It’s been eight years since VW first introduced the Tiguan in the US market and just when the name finally has some familiarity to it, VW has completely turned the car that it’s tied to on its head. Looks like we’re going back to school.
In VW’s short history of offering SUV’s in America, it has found that simply taking its premium compact car philosophy, that has brought success to the Golf, and adopting it to the compact SUV segment doesn’t translate well in America. The first generation Tiguan was adored for it’s fun to drive nature, however, it’s compact size and high price tag led to dismal sales.
Consider this second generation a fresh reboot of the VW compact SUV. And just like the new, mid-sized Atlas, the second generation Tiguan is as large as any in its class, affording it the ability to cram two of your least favorite people in the third row. To be fair, VW touts this as a 5+2 but skip the third row (optional on all-wheel drive models) and the VW provides cargo capacity nearly matching the space efficient Honda CR-V while still providing the 2nd row passengers with vast legroom.
Since launching the first generation Tiguan, VW has refocused its brand to utilize cost saving designs to allow for a lower price point. While VW still seems to be figuring out what exactly this means for each segment, the base Tiguan S comes across as a solid value, not simply a car where corners were cut. Features like LED taillights and DRL’s, heated mirrors, rear HVAC vents, roof rails, and a quick responding touch screen infotainment system featuring 6 speakers with good sound are notable standard features. Moving up to the next trim level, SE, brings with it a lot of additional equipment but also a big price jump. This $3,700 price difference between S and SE is precisely where the CR-V’s EX trim resides and is difficult proposition to ignore if you’re looking for just a few additional features like keyless access, auto climate control, or active cruise control.
Opting for the higher trims brings on unique features such as the Digital Cockpit which is a customizable 12.3” display in place of the traditional instrument cluster, a power tailgate with Easy Open and Easy Close features, and a panoramic glass roof with integrated ambient lighting. Unfortunately, the price of the SEL Premium trim required for these features causes pause for comparison among its competitors. Similarly price Escape and new Equinox models offer more features and more powerful engines (the Equinox even offers a diesel) while the top of the line RAV-4 and CR-V lack these high end features but are several thousand dollars less expensive. Let’s also not forget that this price range invites comparisons to the large Acura RDX, and other premium offerings such as the X1, GLA, and even the Q3 whose brand cache go much further.
As we see automakers desperately trying to differentiate their compact SUV’s with unique and dramatic designs, the Tiguan’s traditional two-box design actually helps it sound-out among the crowd. It’s sharp, horizontal feature lines and generally good proportions deliver a handsome vehicle. The interior styling is rather staid but well laid out and ergonomic except for the door armrest which is too far away to comfortably use with a hand on the wheel. The thin and large steering wheel is the only other oddity. The low, horizontal dash and large door mirrors enable good visibility while a no-brainer $850 Driver Assistance package brings on the Blind Spot Monitoring system along with Rear Traffic Alert and Forward Collision Warning with Autonomous Emergency Braking.
Powering all Tiguan models is a revised version of VW’s ubiquitous EA888 1.8L, four-cylinder that has been stroked to displace 2.0L. Taking a different approach than the 2.0L used in the previous Tiguan, peak horsepower is down but torque is up in an effort to improve overall drivability and fuel efficiency. Paired with the 8-speed automatic, the only transmission available, the Tiguan improves significantly on its EPA rating but still falls in the later half of the segment.
Out here in the Rocky Mountain region, turbos have figuratively and literally breathed new life into small engines by minimizing the power sapping effect of high altitude. At 7,500ft, the turbo four-cylinder engine performed admirably. With little turbo lag off the line and a predictably behaving transmission, heading up and down the mountains didn’t require a second thought. Even passing on two lane roads could be completed with confidence. The gritty sound and feel of the four-cylinder may have appeal in a sporty small hatchback but feels out of place in this compact SUV. Thankfully it only intrudes into the cabin during moderate acceleration and otherwise stays hushed when cruising. Road noise and wind noise are well controlled.
Also along these winding mountain roads, it became evident that VW tuned this chassis for cruising comfort over engaging handling dynamics; a conclusion at odds with the previous generation. Steering feel is vague but accurate and body roll is moderate although ultimate grip was respectable. The car can be hustled but it doesn’t encourage or enjoy doing so.
The 4Motion all wheel drive system, a $1,300 option, has been updated to proactively engage depending on various inputs and conditions and challenging this system on a wet dirt road proved the effectiveness of the updates and its seamless operation. If the driver chooses, a snow mode, sport mode, and even an off-road mode can be selected to adjust the throttle, transmission, and stability control settings.
In America, VW has always provided an appealing alternative to the mainstream brands. It carries its reputation by instilling a buttoned-down, confidently handling car with distinct Germanic styling and feel. That still exists with the new Tiguan, however, the priorities for the car’s personality have been altered. It has become distinctly Americanized in the way that it can haul more cargo, more people, and cruise on the highway with greater comfort. It even has the best bumper to bumper warranty available for an SUV. So while there may be VW fanatics that express concern over the diminished handling dynamics, the Tiguan, in spite of its name, is a better car for the American consumer.