2020 Volkswagen Tiguan Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Jul 14, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

Critically important to Volkswagen, the 2020 Tiguan is the automaker’s compact SUV, competing in the most popular vehicle segment in America against the likes of the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, and many others. 

Last redesigned for the 2018 model year, the 2020 Volkswagen Tiguan is one of the largest choices in its class and even offers a third-row seat that you might be inclined to actually use. Volkswagen offers the Tiguan in S, SE, SEL, and SEL Premium trim levels, the latter two available with a sporty R-Line Package. Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is an option on all but the SEL Premium, which has it as standard equipment.

2020 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium R-Line Saffrano Black front view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Tiguan SEL Premium R-Line equipped with a third-row seat and a privacy cargo cover. The price came to $40,590, including the $1,020 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Volkswagen Tiguan, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

J.D. Power data shows that 51% of Tiguan owners are male (vs. 50% for the segment). Tiguan owners are younger, however, with a median age of 49 years (vs. 59). They also earn more money, with a median annual household income of $111,830 (vs. $92,841). Tiguan owners most often identify as Price Buyers (36%) while all compact SUV owners most often identify as Practical Buyers (32%).

In comparison to all compact SUV owners, people who buy a Volkswagen Tiguan are less likely to agree that they prioritize reliability, quality, fuel economy, and low maintenance costs when choosing a vehicle. But they are more likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (75% vs. 67% for the segment).

When it comes to reliability, 57% of Tiguan owners strongly agree that it is a first consideration when choosing a vehicle (vs. 64% for the segment). J.D. Power data also shows that 51% of Tiguan owners strongly agree that they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (vs. 67%). 

A total of 62% of Tiguan owners agree that a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is fuel economy (vs. 67%) while 89% of the VW model’s owners agree that a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is quality of workmanship (vs. 93%). In other respects, Tiguan owners and compact SUV owners share similar sentiments about vehicle ownership.

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

In the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Tiguan ranked 3rd out of 13 compact SUVs.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Volkswagen Tiguan measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

With its R-Line styling details and bold split-spoke 20-inch wheel design, the Pure White SEL Premium test vehicle looked terrific. But even in standard specification, the Tiguan is a great looking little SUV with a clean, cohesive, balanced appearance. There isn’t a wrong line or proportion on this VW SUV, and while some might translate that assessment to boring design, it also means the Tiguan is likely to age exceptionally well.

2020 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium R-Line Saffrano Black rear exterior view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Interior

Simple, tasteful, thoughtful design continues within the Tiguan’s interior. You won’t find extraneous flourishes here, though the test vehicle’s bright Saffrano seat and door panel inserts certainly were expressive. 

2020 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium R-Line Saffrano Black interior dashboard view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Like other Volkswagens, however, the interior does display inexpensive plastic trim and the occasional buzzy vibration that is common to the brand. However, much of the cabin is rendered in higher quality materials that are well matched in terms of gloss, tone, and texture.

Volkswagen Digital Cockpit instrumentation is also available for the Tiguan, lending the SUV a significant amount of modern sophistication.

Seats

Tiguan owners do not rate the SUV’s seats high on their lists of their favorite things, but I found them quite comfortable. In the SEL Premium R-Line test vehicle, the driver benefits from full power adjustment while the front passenger’s seat offers limited power adjustment plus a manual height adjuster. The result is a high seating position if you prefer it, combined with excellent thigh support and terrific outward visibility.

Volkswagen makes sure rear-seat passengers are happy, too. In the Tiguan, there is plenty of space for legs and feet and while the back seat isn’t quite as comfortable as the front chairs, you’re unlikely to get many complaints.

A third-row seat is standard with front-wheel drive and optional when the Tiguan is equipped with 4Motion AWD. I’m six feet tall and weigh about 250 pounds, and I was able to get into and out of the third-row seat with surprisingly little effort. This location is not comfortable for adults whatsoever, but with the second-row seat moved to its middle position in terms of seat-track travel I’d be willing to ride back there for a (very) short trip.

Clearly, this seat is for kids and only for occasional use. Load a Tiguan up with five children under the age of 10, and it works as long as you’re not going to be in the SUV for hours at a time.

Climate Control System

Equipped with a dual-zone automatic climate control system, the test vehicle’s temperature controls include three knobs with integrated buttons and a row of secondary buttons. With clear white-on-black markings and intuitive functionality, they are quite easy to use.

Many Tiguans include a standard panoramic glass sunroof, and in spite of it and 95-degree heat the test vehicle cooled itself down in fairly short order. Better yet, once it reached the preferred temperature the fan didn’t run at excessively high speeds in order to maintain it. Still, in addition to the effective air conditioning a ventilated front seat option would be nice to have. 

Heated front seats are standard for all but the base Tiguan S, while the SEL and SEL Premium add a heated steering wheel.

Infotainment System

Volkswagen offers three different infotainment systems for the Tiguan, and they all include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Car-Net connected services including a Wi-Fi hotspot. Free trial periods to Car-Net vary.

Upgrades include a larger proximity sensing 8-inch touchscreen display, HD Radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, navigation, an impressive Fender premium sound system, wireless smartphone charging, and voice recognition technology.

The test vehicle had the top infotainment system with all of the extras. Highlights include an appealing flush glass surface, handy stereo volume and tuning knobs, and useful main menu shortcut buttons. However, the Tiguan’s voice recognition technology leaves much to be desired.

