DENVER, Colorado — In case you haven’t heard it enough yet, crossover and SUV sales have been going gangbusters all over the world, driven heavily by soaring demand in the U.S. Volkswagen has mostly had to watch this feeding frenzy from the sidelines. America has always been the uncrackable nut for VW, but with the aging Touareg being superseded by the handsome Atlas and the similarly dated first-generation Tiguan being replaced for 2018, things might be on a long-overdue upswing.
Slowly but surely, Volkswagen is making up for lost time. And for broken promises. VW suffered more than a flesh wound in the wake of its infamous Dieselgate scandal, but the prescription going forward is to introduce lots of new metal to win back customers. “We’re working to regain our customers’ trust and rebuild the brand,” said VW product and technology manager Mark Gillies. “New vehicles are the lifeblood to this business.”
We headed to Colorado for the launch of the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan, which should make VW into a bigger player in the critical mid-size SUV space, peeling customers away from stalwarts like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape.
The 2018 Tiguan rides on the same MQB architecture as the Golf and Atlas, sharing with those vehicles VW’s polished expertise in packaging. Although Europe gets both short- and long-wheelbase versions of the Tiguan, only the latter will be on offer here in the States. That means 10.6 inches of additional length compared to the first-gen Tiguan, as well as 58 percent more cargo capacity on two-row models. Front-wheel drive models come standard with a third row of seating, while all-wheel-drive models can add it as a stand-alone $500 option on any trim level.
Unsurprisingly, the third row is suitable only for kids, but an average-sized adult could manage for short rides in a pinch, which is more than can be said for the jump seats in the Nissan Rogue. Where the Tiguan shines is in how easily the second row folds down and slides forward, revealing a generous opening for rear-seat passengers. In terms of overall size, the Tiguan is slightly larger than most of its key competitors, but still well shy of much larger Atlas.
Although the Tiguan shares its underpinnings with the Golf, dynamically, they feel more like distant cousins than close siblings. That starts with the Tiguan’s new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, the sole engine for U.S. models. Mated to an eight-speed automatic, the 184-hp “B-cycle” engine uses a modified Miller combustion cycle for improved efficiency, yielding 35 lb-ft more torque yet 14 fewer hp than the outgoing 2.0T.
The new engine is sluggish off the line as we climb from Denver up into the surrounding mountains, snaking through twisting ribbons of pavement and rough dirt roads aboard a front-wheel-drive Tiguan with three rows. Peak 221 lb-ft torque comes in early at 1,600 rpm and stays perfectly flat until 3,940 rpm, but the long pedal travel means the Tiguan is always a step or two behind where you expect it. Even in the meat of the rev range, from 4,400 rpm to 6,000, where the new EA888 four-cylinder makes max hp, the engine feels coarse and resistant. It doesn’t help that the eight-speed automatic transmission is occasionally lazy to downshift, although this can be mitigated by switching the shift lever into Sport.
A big caveat is that our entire route was at altitudes ranging from 5,100 feet to roughly 8,000 feet. No doubt the thin air was played a part in all that huffing and puffing, even with a turbocharger on board. However, when we previously drove a pre-production Passat with this engine, it disappointed compared to the pleasantly zippy 1.8-liter turbo it replaces. Volkswagen will also tag in the B-cycle 2.0-liter to replace the 1.8T in the Beetle, as well as the next-generation Jetta.
On the plus side, the Tiguan rides like a dream. It tracks confidently down the highway. Potholes and expansion joints are of little concern to the MQB-platformed family hauler, while bumpy dirt roads don’t transmit much in the way of nasty vibrations into the cabin. Germany engineered the Tiguan to satisfy Americans’ preference for easy driving, and in that respect it’s spot-on. The brakes, too, are not overly grabby and intuitive to modulate.
Steering feel and handling may be the victims of this focus on comfort — none of the Golf’s fun or even the Atlas’ poised capability come through. There’s a fairly large dead spot on-center, and although the steering does build weight as it approaches lock, it doesn’t gain much of anything in the way of feedback. In all-wheel-drive models with the Active Control rotary drive select knob, you can customize the steering or powertrain to your liking, but even these modes offer just minor improvements.
The Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, and Hyundai Tucson may be more rewarding to drive, but the Tiguan could be on top when it comes to the interior. The redesigned cabin is also a big leap forward, expressing clean and intuitive design that will age well. Starting with the second-tier SE model (S is the base), VW’s new MIB II infotainment takes center stage. Integrated smoothly into the center stack, the 8-inch display boasts clear and bright graphics as well as Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (standard on all models). The seats are supportive and not overly bolstered, visibility all around is top-notch, and the multiple USB ports will keep the whole family charged up. Overall materials are good quality. We also noticed very little road or wind noise on our many highway miles.
Base Tiguan S models start at $26,245 with front-wheel drive, coming standard with 17-inch aluminum wheels, LED taillights, a rear camera, and a 6.5-inch display screen. The bulk of sales in the segment happen at right around $30,000, so the volume-seller is sure to be the SE, which comes in at $29,980. Most customers will be more than happy with the keyless entry, larger 8-inch display, synthetic faux-leather interior with heated front seats, an eight-way power driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Spring for the $33,450 SEL to get bigger 18-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof (usually $1,200 on S or SE trims), navigation, adaptive cruise control with Stop & Go, and remote start.
Atop the heap is the $37,150 SEL Premium. That’s a lot of scratch, but it comes positively loaded to the gills with 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, leather seats and trim, Fender audio, a hands-free tailgate, a 360-degree camera, park assist, and VW’s version of Audi’s snazzy digital cockpit. It seems somewhat of an oversight to have the digital cockpit instrument display only available at such a high level, when it seems like the sort of thing people would easily pay for if the SEL trim were just a bit more expensive. That said, the a $850 Driver Assist package for lesser models includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert with autonomous braking, lane-keep assist, the 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise, and parking sensors with rear autonomous braking. Later on in the model year, the Tiguan will get an R-Line appearance package for $1,795 on SEL and $1,495 on SEL Premium trims.
Built in Mexico specifically for the U.S., the new Tiguan is undoubtedly a step in a more competitive direction for VW, even if it’s not a joy to drive. In fact, if you like the last Tiguan so much, you can still buy it — it’ll remain at dealers for the foreseeable future as the Tiguan Limited. VW says that it wants to spread itself across SUV segments as much as possible and demand for smaller-sized models is high enough to justify keeping the ol’ girl around. Given how much bigger the 2018 Tiguan is, VW doesn’t expect much cannibalization by the Limited.
While we still need to see how this Tiguan’s engine fares at altitudes closer to sea level, until then, it’s safe to say Volkswagen should be on the shopping list if comfort, utility, and lots of available tech are priorities. Who knows, maybe this family-friendly crossover is the nutcracker Volkswagen has been long needed.
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan Specifications
|ON SALE||Late Summer 2017|
|ENGINE||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/184 hp @ 4,400-6,000 rpm, 221 lb-ft @ 1,600-3,940 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5/7-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||21-22/27 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||185.1 x 72.4 x 65.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.2 sec|