Lacey Elliott: The Volkswagen Tiguan created its very own niche back in 2007. Ten years ago, the market for compact crossovers was just budding and there was very little competition. Fast forward to today, and this automotive segment is one of the biggest. In order to keep up with the rest of the pack, this second generation 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan got some updates. I was excited to see if those updates would be good enough to stay relevant in this ultra-competitive market.
Dan Heyman: So, the hot-selling, VW Golf-based (or is that “VW Golf on stilts”?) Tiguan wants to play with the big boys and has gotten itself a third row. That’s a pretty big paradigm shift, and an interesting one especially since the Atlas – which arrived around the same time – has a third row of its own. That’s kind of its calling card, in fact. When I heard the news about the Tiguan, though, I was intrigued by the proposition.
LE: Styling is hard to judge objectively because, as the old saying goes, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. That being said, I personally don’t like the exterior styling. It is too simple in its execution for my own tastes. However, it has been a popular choice for many who appreciate this streamlined design. The fog lights, LED headlamps and adaptive front light system bracketing the iconic Volkswagen grille give the front fascia a strong presence without being over-the-top or flashy.
I knew that this year’s Tiguan was bigger than the previous model, but I didn’t actually notice until I parked it beside an older generation. It is almost 30 cm longer (the length of a school ruler), which adds to the full-size feel of the new 2018 Tiguan.
Volkswagen has squeezed functionality into every possible square inch. There were quite a few nooks and cubbies throughout the cabin, which provided a vast amount of storage for electronics, purses and other personal items. Small yet practical details like this have a major impact on my daily life, and in turn, on my overall opinion of a vehicle.
The driver’s seat felt lavish and I had ample elbow room and headspace. Even the second row of seats felt spacious. I would have no issues sitting in that row for an extended period of time. All of the available trim levels in the Tiguan line-up can have a third row of seats added for an additional $750. However, the third row is very tight. It is difficult to get into and would only be suitable for toddlers, small children or a pet. If you think that you would need the third-row seating frequently, I would recommend looking into the larger Volkswagen Atlas.
Keeping with the theme of simplicity, the rear seating row is easily released with a lever from the rear or a cord at the base of the seat. I wouldn’t use it that often but do think it is a great option to have, just in case you need to transport a few extra friends.
DH: While the last version did very little to hide its Golf underpinnings when seen from the front, this new model is much more Passat. To me, it’s an effort on VW’s part to show that this new car is bigger, more capable and perhaps a little more upscale than the last version, and you should put any ideas about the Golf right out of your mind. Lacey says it’s too simple in its execution and while she’s correct that it’s a little less flashy and youthful than the last model, that’s not what bothers me about it. For me, it’s the headlight treatment; the way the LED DRLs sit so obviously below the main lights looks awkward, as if the whole cluster is sitting too low on the fascia. That’s not helped by the way the hood takes such a steep dive on its leading edge to meet the grille.
In profile, though, it looks good; the fact that it’s longer than previous helps (European markets get a shorter version with no third row, but not us), plus some nice wheel choices including the two-tone 18” options on our tester which provide a nice contrast to the TNT orange – oh my, yes – exterior colouring. Cool roof spoiler and side creases, too. Very upscale.
Inside, things are a little more monochromatic, which will work for many. Me? A little contrast here or there that extend beyond the white seat piping would’ve been nice. It’s incredibly well-fastened together, though, as VW is known for these days and I’m a big fan of both the digital gauge cluster and infotainment interface. It’s a touchscreen and there are touch surfaces surrounding it, but you do get proper buttons for both volume and tuning (equalizer settings are handled via some very DJ-esque on-screen sliders) so that should appease those who don’t find huge favour with the industry-trend of all-touch interfaces.
