Americans have been SUV-crazy for more than 25 years. That’s right. Ford irrevocably altered the automotive universe with the original 1991 Explorer, and then five years later both Subaru and Toyota created the modern crossover with the 1996 Outback and RAV4.
Volkswagen apparently missed this trend.
Sure, there was the Touareg. Then the Tiguan. But both failed to hit the sweet spot of practicality and affordability, and were virtually ignored by Americans.
For 2018, that changes. With the redesigned 2018 Tiguan and the new 2018 Atlas, Volkswagen flexes its substantial muscles and delivers two powerful punches to the compact and family-size SUV segments. With few exceptions, each of VW’s new sport-utes gets the American SUV formula exactly right.
Bigger inside and out, and pairing a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the new 2018 Tiguan easily ranks as one of the best compact crossover SUVs you can buy.
My test vehicle arrived in SE trim with 4Motion all-wheel drive, equipped with 17-inch aluminum wheels, and dipped in Platinum Gray paint. It was rather drab, though the paint certainly shimmered in bright sunlight.
Fortunately, Volkswagen offers a range of hues for the Tiguan, as well as several appealing 18-inch and 19-inch wheel designs for the SEL and SEL Premium trim levels. If you’re brave, you can even get orange leather.
Penned with restraint, there is nothing exciting about the new Tiguan’s looks. At the same time, nobody will point at it and laugh. Volkswagen’s conservative design ethos could be judged boring, but at the same time the company’s products age with undeniable grace.
Same goes for the interior. Tones and textures are complimentary, and my Tiguan SE’s Storm Gray V-Tex leatherette seat upholstery contrasted nicely against the black carpeting and dashboard while matching the door panel inserts and headliner.
In order to meet an affordable price point, the Tiguan’s cabin does contain plenty of hard plastic, and it creaks under pressure. With that said, the upper dashboard and the tops of the front door panels are softly padded, and the steering wheel is wrapped in smooth leather, so owners are unlikely to complain much about a cheap interior.
Thanks to standard seat height adjusters for both front seats, the driver and front passenger can sit up nice and high, like they’re sitting at a dining room table. They’ll enjoy an expansive view out, too, thanks to door-mounted side mirrors and large windows.
While the seats themselves are quite comfortable, there are a couple of nits to pick.
First, when you raise them, the door panel and center console armrests are too low to be of any use. A height adjustable and sliding center console armrest, like VW used to offer in most of its models, would be appreciated.
Second, though V-Tex leatherette does a fairly convincing job of imitating leather, it does a poor job of ventilating your backside. If you’re sweaty when you get into a Tiguan, you’re going to remain that way. The V-Tex is perforated, so a seat ventilation system should be easy for VW to swing.
Rear seat room was never an issue in the previous Tiguan, and the new one’s back seat remains comfortable and accommodating. Occupants sit up nice and high with impressive thigh support, and both legroom and foot space is exceptional. Though the Tiguan is somewhat narrow, making it hard to put three adults into the back seat, it is certainly roomy enough for two adults or up to three kids. Air conditioning vents and a USB charging port make riding in back even more agreeable.
Because the new Tiguan is so spacious inside, Volkswagen offers it with an optional third-row seat, but only when the SUV is equipped with 4Motion all-wheel drive. My test vehicle did not have this, so I can’t assess comfort levels. The second-row seat does, however, slide forward, so if you choose this option the third-row is likely useful for children.
Except for the engine start button, which is located on the center console, and a trip computer that is not instantly intuitive, the Tiguan’s controls are placed where you expect to find them and operate the way you expect them to.
Instrumentation is crystal clear, the infotainment system is easy to use, and the Tiguan is thoughtfully equipped with automatic up/down power window operation for every door. This layout is well done from an ergonomic standpoint.
Volkswagen carves numerous storage nooks, crannies, trays, and bins from the Tiguan’s interior. The center console storage box might be small, but the rest of the cabin is living large as far as providing places in which to stash your stuff. Volkswagen also lines some of them, but not all of them, with rubber or felt in order to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness.
Similarly, there is plenty of space in the Tiguan’s cargo hold. It supplies 33 cubic-feet of space behind the rear seat, and the floor panel can be dropped an inch or two so that you can stack full-size suitcases side by side beneath the cargo cover. Volkswagen also provides deep bins on either side of the spare tire well, perfect for hauling gallons of milk home. And a sturdy plastic hook deploys to keep a few plastic grocery bags secure.
If you need maximum cargo space, the handy 40/20/40-split folding rear seat collapses to create 73.5 cu.-ft. of room. That’s nearly as much space as a 5-passenger midsize crossover SUV, let alone the compact crossovers the Tiguan will battle. These numbers also reflect a significant improvement over the old Tiguan.
Standard for all Tiguans except the base S trim level, Volkswagen’s latest touchscreen infotainment system with an 8-inch display screen is an impressive piece of work.
First, it looks terrific, with flush-mounted glass punctuated by two knobs that control power, volume, tuning, and station selection. Virtual shortcut buttons take users to screens for various functions, and the display itself uses appealing graphics and responds quickly to input. Increasingly, Apple CarPlay is an indispensable feature for my family, and the Tiguan offers it. Pairing to the Bluetooth connection proved easy.
