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Quick Take: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0T SEL Premium 4MOTION

This is the new normal

Aaron GoldwriterThe Manufacturerphotographer

NORTHRIDGE, California — Friday found me in a foul mood. I spent the bulk of my day reviewing the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, a vehicle I'd really been looking forward to driving that turned out to be a real disappointment. It's as if Mitsubishi benchmarked the ride and handling of the best SUVs on the market, then instructed their engineers to do the exact opposite.

Why this put me in such a lousy frame of mind, I can only chalk up to my flawed personality. I'm a car critic; my job is to criticize cars, not get all emotionally wrapped up in them. I'm pretty sure Roger Ebert didn't go home after screening Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo and kick his cat. I don't have a cat—and if I had a cat, I certainly wouldn't kick it—but my ire needed an outlet, and it seemed the next vehicle I was going to review would be the proverbial cat.

Enter my next victim, the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan.

Here's the problem: It's extraordinarily difficult to get angry at a Volkswagen Tiguan, even if you are imbalanced enough to take out your misdirected anger on an inanimate object. No matter how grumpy you may feel, it's impossible to get cross at the Tiguan. This is the small SUV that seems to get nearly everything right.

For one thing, it's good to drive. Not great, but good. I took the Tiguan for a quick spin on Aaron's Top Secret Twisty Test Road, mostly to verify my opinion that the Mitsubishi was far lousier than it needed to be, and the Tiguan backed me up nicely. Grip is modest and the tires take up a tortured wail as the limits of grip approach. If you're really serious about our whole #NoBoringCars thing, the Mazda CX-5 is a better curvy-road companion. Still, for the class of cars that senior editor Kirill Ougarov so rightly classifies as "faceless compact crossovers," the Tiguan is pretty decent, with reasonably accurate steering and a steady, firm ride. It may not thrill you, but nor will it cause sudden bladder evacuation should you need to make a panic swerve.

In most other ways, the Tiguan impresses, although I'm still questioning whether exterior styling is one of them. I loved the cantaloupe-orange paint on our 2.0T SEL Premium 4MOTION test car, and the squared-off shape of this new model, which make it appear longer and lower than the outgoing Tig (still on sale as the Tiguan Limited, by the way), convey the non-verbal message that hauling families is a serious business. But I just can't get used to front end—it looks as if the Tiguan was left on the radiator and started to melt. Every time I approached it, I had to fight an urge to slide the grille and headlights back up where they belong.

About the interior, though, you'll hear no complaints from me. Volkswagen cabins have a lovely consistency, with a focus on easy-to-read gauges and easy-to-use controls. Our top-of-the-line Tiguan SEL featured a flat-screen instrument panel, but of course there are no fancy animations—only life-like analog gauges, with the option to display handy information like speed (and not-so-handy information like gear selection, which is almost always "D") in the centers of each.

The dial-operated dual-zone climate control system is the pinnacle of operational simplicity, and even the touch-screen entertainment system has been designed for ease of use. As I switched between radio, Bluetooth audio, and navigation, I never once had to dig through a set of menus; it seemed like everything I wanted to do was only one touch away. I can name you a half-dozen automakers who could take lessons on infotainment system design from Volkswagen.

Accommodations are quite good as well. The front seats are comfortable, and while the squared-off second-row seat looks like some sort of Teutonic torture device, it is in fact very comfortable and supportive, with a reasonable amount of legroom even with the front seats jacked way back. A nice big panoramic sunroof allows back-seaters to enjoy the stars.

The Volkswagen Tiguan is one of the very few compact SUVs that offer a third-row seat, and if you experience the Tiguan's, you'll know why they're such a rare find. Getting back there requires an awkward climb, but the requisite gymnastics feel like stretching out on a chaise lounge compared to the excruciating experience of actually sitting in the seat—or, in my case, actually trying to sit in the seat. Being 5'6", I can usually fit in most "child-only" third-row seats, but not this one. I can't imagine many children over the age of eight with intact spines would fit.

With the third row in place, there is still enough cargo space for a gym bag or a row of groceries; perhaps if Volkswagen had not made this, concession the back seat might come a little closer to being usable. Best advice I can give on the seven-seat Tiguan echoes that of Nancy Reagan: Just say no. If you need to r haul more than five people on a regular basis, you'll be better served by the larger Volkswagen Atlas.

What else can I say about the Tiguan? Power from the 184-hp 2.0 liter turbo four is fine. Fuel economy (23 MPG combined for our all-wheel-drive tester, according to the EPA) is fine. Visibility is fine. Cargo space with the third row seats folded is fine. Pricing is fine, though the top-line SEL Premium model I tested gets a bit spendy. Overall, this is a fine SUV. And that's fine.

Of course, there are other choices: The Mazda CX-5 is better to drive, the Toyota RAV4 is legendary for its reliability, and the Chevrolet Equinox is an extraordinarily appealing package. The Nissan Rogue, a snoozer to drive, also offers a third-row seat, though it's just as useless as the Tig's. The Jeep Compass is way better off road and has more curb appeal.

Still, when I think about these vehicles in the context of the Tiguan, I realize that the VW is the compact SUV by which they can be judged. It is the benchmark, the control, the new normal. And no one can get mad at that.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0T SEL Premium 4MOTION Specifications

PRICE $38,450/$39,245 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/184 hp @ 4,400 rpm, 221 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 21/27 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 185.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in
WHEELBASE 109.8 in
WEIGHT 3,858 lb
0-60 MPH 8.9 sec