So. The third row. Well, it’s not actually a third row; according to VW, it’s more of a “quasi-row”, like a “+2” seat in a sports car, or floor 7.5 from Being John Malkovich. VW makes no bones that it’s not really for adults and that’s about right; I tried sitting back there and really couldn’t unless I moved the sliding second row (nice to have) all the way forward, in turn making it unusable for adults. The third row, then, is really a bonus option (you can get the Tiguan without it) that VW hopes will push the Tiguan up a notch over the Japanese and domestic competition. I guess they’d be good to have in a pinch, but I see myself using them even less here than I would in a more typical three-row crossover. Luckily, the front row is a properly roomy spot even for six-foot-three’ers like myself (seats are a little flat, though), and the easy-sliding second row is an awesome feature to have that I wish I saw more of in the segment. I also wish the seats in the second row, even more so than the first, were just a little deeper. I found myself sliding ‘round on the leather even on moderate turns; I suppose a cloth set-up would help the situation but if you want leather – many do, for its class and how easy it is to clean – you’d best keep those seatbelts tight.
ON THE ROAD
LE: The updated engine lost a bit of horsepower but gained more torque. The 2018 Tiguan has a 2.0L turbocharged, direct-injection TSI 4-cylinder that puts out 184hp and 221 lb-ft of torque, compared to the previous 200hp and 207 lb-ft of torque. The torque is available at low RPMs but you need to really step on it.
A complaint that I have heard from other journalists is that VW doesn’t offer a manual transmission. I don’t see this as a negative at all. In fact, I think this is great. I am tired of people complaining and reminiscing about the good-ol’-days. Can you imagine where we would be if automotive manufacturers kept the crank wheel? The world is changing, and technology is forever advancing. Rather than vilify it, I am choosing to embrace it!
The eight-speed automatic shifts seamlessly and at just the right time. Stop-and-go traffic is a breeze and you can really focus on what is important, rather than having to engage and disengage the clutch, and do the shifting yourself.
On this Comfortline trim level, the driver can easily activate the Normal, Sport, Eco or Individual drive mode with just the touch of a button. From a dead stop, this Tiguan felt a bit sluggish on its initial acceleration, even when in Sport mode. This is likely a byproduct of the Start Stop system, now standard on all models, discussed later as a fuel economy measure. Once moving, however, it was responsive and eager to please at all speeds. Sport mode did give it a bit more oomph overall and I kept in this mode the longest.
The smooth and incredibly comfortable ride is what won me over. I would compare it with premium models like Cadillac, BMW or Audi. The neglected pavement and gravel side road to a friend’s house seemed to disappear under this SUV. It felt as though there was virtually no body roll in corners, and the steering gave adequate feedback during my time in the city and on the highway.
Very little noise crept into the cabin, adding to the luxurious ride quality and comfort. It was a bit windy when I took my highway drive so it was hard to tell if the low hum was from the tires at higher speeds or the aerodynamic acoustics. I didn’t notice unwanted noise at any other time during my week with this CUV, so I am going to blame the noise on the weather.
DH: While everyone seems to be doing a 2.0L turbo four-banger these days, VW’s TSI offering remains one of the best. The 221 lb-ft of torque it makes at such low revs is top notch and smooth; you really do get the sense that VW has been perfecting this formula for years, and it has as they pretty much put small turbo’d four-bangers on the map over a decade ago.
Of course, the powertrain’s been upgraded over the years, with the most recent addition being that of an 8-speed auto. The ratios are close and numerous enough that they allow for good use of the powerband. I may be one of those “good-ol’-day complainers” Lacey mentions who will usually take three pedals over two, but in this environment, with all these people-moving capabilities I can more easily let it go. That wasn’t so much the case with the old Tiguan, but this new one’s all grown up and the auto suits it. Helps that the drive modes Lacey mentions affect things in such a noticeable way (you can modify all sorts of individual settings, if you’d prefer), that most any driver should find a setting (or set of settings) that favours them. Of course, this being an AWD crossover vehicle that was designed for light-to-moderate off-roading, a number of drive settings can be adjusted in that vein, too: the steering, AWD power dispersal and powertrain can all be asked to operate in “offroad” mode, if the driver prefers.
