Car Reviews First Drives

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan Off-Road Review: Big, Bad, and Frugal

VW tries to please everyone with efficient engine, third row, and some off-road chops

VW tries to please everyone with efficient engine, third row, and some off-road chops

Volkswagen has been making a lot of amends since the diesel crisis and has been working to try to please and appease. It’s not just the payouts. It’s also the portfolio changes with an emphasis on SUVs and electric vehicles. Even the Tiguan, on the market since 2007, is getting a bit of a reinvention for the 2018 model year.

The Tiguan that will go on sale this summer is 10.7 inches longer—enough to add a quasi third row for the first time—and there have been some significant upgrades to the 2.0-liter engine to improve performance and efficiency.

To remind consumers that the Tiguan is also a capable off-road vehicle, Volkswagen brought a gaggle of preproduction SUVs to a Michigan off-road park to back the claims with some fun in the mud. The Tiguan, in conjunction with the new Atlas SUV, is an attempt to help VW transition from a car brand to a full line brand.

First, a primer on what was done under the hood, then we will spill details of our time off the beaten path.

The 2018 Tiguan is the first VW to get a more advanced version of the automaker’s EA888 direct-injection, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine that dates back to the 2009 CC and is now in its third generation. The latest version is known as the B-Cycle engine. It made its debut with Audi and is now finding its way into the volume VW brand.

It is still a turbocharged, direct-injection four-cylinder, but engineers have modified the four stroke Miller combustion cycle, essentially creating a new combustion process by combining short intake events with a high compression ratio.

The Budack cycle (hence the name B-Cycle) closes the intake valves much earlier for a longer combustion chamber and faster air flow for a better mixing of fuel and air in order to use less fuel and generate more torque. The variable valve timing system can switch between a short valve opening when idling or under partial load and a long valve opening when more power and torque are needed. Other tweaks include modifying the pistons and intake port and moving injectors closer to the combustion chamber. A new turbocharger reacts faster.

Marcel Zirwes, product manager for powertrain in North America, said VW will continue to offer both versions of the 2.0-liter. Putting the B-Cycle into the Tiguan makes sense because SUVs have more wind resistance and loads on the engine and its buyers value efficiency over performance. The engine is optimized to get the fuel economy of a 1.4- or 1.5-liter turbo-four-cylinder, improving mpg (L/100km) by about 8 percent while sacrificing 10 percent or more of max power compared to the regular 2.0.

The current Tiguan’s 2.0-liter engine generates 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, powering a smaller vehicle without a third row. The B-Cycle engine generates only 184 hp from 4,400-6,000 rpm but boosts torque to 221 lb-ft at 1,600-3,940 rpm. It is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy figures are not yet available, but the Tiguan is expected to get about 29 mpg (8.1 L/100km) on the highway.

After making its debut in the Tiguan, where it is the only engine choice, the B-Cycle engine will go into the 2018 Volkswagen Passat in September followed by the 2018 Beetle shortly after. Eventually the B-Cycle engine will replace the 1.8 TSI Gen. 3 engine throughout the Volkswagen Group. The Golf will be getting another engine in about a year. The Jetta has a new model coming next year and is expected to have a 1.4 or 1.5-liter turbocharged engine.

We’d love to be able to give you an overview of its on-road capability, but you will have to wait until later in June when the automaker will let the media have its first real road tests. We did get to try the upgraded engine in a 2018 VW Passat prototype from Ann Arbor to Jerome, Michigan, where there is a private and impressive little off-road playground. The engine performed fine, with power at the ready when needed.

It was at Bundy Hill that we found a trio of 2018 Tiguans ready to play in the dirt for a short test of how rugged the crossover actually is.

The Tiguan has VW’s fifth-generation all-wheel-drive system that is also in the Golf and Atlas. There are four drive modes: On-road, Snow, Off-road, and Custom Ooff-road where you can tailor the settings. They are easily engaged with a rotary dial. If you are staying on the road more traveled, there are eco, normal, sport, and custom settings to change up steering, engine control, and gearing.

Tiguan has Hill Start assist and Hill Descent Assist, which we tested on some surprisingly steep descents. Having started our run through a deep puddle, there were some terrible metal groaning sounds until things dried underneath, but the system performed well, allowing the SUV to make a controlled trip down a couple decent-sized hills. Climbing the hills was also little match for the Tiguan, though the steepest one needed a second try with more gas. We admit we coddled our SEL Premium trim model too much and did not initially trust it to handle higher-speed thrashing. Properly schooled, we ascended the second time quite handily.

The VW also gamely plowed through deep and fresh mud in the private playground—it had been raining for hours by the time we arrived.

The Tiguan is still based on VW’s modular transverse (MQB) architecture, the same one used by the new Atlas. The extra length means up to 57 percent more cargo space, more than Motor Trend initially estimated when we drove a prototype last year. The 5-plus-2 seating is standard on front-wheel-drive models and is an option on 4Motion all-wheel-drive models.

The new 2018 Tiguan has standard LED daytime running lights and taillights, available LED headlights, a rearview camera, automatic post-collision braking, optional adaptive cruise control with stop and go, blind-spot and pedestrian monitoring, rear traffic alert, lane assist, automatic dimming headlights, park assist, and an area view of the vehicle. Other amenities include a full digital instrument cluster and a panoramic sunroof.

Tiguans for sale in the North America are built in Puebla, Mexico, and the engines come from the Silao plant, also in Mexico. The SUV comes with a new bumper-to-bumper warranty that covers owners for six years or 72,000 miles (116,000 km) and is transferable to a new owner. That’s double the coverage of many competitors.