Globetrotting, Tiguan Style: Crossing over from Africa to Scandinavia
Nearly a decade ago, I traveled to Windhoek, Namibia, to evaluate a prototype of the first-generation Volkswagen Tiguan. VW‘s foray into compact crossover country was cute, peppy, and displayed no problem bouncing all over the harsh Namib Desert, much like the springbok antelope that hopped around us like kids on a sugar high. Lightly camouflaged, the mule sported a 1.4-liter, twin-charged (turbocharged and supercharged) inline-four, a six-speed automatic, and a Haldex-based 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.
A year later the Tiguan arrived in America as a 2009 model, albeit with a bigger, more powerful 2.0-liter turbo. It was on the small side of the compact CUV class (not exactly the best proposition when going after size-matters Yanks) and, worse yet, demanded a premium over established players from Asia and America. Unsurprisingly, sales were never stellar, at least next to the segment’s heavy hitters, peaking in 2015 at 35,843 units, barely a 10 percent slice of the best-selling Honda CR-V‘s 345,647.
Editor’s Note: We drove a European-spec 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TSI; the U.S.-spec model is set to arrive as a 2018.
Namibia sits a (really) far cry away from Sweden, where in the northern town of Arvidsjaur, just below the arctic circle, the winter snow falls heavy, the temperature anchors below freezing, and myriad lakes morph into giant expanses of ice-covered proving grounds. So, pretty much the opposite of Windhoek. Carmakers bring their latest offerings here to test performance, durability, and chassis excellence in some of the coldest—and slickest—conditions on Earth. And it’s why Volkswagen brought me here to sample what could be, if predictions of never-ending SUV growth come true, the brand’s best-selling model in a few years. The big issue for VW is that the second-generation 2018 Tiguan, to be built in Puebla, Mexico, alongside the Golf and Jetta and arriving on our shores in the second quarter of 2017, can’t come soon enough. But trust me, it’ll be worth the wait.
For gen-two Tiguan, it all starts with MQB, the modular platform that underpins multiple front-drive-based VWs and Audis (e.g., Golf, A3, TT). Going MQB allows VW to reduce costs and build the Tiguan in both short- and long-wheelbase versions, the latter destined for North America and China. Thus, the U.S.-spec Tiguan will ride on a 109.9-inch wheelbase and measure 185.0 inches long, 72.4 inches wide, and 64.3 inches tall, elevating it to the same league as CR-V (103.1-inch wheelbase, 179.4 by 71.6 by 64.7 inches LxWxH). Power comes from a 2.0T I-4 good for 184 horsepower and more than 200 lb-ft of torque, and thanks to an eight-speed automatic, fuel economy should come in above 30 mpg (7.8 L/100km) highway. A fifth-gen Haldex-based 4Motion AWD system, similar to the one in the Golf R, distributes torque to each wheel as needed, and it now comes with a center console-mounted four-mode control knob (Onroad, Snow, Offroad, Offroad Individual). The interior resembles that of the Golf with familiar buttons, controls, steering wheel, and shifter, but it moves upscale la an Audi-esque Active Info Display TFT instrument cluster. VW hasn’t decided whether to bring AID to the North America (it’d be foolish not to) but did confirm that my Habanero Orange test vehicle’s head-up display would not be making the trip.
Given that my tester’s Continental ContiVikingContact 6 winter tires only touched snow and ice, I can’t exactly attest to the Tiguan’s dry-road feel or handling chops except to say that it came across as vault solid, library quiet, and GTI fun when rolling atop frozen water. Further, the latest 4Motion seamlessly provided max traction at each corner, making the snow-packed roads and frozen-lake courses rousing, confidence-inspiring exercises—just turn the dial to Snow and enjoy the harmonious blend of 4Motion, ESC, and yaw.
When the Golf won our 2015 Car of the Year crown, we lauded, among other qualities, its understated elegance and premium construction. It wasn’t flashy or overstyled, but rather subtle in its remarkable surfacing and tight tolerances. The new Tiguan brings that same execution to the compact crossover. Further, it will offer a high level of advanced safety tech to ensure it receives an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, notably, front assist with city emergency braking and pedestrian monitoring, lane assist, and automatic post-collision braking. It even comes with LED headlights and taillights and an active hood that automatically raises (to increase the space between the hood and engine) when the vehicle detects a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist. Baby Q7, anyone?
In the midst of a diesel-emissions scandal, VW needs what the Tiguan is—a breath of fresh air.