One thing that no amount of clever transmissions etc. will change are the handling capabilities along with those great engines and well-fastened interiors, VW’s cars and crossovers have always had the handling to take it to the best in the biz, and this Tiguan’s no different. Bigger it may be, but you can drive it like a much smaller car, and the well-tuned suspension and direct steering allows you to do so. What an impressively fun CUV to drive, and while there’s a little more chassis firmness here than you might expect, it does more to keep the goings-on quiet than it does rattle your fillings.
TECHNOLOGY & SAFETY
LE: The new eight-inch media touchscreen was a much needed update. It comes in the Convenience Package for an additional $1650, which also includes heated front seats, heated windshield wipers and an alarm system. The available Digital Cockpit features a very large 12.3” display that is a customizable interactive control centre. It shows the fuel range until your next fill up and other personal settings to suit your driving profile, all at your fingertips.
The start/stop system to improve fuel economy comes standard on all trims. Automatic headlights with coming-and leaving-home function, rearview camera, App Connect with Apple Car play and Android Auto are all also standard.
The available power lift gate with easy open and delayed close function is something that really makes loading items into the trunk a lot easier. Once you have used it, it is a feature that is hard to live without.
The base Trendline Tiguan starts at just under $29,000. If you add on the optional 4Motion all-wheel drive, which I think most Canadians will, it brings the price to over $31,000. The middle-of-the-road Comfortline trim that I drove is close to $35,000, and the top-of-the-line Highline is just over $39,000. I would select the Comfortline because it includes a few of the creature comforts that l can’t live without like heated front seats, rearview camera and adaptive cruise control.
I haven’t driven it yet, but the larger Atlas could be a bigger bang for your buck if you are someone who needs the space. For close to $39,000 it gives you a much more substantial third row of seats and the 4Motion driveline, which would benefit a larger family and their all-weather adventures.
DH: The start/stop system is nice to have, but I have to say that I found it to be one of the more invasive examples I’ve tested. It shuts of smoothly-enough – so smoothly, you’d better make sure your ignition isn’t still on before leaving the vehicle after parking – but the delay between releasing the brake and the engine starting again is slow to the point where I was actually a little nervous in certain situations. I ended up leaving more of a gap when entering traffic and during left turns, which I guess you could say is a safety byproduct of the start/stop function. I doubt that’s how VW intended it, but there you go.
The rest is very good, though; VW has finally modernized its in-car tech offerings to great effect, providing a responsive touch interface, great-looking graphics and Apple CarPlay/Android support. Sure, some of the dials and knobs used are still rooted in older VW models, but they work well enough and I’m glad the climate control system is controlled via touch interface. Let’s keep it that way, OK VW?
LE: The size and phenomenal driving characteristics made this little Tiguan a perfect vehicle for my daily life. I could put Jasper’s kennel in the back and tackle any destination I wanted. The smaller exterior proved to be excellent for busy parking lots and was maneuverable for city driving purposes. For my dog and myself and even some friends every once in a while, I would buy this 2018 Tiguan and add the third row seats. For the extra money it would be nice to have the option in a pinch, and at all other times, I’d fold the seats down and use it to put Jasper’s kennel on top. Bottom line: even though it was not a looker for me, there could always be a facelift in the next couple of years from VW. In the end, it was the functionality and comfort at a reasonable price point though that really won me over. Great value, tons of space, easy to drive.
DH: While I came into this test thinking it would all be about that third row, it turns out that’s such a small part of the equation that I dismissed it as soon as I stepped out of it. The rest of the parts that have made the Tiguan such a hot seller for over a decade remain, those being great ride and handling, superior interior materials and build quality and an almost perfect application of two-litre turbo power. The looks may not be for everyone, but you can bet the rest is fine for most.
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