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PowerSteering: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan Review

PowerSteering: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan Review

By Christian Wardlaw, November 22, 2017

Introduction
Volkswagen did not show up late to the SUV party. It skipped the bash entirely. Ford launched the original Explorer for the 1991 model year, and VW did not counter with a reasonably priced family-size SUV until recently, when it rolled out the 2018 Atlas.

Like a push-started 1963 Beetle, though, Volkswagen is slowly picking up speed. Honda debuted the original CR-V for the 1997 model year, and now a completely redesigned 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan has the right size and packaging to finally compete against it.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan front quarter left photoTo be fair, VW hasn’t been totally absent from the SUV segment. The 5-passenger Touareg has been available for years, carrying a high price tag and saddled with a name nobody could pronounce, let alone spell. The Atlas effectively replaces it.

The Tiguan has been making a go of it for a while now, too. Designed for Europeans, it was never quite right for the U.S. market, though, and as of late the aging Tig’s safety ratings simply could not stack up against the more affordable, more spacious, and more popular alternatives.

That changes with the new 2018 Tiguan. In fact, now it is so big inside that you might decide that it can substitute for a larger vehicle such as a Ford Edge or Nissan Murano. Prices are more reasonable, it is loaded with the latest in driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems, and the infotainment system is among the most intuitive available today.

We’ll get to all of the details below. First, let’s provide some background and context around the new Tiguan. Also, know that for this review, we evaluated a Tiguan SE with 4Motion all-wheel drive and alternate 17-in. aluminum wheels. The price came to $31,280, including the $900 destination charge.



What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new 2018 Tiguan, it’s helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this SUV and what they like most and least about it.

Compared with the Small SUV segment, buyers of the previous Tiguan are more often men (49% vs. 45%), younger in terms of median age (51 years vs. 54 years), and more affluent in terms of median annual household income ($104,082 vs. $80,425). Demographically, 31% of Tiguan buyers are members of Gen Y (those born 1977 to 1994), compared with 23% for the segment.

Performance is important to buyers of the previous Tiguan. They are more likely to agree that friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (58% vs. 51%), they are more likely to agree that they like a vehicle with responsive handling and powerful acceleration (92% vs. 86%), and they more often identify themselves as a performance buyer (26% vs. 14%).

Conversely, Tiguan buyers are less concerned about reliability, maintenance costs, and fuel economy than are Small SUV buyers as a group. They are less likely to agree that their first consideration in a new vehicle is fuel economy (61% vs. 72%), they are less likely to agree that they avoid vehicles that they think will have high maintenance costs (84% vs. 91%), and they are less likely to strongly agree that their first consideration in choosing a new vehicle is reliability (51% vs. 60%).

Buyers say their favorite things about the previous Tiguan are (in descending order) the driving dynamics, interior design, exterior styling, seats, and visibility and safety. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the previous Tiguan are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, infotainment system, storage and space, climate control system, and, by a significant margin, fuel economy.


What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the new 2018 Tiguan performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior
Aside from the retro-themed Beetle, conservative styling is a Volkswagen hallmark. As a result, its vehicles aren’t visually exciting, but they age gracefully.

This holds true for the new 2018 Tiguan. Creased and folded, this SUV’s most effusive design element is its grille. Ringed by a layer of dark plastic cladding, the Tiguan doesn’t even try to fake SUV-style skid plates. This, in my opinion, is refreshingly honest, as this compact crossover’s off-roading skills are moderate at best.

As is true of most modern vehicles, larger wheels make the Tiguan look better. You can get them on SEL and SEL Premium trim levels.

Interior
Anyone familiar with current Volkswagen products will feel right at home inside of the new Tiguan. Legible instrumentation, logical control placement, and clear markings are the rule, and the newest family of VW infotainment systems is quite well done.