One of my favorite things about this system, aside from the old-school knobs, is how the driver easily swipes right on the radio station pre-sets, scrolling through large, artfully rendered selections until he or she finds a desirable station or song.
The test car did not have an embedded navigation system, but thanks to Apple CarPlay this wasn’t an issue. Also, because it did not have SEL Premium trim, it did not feature Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, a slick 12.3-inch instrumentation display that gives the Tiguan the futuristic appearance lacking from its styling.
Volkswagen’s roster of driver assistance and collision avoidance systems is also impressive, as is the fact that the most important of them are available even on the base trim level and for a reasonable amount of money.
Highlights for all trims, as standard or optional equipment, include forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. The SEL Premium is exclusively equipped with adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, front and rear parking sensors, automatic high-beam headlights, and a surround-view camera.
Beyond this, Volkswagen installs its automatic post-collision braking system in the new Tiguan. This is designed to bring the SUV to a halt just as soon as is possible following a collision in order to prevent or limit secondary collisions after the air bags have already deployed. This, in turn, does a better job of protecting the Tiguan’s occupants.
As this review is published, the 2018 Tiguan has not been crash-tested by the federal government or by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It is, however, a sure bet that it will do a better job than the previous Tiguan, which did not perform well in frontal-impact assessments.
Familiar to Volkswagen fans, a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine powers the Tiguan, delivering motive force to the front or all four wheels though an 8-speed automatic transmission with a Sport mode. Additionally, drivers can choose between Eco, Normal, Sport, and Custom driving modes.
Producing 184 horsepower from 4,400 rpm to 6,000 rpm, and 221 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,600 rpm to 4,300 rpm, the engine is effectively generating maximum torque or power across the majority of its rev range. Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it? For whatever reason, I found it somewhat hellish.
Turbo lag, the delay between when the driver pushes the accelerator and a turbocharged engine’s torque starts to kick in and move the vehicle with authority, was expected. What I did not expect was regularly inconsistent power delivery that made it hard to count on the drivetrain to react in a predictable way.
By way of explanation, two issues frequently cropped up. In the first scenario, the driver isn’t pushing hard enough on the accelerator pedal, and the transmission upshifts before the Tiguan has had a chance to bite into the meat of its torque curve, dropping engine revs and sucking the life out of forward momentum.
In the second scenario, the driver is impatient with the turbo lag, and pushes harder on the accelerator just as the torque kicks in, shooting the Tiguan forward at an unexpected rate of speed and snapping everyone’s necks in the process. To correct for this unanticipated rush of velocity, the driver backs off on the accelerator, the transmission upshifts, revs drop, and response flat-lines.
Multiple driving and transmission settings compound the problem. Ultimately, I discovered that patience combined with a Custom mode blending Normal steering with Sport drivetrain calibration was the best bet for consistent, smooth acceleration and power.
Could the Tiguan’s new 4Motion all-wheel-drive system be contributing to this problem? I don’t know. It is designed to disconnect the rear axle when it is not needed in order to conserve fuel, and then automatically reconnect the driveshaft when conditions require all-wheel drive.
There is a silver lining here. The standard automatic engine start/stop system didn’t bother me much, and if it had I could have easily turned it off using a button on the center console. Also, according to EPA fuel economy ratings, my SE 4Motion test vehicle should have returned 23 mpg on my test loop. I got 23.9 mpg, a good sign.
Yet, in reviewing my notes of the last Tiguan I reviewed back in 2014, which didn’t have any of the new Tig’s fuel-saving technology, the old one averaged 24.3 mpg on the same loop.
It’s like Volkswagen has taken one step forward and two steps back.
It has been a while since I last drove the previous Volkswagen Tiguan, but based on that review of the 2014 model I essentially characterized it as the Golf GTI of crossover SUVs. This new 2018 Tiguan does not remind me of a GTI. It reminds me of a Jetta. And not the thoroughly enjoyable GLI version.
For driving enthusiasts, this is an unwelcome development. For everyone else, the softer and more isolated ride, the lighter steering effort, and the ability to bring the SUV to a smooth limo-style stop make driving the new Tiguan on a daily basis more pleasurable.
Besides, it’s not like the Tiguan is a sloppy mess on freeway ramps or mountain roads. Volkswagen tunes the suspension to deliver an absorptive ride, yes, but at the same time the underpinnings successfully combat body roll, dive, and squat. The light steering isn’t quick, but it is accurate and evenly weighted throughout the range of motion, making it a willing partner in crime.
My test vehicle’s 215/65 tires and 17-inch wheels did the Tig no favors in terms of maximizing grip in corners, but it’s easy to surmise that the available 18-inch and 19-inch wheels on the SEL and SEL Premium trim levels will perform better in this regard.
Trouble is, bigger wheels and rubber are also likely to generate more tire sizzle, and the Tiguan’s lack of noise isolation is already cause for irritation.
In order to give the majority of Americans what they want in a compact crossover SUV, Volkswagen needed to rethink its approach in the segment. The result is a compelling offering, let down only by what I found to be a schizophrenic drivetrain. Usually, I rave about VW Group’s turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engines, but not this time.
With that said, the rest of the 2018 Tiguan is, for the most part, undeniably satisfying. Easily one of the best choices in its segment, this new VW proves that Volkswagen does know how to build an SUV that Americans will want to buy.