JEROME, Michigan – The weekend mud club at Bundy Hill is your usual cast of characters, from the battered old Wrangler and Cherokees to more lithe and stripped-down dune buggies. A moderately sized three-row family crossover, let alone one from Germany, is about as common here as a polar bear. Nevertheless, Volkswagen felt confident enough in the capability of the all-new 2018 Tiguan to have journalists navigate steep grades, ford mud puddles, and plow over soft sand.
Despite the show of, frankly, impressive capability, this latest generation of Tiguan is engineered more for spaciousness and efficiency than slinging dirt and climbing mountains. It rides on the same modular transverse (MQB) architecture as the plucky Golf and the midsize Atlas, a platform that improves packaging and driver-assistance technology availability while also slashing 110 pounds off the crossover’s curb weight.
Although the new Tiguan has already been on sale in Europe for more than a year, we’ve had to wait patiently for Volkswagen to kick off production of the long-wheelbase model, known abroad as the Tiguan Allspace, as the standard-wheelbase variant was not intended for North American consumption. The Puebla, Mexico-built, the 2018 Tiguan is a fair bit larger than its predecessor, adding 4.4 inches of wheelbase, 10.7 inches of overall length, and 1.2 inches of width (a dimensional tweener, it’s slightly bigger than compacts like the Honda CR-V but smaller than the likes of the Ford Edge and Dodge Journey). Thanks to that extra size, it is not nearly as claustrophobic as before, especially for back-seat passengers.
With the 2018 Volkswagen is also introducing third-row seating that’s standard on front-wheel-drive models and optional with 4Motion all-wheel drive. Don’t plan on carrying your entire paintball crew, however. This third row is most definitely a kids-only zone, as even my towering 5-foot-2-inch frame struggles back there.
Our pre-production test vehicle is a fully loaded SEL Premium model with all-wheel drive.
We start on gentle dusty trails, but the path soon turns ragged with piles of sand and scattered rocks. Switching into off-road mode on the center-mounted rotary dial proves a good decision, optimizing the all-wheel drive Tiguan SEL Premium we were driving for the terrain with a flatter acceleration curve, unique ABS setting, later meddling from the stability control and traction control systems, and greater locking ratio for the center electronic differential lock. (Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive normally operates in front-wheel-drive mode until the system detects slip, at which point the differential can send 100 percent of available engine torque to the rear axle.)
Although the 2018 Tiguan has a new 2.0-liter turbo-four, codename EA888, under its hood, it actually makes less power (but more torque) than the outgoing engine, with 184 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque sent to the wheels via an eight-speed automatic. Essentially a replacement for Volkswagen’s 1.8-liter turbo-four, EA888 is notable for its new “B-cycle” combustion process, which increases the compression ratio and torque at the expense of power. With 3,940 lbs of all-wheel drive Tiguan to pull, it had to put in work as we charged our way up the first big hill, our foot hard on the gas to maintain enough momentum to reach the crest. Once on the other side, we firmly press the brakes as the Tiguan starts to roll downhill and let hill descent control guide us down nice and easy.
Our exclusively off-road drive did not provide an opportunity to evaluate the ride quality or handling as drivers on the road will experience it. However, at no point did the Tiguan (riding on standard steel springs, while European models have an optional air suspension) feel perturbed by the punishment it took over every inch of this purpose-built off-road course. Chassis stiffness was on full display in those gut-wrenching moments when the Tiguan ahead of us in line is seriously articulated to the side, one wheel way up in the air and the others grinding it out to find solid traction.
We did, however, get the chance to sample the powerplant on road, albeit in a pre-production Passat. While power delivery is smooth, it’s about as motivating as a cat poster once low-end torque fades. When we drive the Tiguan again on the road as part the official launch program in mid-June, we don’t expect it to have quite the same punch as the Honda CR-V’s peppy 1.5-liter turbo. We’ll also get more time to poke around the Tiguan’s new interior, which has taken a big leap forward with a crisp-looking display screen and an optional virtual cockpit that trickles down from Uncle Audi.
Pricing will be announced in mid-June, ahead of the late summer on-sale date. We expect front-drive models to remain where they are, at around $26,000, while the last-gen Tiguan (which will continue to be sold as the Tiguan Limited) will likely see a drop to somewhere around $23,000.
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan 4Motion Specifications
|ON SALE||Late Summer 2017|
|ENGINE||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/184 hp, 221 lb-ft|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5/7-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD SUV|
|L x W x H||185.2 x 72.4 x 653 in|