Black and gray interior colors are available in cloth, V-Tex leatherette, or leather, depending on the trim level. Additionally, Golden Oak V-Tex and Saffrano Orange leather are offered with selected exterior paint colors. Except for black, each interior color is applied to the seats and door panel inserts, providing sharp contrast with the dark carpets, dashboard, and other trim panels.

Choose SEL Premium trim and the Tiguan is equipped with Volkswagen Digital Cockpit. A 12.3-in. digital instrumentation display, it allows the owner to tailor the information to specific preferences, and to cycle between widescreen expressions of data such as trip computer information, the navigation map and route, current music selection, and more.

Seats
The test Tiguan did not have the optional third-row seat, which meant that the SUV was comfortable for everyone aboard.

Up front, both chairs feature height adjustment, and it is easy to find a comfortable position on firm cushions that prove supportive over time. In back, the seat sits high enough off of the floor to supply generous thigh support, and room for knees, legs, and feet is downright extraordinary.

Cloth seats are standard and available only for S trim. Leather seats are standard and available only for SEL Premium trim. All other versions of the Tiguan have perforated V-Tex, which looks and feels convincing enough to be leather. The problem with it is that it traps sweat, so on hot days you’re going to remain damp and uncomfortable.

Climate Control System
As noticed during a recent drive of the larger VW Atlas, the new Tiguan’s air conditioning system struggles to quickly cool the SUV’s cabin. Eventually it does, but it takes longer than desired, especially in light of the sweaty V-Tex upholstery. Certainly, the available panoramic glass roof would make this problem worse instead of better.

All Tiguans include a pollen filter and rear-seat air conditioning vents. Additionally, heated front seats are available, and a heated steering wheel is included with SEL Premium trim.

Infotainment System
All versions of the new Tiguan come with a touch-screen infotainment system. All versions but the S trim include a larger 8-in. display screen. Embedded navigation is a part of the SEL trim upgrade, and SEL Premium trim includes a premium Fender audio system.

Equipped with radio power/volume and tune/select knobs, shortcuts to main menus, and a glass proximity sensing display screen that works like a smartphone, the Tiguan’s infotainment system is a delight to use. Especially pleasing is how easily the driver can swipe through radio station pre-sets, the large tiles graphically pleasing and easy to select.

Pairing an iPhone to the system’s Bluetooth was easy, and though the test car lacked navigation, Apple CarPlay, Siri, and Google Maps supplied an excellent substitute.

Volkswagen also provides Car-Net App-Connect subscription services to all Tiguan owners. Available at no cost for a limited time after purchase, this technology supplies access to features such as automatic crash notification, SOS emergency calling, last parked location, and Family Guardian functions including speed and boundary alerts.

Storage and Space
Volkswagen carves storage out of every extra space within the new Tiguan. Aside from a small center console box, you won’t have any trouble finding places in which to stash stuff.

For example, a coin box is housed in the lower left side of the dashboard. Jacket hooks are affixed to the center roof pillar trim. Deep wells exist on either side of the cargo floor in the trunk, and a hefty hook is designed to hold plastic grocery bags. And these are the more obscure solutions.

Cargo space is truly impressive. Behind the rear seats, the Tiguan holds up to 33 cu. ft. of cargo. Lower the adjustable load floor and you’ll be able to stack three full-size suitcases on their sides, and beneath the cargo cover.

A 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat makes a Tiguan especially useful for family ski trips. Maximum cargo space with the rear seat completely folded down measures a whopping 73.5 cu. ft.

Considering the roomy cabin and huge cargo area, most families of four will be well served by a Tiguan, which is larger than most compact SUVs but smaller than most midsize SUVs.

Visibility and Safety
Thin windshield pillars, tall seating positions, and a flat hood virtually ensure excellent outward visibility. Large side mirrors help, too, as does a standard reversing camera.

Wisely, Volkswagen does not reserve its driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies solely for expensive trim levels. Even the standard Tiguan S can be upgraded with forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert. The price is reasonable, too, at just $850.

Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist are also available, but VW does restrict them to the top SEL Premium trim level, where they are standard equipment. This version of the Tiguan also includes an overhead camera view system, automatic high-beam headlights, and front and rear park-assist sensors.

All 2018 Tiguans have Automatic Post-Collision Braking. This unusual feature brings the SUV to a halt just as soon as is possible following a crash in order to prevent secondary collisions from hurting occupants after the air bags have already deployed and deflated.

Engine/Transmission
An updated version of the company’s turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is used in the 2018 Tiguan. It makes 184 horsepower from 4,400 rpm to 6,000 rpm, and 221 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,600 rpm to 4,300 rpm. Translated, once you get past the unavoidable turbo lag at low rpm, this engine feels lively if linear throughout the rest of its rev range.

The engine is paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission with a sport mode, and the driver can also choose between Eco, Normal, Sport, and Custom driving modes. Automatic engine start/stop is also standard, and drivers can shut it off if they find it to be a source of aggravation.

You would think that this amount of variety would be a good thing, but I found it challenging. For whatever reason—turbo lag, improper mode selection for a given task, lousy driving skills—I rarely experienced a sweet spot where my input at the accelerator resulted in smooth, predictable acceleration from a stop.

Sometimes the transmission would upshift before I wanted it to, leaving me gasping for torque. Sometimes the transmission would hold engine revs for too long, causing irritation. Almost always, my passengers’ heads wobbled on their necks as I futilely attempted to drive the SUV smoothly.

A new 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is available for the 2018 Tiguan. Under low-load driving conditions, the SUV operates as a front-drive vehicle, the rear axle disconnected to help preserve fuel economy. When wheel slippage dictates transfer of power to the rear wheels, or the driver uses the Active Control system to select an off-road driving mode, the center differential reconnects the rear axle for added traction.

Fuel Economy
On a positive note, the Tiguan’s drivetrain returned impressive fuel economy. The EPA says that versions with 4Motion should get 23 mpg in combined driving. On my test loop, the Tiguan averaged 23.9 mpg, and that included a short stint of off-roading.

Driving Dynamics
If you’re expecting traditionally communicative ride and handling characteristics from the 2018 Tiguan, you might be disappointed. This new one is tuned to provide a smooth, absorptive ride. And with the Normal driving mode engaged, the steering is feather light for nearly effortless response. The old Tiguan’s nimble, athletic, communicative, and somewhat raw feel is sanitized for the average driver’s protection.

Nevertheless, the Tiguan is flingable when it needs to be. Body roll is beautifully controlled, and the suspension successfully quells excessive dive and squat. In Sport mode, the steering adds heft without introducing artificiality, and while response isn’t particularly quick, it is accurate with even weighting throughout the range of motion. The brakes could be sharper, too, but bringing the Tiguan to a drama-free stop is easy.

The SE 4Motion test vehicle had 17-in. wheels wrapped in 215/65R17 Bridgestone Ecopia tires. They’re clearly the weakest link, limiting grip and poise. No doubt, the available 18- and 19-in. wheels would help in this regard. Unfortunately, they’re also likely to introduce even more tire rumble and road boom than is already evident within the cabin.


Final Impressions
Two decades is a long time to observe a market segment before jumping in, but based on a week driving the 2018 Tiguan, it was time well spent by Volkswagen. This is easily one of the most appealing compact SUVs you can buy, and a fully transferrable 6-year/72,000-mile warranty makes it even more compelling.

The biggest potential problem here is related to the drivetrain. Between the turbo lag and the sudden thrust when the torque finally kicks in to the transmission’s frequently unbecoming behavior, it’s hard to drive a Tiguan smoothly. This driving character, combined with a lack of road and wind noise isolation, the somewhat weak air conditioning system, and the sweat-trapping V-Tex upholstery, are all causes for pause.

Definitely put the Tiguan on your shopping list, but don’t cross everything else off just yet.

Volkswagen of America supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan review.

For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile.


Additional Research:


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