Volkswagen may have been very late to arrive at the compact crossover-SUV party, but when they finally joined in, they sure made an entrance. By the time the first-generation Tiguan reached the market, the market leading Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V were both already well into their third incarnations, leaving Volkswagen’s compact SUV to play catch-up to an already well-established field. Their inexperience in this market segment didn’t stand in the Germans’ way, however: with more than 2.8 million units sold, the Tiguan has been a major success story for the Wolfsburgers.
But all good things eventually get upstaged by newer challengers, and by the end of its nine year long production run, the old Tiguan had fallen behind its competitors. To make matters even worse, recent years have seen an ever-growing range of worthy alternatives from brands such as Renault, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and the Hyundai/Kia cousins – and that’s on top of the challenge posed by the quite excellent (updated) RAV4, (still fairly fresh) Nissan X-Trail and (brand new) CR-V. There must have been considerable pressure on the engineers in Wolfsburg to conjure up a masterpiece, then.
Fortunately, they had an ace up their sleeves, in the form of the MQB platform – a modular component set which allows a wide range of possible configurations. This platform is exceptionally flexible, and can be scaled to produce just about any kind of vehicle. The Golf is an MQB car, as are the Audi Q2 and A3, and the new Passat. That’s just in our local market – in Europe, it underpins most of the Seat and Skoda ranges, while it even grows into a 7-seater SUV called the Atlas for the North American market. It’s also very well-engineered, with the MQB cars having developed a reputation for exceptional refinement, solid build quality and high efficiency. Building the new Tiguan on this base was not only inevitable, but also resulted in huge leap forward for the model’s evolution.
Every single dimension has changed. It’s lower and lighter but longer and wider than before, and rides on a longer wheelbase. These changes, combined with clever packaging, gives vastly improved cabin- and luggage space, and a new engine range promises improved performance and efficiency. In addition, the latest generation of in-car gadgetry are employed, and the (optional as well as standard) driver assistance systems promise greater convenience and safety on the road.
These improvements bring tangible benefits out in the real world, a point driven home by the Tiguan 1.4 TSI 92 kW Comfortline Manual, complete with racy-looking R-Line styling addenda and 19-inch alloy wheels, with which I recently spent a week. It certainly looks the part, with a broad-shouldered stance courtesy of some aggressive wheel arch flares and chiselled character lines down its flanks, and a scowling visage thanks to that R-Line bumper and (optional) LED headlights. The Tiguan is blessed with the kind of good looks which draws admiring comments and envious stares from petrol attendants and other road users.
The favourable impressions extend into the cabin, where the design is pleasing to the eye, ergonomically sound and very well made from obviously high-quality materials. This is the one area where the Golf influence is most noticeable, as the layout is almost identical, with similar control interfaces and a car-like driving position. There’s cabin space aplenty, with enough room to carry 5 tall adults in comfort, especially with the reclining- and sliding 40:20:40 split rear seats are set to their rearmost positions.
The test car also featured a panoramic sunroof, complete with an electrically-operated blind and large sliding front section. Comfort was further improved by a unique 3-zone climate control system, leather upholstery, and heated, electrically-adjusted front seats with memory settings. These luxury features signals a definite step upmarket for the Tiguan, even though many of the nice toys were optional.
Further technological indulgence can be found in the instrument cluster, which featured Volkswagen’s digital Active Info Display – similar to the system you’ll find in the new Audi A4, TT, and the new Passat. Out of the entire array of cool features, this is the one which really takes the Tiguan to the next level of sophistication. The display can be customised according the driver’s preferences, and offers a myriad of clearly legible display styles and the ability to turn into a gigantic navigation screen (if that particular option box is ticked, that is).
Other high-tech options on the test car included radar-guided cruise control, automatic parking assistance, and stunningly effective adaptive full-LED headlights. Importantly, all the gadgets are intuitive to use, and it doesn’t take long for a first-time driver to figure out how to operate them.
The driving experience is a bit of a mixed bag, because while the Tiguan offers the same mechanical refinement, sure-footed handling and generally compliant ride (only slightly marred at lower speeds by those low-profile tyres) you’d find in any of its MQB platform-mates, the entry-level petrol drivetrain isn’t really optimal for this application. It’s a good thing that the clutch action is smooth and easy to modulate, and that the shift quality of the 6-speed manual transmission is so sweet and accurate, because driving in traffic will force copious stirring of that gear lever to achieve acceptable performance.
There’s nothing intrinsically bad about the engine, and its lack of mechanical harshness is a definite virtue, but the lull of turbo lag above idle and a general listlessness to its power delivery means that the low-power 1.4-litre turbo four needs to be worked hard to get up to speed. The 0 – 100 km/h test is dispatched in a leisurely 10.5 seconds, and it eventually runs out of breath at 190 km/h. Freeway driving is less of a mission, where 200 Nm of torque does a fair job of maintaining momentum up inclines and gives reasonable overtaking acceleration. The claimed average fuel consumption of 6.1 ℓ/100 km never materialised either, as frequent gearchanges and an equally flattened accelerator pedal pushed that figure closer to the 8 ℓ/100 km mark, according to the trip computer.
The higher-output (110 kW/250 Nm) 1.4 TSI does a far more satisfactory job of hauling the large-ish crossover along with its 18 kW/50 Nm advantage, and is mated only with a 6-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox. That’s probably the sweet spot in the range, unless you have a taste for diesel (three TDI variants have recently been released, two of which offer 4Motion AWD), or your budget stretches as far as the range-topping 162 kW 2.0 TSI Highline 4Motion – the GTI of Tiguans.
But then you look at the pricetag. The test vehicle came fitted with a host of expensive options (to the value of about R80 000), but it’s not like the basic Tiguan 92 kW Comfortline R-Line is at all basic or primitive either. And with a current list price of R443 400 before options for something which looks this good, offers this much space, comfort and refinement, and projects such an upmarket image inside and out, that somewhat breathless engine could actually be forgiven. It’s not meant to be a performance car, and while the power on offer sometimes doesn’t completely satisfy, it isn’t annoyingly lethargic either – and it’s certainly no worse than any of its competitors at this price point, for what that’s worth. Either way, the Tiguan scores a bulls-eye in its market segment by offering an upper-class car without the upper-class pricetag.
Way above average in almost all areas, sophisticated, strong on value, nice to live with and appealing to the eye: the new Tiguan is no longer just another contender in its class. Instead, it sets a new standard of all-round excellence – a standard which might just end up earning the range 2017’s sought-after SA Car of the Year honours. Watch this space…
Volkswagen Tiguan 1.4 TSI 92 kW Comfortline R-Line Specifications
Engine :1395 cc straight-four, turbocharged petrol
Gearbox :6-speed manual, front wheel drive
Output :92 kW @ 5000 – 6000 r/min, 200 Nm @ 1400 – 4000 r/min
Performance :0-100 km/h in 10.5 seconds, max speed 190 km/h
Consumption (official) :6.1 ℓ/100 km
Luggage compartment :520 – 1655 litres
Price (before options) :R 443 300