.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in
0-60 MPH 7.5-8.0 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 21-22/27/23-24 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 153-160/125 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.81-0.83 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. July, 2017