VW’s compact SUV jumps a segment in size and price, but faces tougher competition as a result
This ain’t your uncle Gerhard’s cute little people mover.
Built in Mexico with the American market in mind, the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan has gotten so much larger—gaining 7.3 inches of wheelbase and 10.6 inches of overall length—that it has actually jumped clear out of the compact SUV segment.
The redesigned VW Tiguan’s dimensions are now more in line with a Toyota Highlander than a Toyota RAV4. It also means it now comes in a three-row, seven-seat configuration (not that the third row has much to recommend it, but more on that later).
Unfortunately, all this added size means more weight, and the Tiguan has gained 373 pounds (169 kg) in base trim. The problem is that this two-ton package (when the driver is in place) is propelled by an overwhelmed 184-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four engine. And despite its 221 lb-ft of torque being routed through a strong eight-speed automatic, the Tiguan’s engine rarely feels comfortable when pressed at speed.
At the Tiguan’s media introduction in Denver, some automotive journalists forgave this crossover’s underpowered ways, assuming the high altitude sapped the Volkswagen’s strength. But Motor Trend testing—as well as a weeklong loan cruising the Oregon coast—showed that the Tiguan lacks motivation at sea level, as well.
The powertrain is not weak, per se. The eight-speed’s short gearing in lower gears, combined with the quick thrust of torque, gives it fair off-line performance (8.6 seconds in our 0-60-mph test). But its 45-65-mph (72-105-km/h) passing run of 4.5 seconds is middling at best, as if the engine and transmission are caught unaware by the sudden request.
Once up to speed, however, the VW’s autobahn charms are in full effect, with the suspension delivering a refined, no-fuss composure at 100 mph (160 km/h) on the high-speed oval. The delicate sensitivity of the suspension suffers, however, when the roads turn bumpy and grumpy. Over washboards and Belgian blocks, drivers suffered significant jostling, with technical editor Frank Markus noting that the Tiguan “sounds a bit like it was coming apart” as the suspension quickly reached the top and bottom limits of travel.
There also was general disappointment in the Tiguan’s handling abilities. I felt that the front end wasn’t informing the back end that it was initiating a turn. As I took it around corners, the back end of the vehicle still felt like it was awaiting orders. This of-two-minds feeling made an iron-stomached passenger quite queasy on twisty passages.
On the winding road at the test track, Markus got tire squeal at speeds as slow as 40 mph (64 km/h), which triggered the comment: “Lots of understeer and overly light steering. People might need to be reminded that this is a German car.” Meanwhile, SUVOTY guest judge Gordon Dickie—a suspension engineer par excellence—found understeer was evident until snap-oversteer seemed in the offing. Not a great combination.
Being an SUV in shape and purpose, the Tiguan is equipped with an optional 4Motion Active Control system—with all-wheel-drive modes for Snow, On-Road, Off-Road, and Custom Off-Road modes. On-Road mode also allows the driver to select between Eco, Normal, Sport, and Custom modes.
The Tiguan handled our silty, hilly off-road course with aplomb, regardless of which drive mode was selected. About the only complaint was that the Tiguan’s skinny tires tended to tramline within rutted passages. But the excellent hill-descent software meant crawl speeds down steep downhill passages were reassuringly controlled. There are even menus within the virtual cockpit screen to show a compass and the vehicle’s steering angle. In short, it’s more than competent in the crud.
Inside, the Tiguan provides a dressy interior, if you’re into the whole acres-of-black-plastic gestalt. International Bureau Chief Angus MacKenzie feels it’s “built-to-price … cost-cutting is evident. The forms and details are nice, but some of the plastics are hard.” Dickie found the driver’s seat cushion too short and lumbar support to be poor. And editor-in-chief Ed Loh’s pet peeve is a mesh sunroof shade that let in too much blazing desert sunlight.
The instrument panel feels like a budget version of Audi’s virtual cockpit, in all the best ways. But although the infotainment interface is clean and integration with Apple CarPlay is prompt, its voice recognition might as well have been set on German, for all its misunderstandings of the spoken word. It gets less intelligent when the air conditioning creates a gray noise backdrop. I ended up yanking the USB cord and dictating notes directly into my iPhone instead. (BTW, the air conditioning works great, even in 100-degree desert heat.)
Countering the gray noise was a thumping 480-watt Fender audio system, which everyone thought was crisp and sharp—save for the ears of Detroit editor Alisa Priddle, who felt the speakers’ performance did not deliver the premium sound she expected.
Being a second-row passenger in a Tiguan is a blissful experience, with multiple recline angles and gobs of legroom with the seats slid back against the stops and decent space even when slid forward. There’s excellent visibility outward, and should you choose to be an introvert, there is a USB port and 12-volt outlet.
About that third-row seat—even with second-row seats slid forward, the third row is essentially useless, using up all your cargo space while providing a passenger area inadequate for anything larger than a fox terrier. Grown adults and even taller children will require learning the Gomukhasana and Natarajasana poses to extricate themselves. Besides, with third-row down or in the five-seat trim, the cargo area is cavernous.
Here’s the kicker: A five-seat version is only available for the Tiguans with 4Motion all-wheel drive, and you have to ask for it. Seven seats are standard on front-drive Tiguans, and there is not a delete option to get a five-seater. Pick your poison.
In the end, it’s about value for money. With a starting front-drive base price of $26,245 USD (and $39,245 USD as tested in seven-seat AWD SEL Premium trim), the Tiguan dances between the compact and midsized SUV price ladders. Also, shoppers should know that a stripped-down version of the old Tiguan (called “Tiguan Limited”) is still on sale at VW dealers, so you also have the option of going smaller and cheaper (starting at $22,860 USD) if you want. But it’s old school and old tech.
There’s an adage, “Don’t ask questions if you don’t want to hear the answers.” By getting substantially larger and pricier, the Tiguan has put itself in competition with a new, more capable, and more luxurious class of vehicles. And those vehicles are going to ask a lot of questions of Volkswagen.
|2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium 4Motion|
|BASE PRICE/TESTED PRICE||$38,450/$39,245|
|DRIVETRAIN||Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,083 lb (54/46%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||185.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||28.3 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)|
|QUARTER MILE||16.5 sec @ 81.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||134 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.77 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.3 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||21/27/23 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||160/125 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.83 lb/mile|