Using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto makes the cumbersome voice recognition technology a non-issue. Also, Volkswagen has already announced that the freshened 2022 Tiguan will get a new infotainment system based on VW Group’s sophisticated new MIB 3 platform.

Storage and Space

Aside from a small and oddly shaped storage box under the center armrest, the Tiguan’s storage areas are generously sized and thoughtfully located. This extends to the cargo area, where VW includes a built-in storage spot for the cargo area shade and deep wells on either side of the load floor that are perfect for carrying jugs of milk or bottles of wine.

With the third-row seat, you do give up some cargo space. However, get a Tiguan 4Motion without it and cargo space measures up to 37.6 cubic feet behind the rear seat and up to 73.5 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down.

Visibility and Safety

A Volkswagen Tiguan provides outstanding outward visibility. Thin windshield pillars, large side mirrors, a flat hood, and a tall driving position make it easy to place this SUV when driving and parking. Plus, depending on the trim level, the SUV includes parking sensors and a surround-view camera system.

As far as safety is concerned, every 2020 Tiguan has standard forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic warning. Starting with SEL trim, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and lane-keeping assistance are standard.

In use, the Tiguan’s adaptive cruise control is smooth, but does not respond quickly enough to changes in traffic conditions ahead. Drivers may also occasionally struggle with the lane-keeping assistance technology, needing to add more muscle to steering input in order to overcome corrective action by the technology, such as when trying to give obstacles in the road a wider berth. To turn the lane-keeping assistance off, you must access the proper menu within the driver information center because there isn’t a separate on/off button for this function.

If a collision does occur, an automatic post-collision braking system brings the Tiguan to a stop as soon as is possible. Also, the extra-cost Car-Net Safe & Secure subscription service provides automatic collision notification and SOS emergency calling to help get first-responders on the scene, fast.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Tiguan gets a Top Safety Pick rating when equipped with its full LED headlights and adaptive curve lighting. Even without the fancy lighting, the SUV earns top scores in all crash-protection evaluations.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not tested the Tiguan for frontal-impact protection. Side-impact protection rates 5 stars, and rollover resistance rates 4 stars. There is a concern associated with side-impact testing, though. The NHTSA says the driver’s door unlatched during the test, increasing the potential for occupant ejection.

Engine/Transmission

As Tiguan owners indicate by ranking the engine and transmission quite low on their lists of their favorite things about this VW, this SUV’s powertrain represents an unfortunate choice. This is especially regretful given how otherwise enjoyable the Tiguan is to drive.

Equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, the Tiguan makes 184 horsepower and 221 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s more than a Passat family sedan, but this SUV weighs a minimum of 3,757 pounds, and that’s before you add 4Motion AWD, people, and cargo. Comparatively speaking, a loaded Passat tips the scales at 3,325 lbs.

Zippy a Tiguan is not, though riding the engine’s wave of turbocharged torque is pleasant enough. For maximum driving satisfaction, you need to put the 8-speed automatic transmission in Sport mode because in Normal mode it tends to pause before supplying a downshift when you push harder on the accelerator pedal.

Volkswagen should offer Tiguan buyers the more powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder it uses in the larger and heavier Atlas Cross Sport (235 hp/258 lb.-ft.), even if only for sporty R-Line versions. So equipped, the Tiguan would be absolutely brilliant to drive. 

As it stands, the powertrain is to the Tiguan’s driving character what a cold and gray drizzle is on the morning of a planned fun and sunny beach day. Sadly, the company has no plans to change course, either. Volkswagen has already announced that the refreshed 2022 VW Tiguan will have the same powertrain it does today.

Fuel Economy

Tiguan owners are least satisfied with this SUV’s fuel economy. My testing resulted in a 22.2-mpg average on my standard loop, running the Tiguan in Sport mode about half the time. That’s not far below from the EPA estimate of 23 mpg.

Driving Dynamics

In terms of its ride and handling qualities, the Tiguan SEL Premium R-Line is an absolute delight to drive. 

Compliant yet communicative suspension tuning, combined with excellent grip and perfectly quelled body motions, make the SEL Premium R-Line one compact SUV that you can drive hard and fast without suffering typical SUV bugaboos like driver and passenger head toss or sudden weight transfer due to a higher center of gravity. 

Moreover, the Tiguan’s driving character is consistent and predictable, making it easy to trust how the vehicle will behave in a given situation. The steering is quick and sharp and doesn’t require much in the way of mid-corner correction, and the brakes work well in all situations, too.

In the real world where you drive every day, the Tiguan is equally agreeable. Nimble, easy to park, and communicative without suffering much in the way of impact harshness and structural reverberations in spite of the test vehicle’s 20-inch wheels, this SUV is a good companion for daily driving. Plus, its suspension handles speed humps with relative ease.

With more power under the hood, the VW Tiguan would reign supreme as the best-driving compact SUV you can buy from a mainstream brand today – and even when compared to some luxury models.

Final Impressions - Find the best Volkswagen deals!

Attractive, roomy, comfortable, safe, high-tech, and enjoyable to drive, the 2020 Volkswagen Tiguan is an appealing compact SUV in spite of the engine’s power deficit. And that’s an easy fix, if Volkswagen decides to solve for it.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

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