Made for America
Volkswagen Tiguan Review: The Style You’d Expect from VW but None of the Charm
The Tiguan is Volkswagen’s redesigned compact crossover SUV. With a longer wheelbase, expanded cabin space and sedate style, it is more stately than the first generation, still sold for now as the “Tiguan LImited.” The Tiguan was designed specifically for the American customer, with all that entails.
The Good: Classy exterior for a crossover. Clean, premium feeling interior. Tons of space in the trunk and the first two rows of the cabin.
Who It’s For: Explicitly, the American compact crossover SUV buyer. The Tiguan buyer wants style and practicality and has little concern with driving dynamics, leaving the pavement, or maximizing value for the price point.
Watch Out For: Soft steering. Inconsistent acceleration. Tiny, borderline useless third row of seats. A conspicuous lack of fun.
Alternatives: Other family-oriented compact crossover SUVs in this price range include:
Honda CR-V ($24,250, base)
Toyota Rav4 ($24,660, base)
Subaru Forester ($24,295 base)
Review: Volkswagen debuted the redesigned Tiguan with a meteor commercial. The SUV held a large amount of stuff, and it took an apocalyptic external scenario to make driving the Tiguan feel exciting. That is a fair summation. The Tiguan is not a terrible car – it’s just boring. You expect more from a “Tiger Iguana” than a ferocious yawn.
German companies know how to build drivers’ cars, even on a Volkswagen budget. The scariest phrase to read in a German manufacturer press release is “designed specifically for the needs of American customers.” American customers aren’t flying around the Nürburgring. They want room in the caboose and for their cabooses. They want cup holders and USB ports. They need the car to stay straight on the way to Costco. The Tiguan is, indeed, what Germans think American customers want.
I’ll start with the good. The Tiguan is smart looking. It’s not stylish per se. But, it looks like a sane, rational adult designed it. The lines are clean. The proportions are correct. There’s nothing weird, aggressive, or neon. That sobriety is refreshing in the crossover SUV market. The Tiguan also has a clean, considered Volkswagen interior that somehow makes cheap materials feel more expensive than they are. Looks alone will be enough for many buyers.
To be honest, though, the revamp may have been overkill. If the first generation Tiguan was your kooky, fun friend from college who needed some refinement, the second generation is him a decade later, 20 pounds heavier, and prattling on about his middle management job. Objectively, he’s more useful and suited to requirements. But, you kind of liked him better before.
The Tiguan is quite practical. The cabin is spacious and comfortable. Large people fit. Average-sized folks have almost too much space to move around. The second-row bench seat can recline and move back and forth seven inches. It does have a third row, technically. But, that third row serves little functional purpose. It is the smallest I have seen on a vehicle. As an average-sized male, I could not close the second row back up. I could barely fit across the two seats horizontally. When you fold down that tiny, useless third row, however, you get a capacious trunk. I was able to lay my son’s behemoth stroller flat and vertically and still had enough space for a full grocery shop.
Charm fades when you shift the Tiguan into drive. The second generation is longer, heavier and less powerful (down to 184hp from 200hp) than the first. It handles like it. Many fun to drive cars share Volkswagen’s famed MQB platform. The Tiguan is not one of them.
The steering felt soft and imprecise, a particular sin for a Volkswagen. My Sportwagen dives right into sharp turns. In the Tiguan, I found myself slow banking in the middle of an intersection. The throttle was finicky. Neither my wife nor I could find consistency with it during a week of driving. Rapid acceleration felt jerky with the engine’s auto stop/start, turbo lag and the more than occasional premature upshift. Sometimes the acceleration caught the turbo full bore. Sometimes things were normal. It was never predictable.
One could forgive the Tiguan’s imprecise driving dynamics – crossover buyers tend not to be performance driving enthusiasts – if the car, say, got good gas mileage. It doesn’t. EPA rated my FWD tester for 24mpg combined. The FWD version of the Honda CR-V, for comparison, gets 30 mpg combined.
VW does offer an array of driver assistance features with the Tiguan. Those include forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring and a blind spot monitor with rear traffic alert. That’s an $850 option on the S trim and supposed to be included with the SE. My SE tester, somehow, did not have them. It did include the $1,200 panoramic sunroof package. Normally, I don’t care for sunroofs because I don’t look straight up while driving, I don’t notice any ambient natural light and they don’t make the car feel like a convertible. I don’t like presenting an inviting target for divebombing birds. This one did a decent job damping down the road noise and left me sweating because it was 87 and humid.
Pressed for an overall driving impression from the Tiguan, my wife responded: “it’s fine.” I understood what she meant. The Tiguan looks like a Volkswagen. It’s practical like a Volkswagen. It offers the most disengaged, utterly unmemorable driving experience I have ever experienced in a Volkswagen. I was not sad to see the Tiguan go after a week. A couple times I forgot I had it and had to walk back inside to swap keys.
The Tiguan may be “enough” for the Crossover SUV market. But, there are more fun crossovers. There are more efficient crossovers. There are more capable crossovers. There are cheaper crossovers. Some, such as the Honda CR-V and the Subaru Forester are all of the above.
Verdict: The Tiguan looks like a Volkswagen. It’s practical like a Volkswagen. It has none of the precise driving and charm one would expect from a Volkswagen. The noteworthy part is just how forgettable it is. There are better options in the Crossover SUV market. There are more economical options. There are options that are both.
What Others Are Saying:
• “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.” – Mark Rechtin, Motor Trend
• “A good compact crossover is like a good winter coat: it’s nothing to get excited about, but its ability to satisfy several functions can be very pleasing. The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is like a good winter coat.” – Robert Duffer, Chicago Tribune
• “Volkswagen, hungry for US-market sales in the wake of a public-image nightmare, has done what’s needed to make the Tiguan more appealing to American crossover shoppers: make it bigger and more comfortable.” – Murilee Martin, Autoweek
2018 VW Tiguan SE Key Specs
Engine: 2.0L turbocharged inline-four
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Torque: 221 lb-ft
Weight: 3,777 lbs
0-60: 8.2 seconds
Fuel Economy: 22/27/24 mpg
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