Car reviews - Volkswagen - Tiguan - range
Refinement, safety, space, airiness, quality, performance, practicality, handling, ride, vision, sheer choice
Room for improvement
Conservative styling, dreary dash, price rises, firm ride on 20” wheels in Sport, very little else
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21 Sep 2016
A YEAR almost to the day after the so-called Dieselgate emissions-cheating scandal nearly destroyed Volkswagen, one of the world’s biggest car-makers has released what it believes is the second-most important product line it will offer after the Golf in Australia.
But, rather generically staid styling apart, don’t go thinking that the all-new second-generation Tiguan is some sort of automotive atonement to appease the vast band of VW brand detractors still baying for blood.
No. No way. From the segment-busting standard safety spec like AEB and Lane Assist to the brave (or foolish) price rises that have been necessary to accommodate these and other advancements associated with a larger, cleaner and more dynamic model, the new Tiguan is a fierce representation of a beleaguered brand in full fight-back mode.
Of course, almost all of the decisions pertaining to the improved design, driveability, safety, and specification of the AD-series Tiguan were made months and years before the shocking scandal hit, and one might philosophise that at least a portion of the proceeds garnered from cheating has resulted in a better car for all, but the reality is that, right now, if you want the best medium SUV on the market, you must at the very least consider this great new Volkswagen.
Let’s begin with the design. Yep, it’s more matronly than the mannish tuck shop lady abruptly serving every primary school ever, but the upshot of a boxy silhouette and deep glass area is a spacious and airy interior that is immediately inviting and pleasingly easy to see out of. Think of when you were a kid in the back seat, peering over the doorsill with the window wound all the way down. In the latest Tiguan, this is once again possible. In a Hyundai Tucson or Mazda CX-5, it is most certainly not.
That the base 110TSI Trendline’s interior architecture is disappointingly derivative in the contemporary Volkswagen way is no bad thing really, actually, since this company’s dashboards are often a paragon of clarity, function, and quality. This one is no exception either, offering ample ventilation, comprehensive instrumentation and a commanding sense of control. And we challenge both the shortest and tallest drivers out there not to find an easy and accommodating seating position. Smart textures, tactile surfaces, and slick switchgear are further typical cabin brand fixtures created to surprise and delight.
One of the areas where the old Tiguan faltered compared to the larger and fresher rival medium SUV alternatives like the Ford Kuga was in rear-seat space – something the newcomer now has licked.
Loads more head, leg, and shoulder-room, on firm but supportive cushions and backrests that both slide and recline, means that this can truly be classed as a family car that adults can lounge out back in, backed up by face-level air flow, cupholders, storage, and other helpful amenities (though the tacky airline style seatback trays cheapen the ambience). And at last there is a low and wide cargo area with way more luggage capacity than before for families to use.
Yet it is what’s been engineered up front that is likely to leave a really lasting impression, especially compared to the alternatives out there.
For a small-capacity 1.4-litre four-pot petrol turbo and six-speed dual-clutch transmission, the 110TSI’s performance is both spirited and smooth, even occasionally chirping the front wheels as it sprints off the line. Tipping the scales at about 70kg less than an equivalent Toyota RAV4, the Volkswagen is super quiet on the move, light and agile through corners, and sufficiently (though not outstandingly) supple in the way it soaks up bumps on the standard 17-inch wheel and tyre package. Far from being the runt of the litter, the base Trendline proved to be one of the sweetest. There is hardly anything to criticise. And nothing at all missing from the spec either.
The same applies to the expected best-seller, the 132TSI, which ushers in usefully more torque from a 2.0-litre turbo, as well as reassuringly greater traction thanks to standard all-wheel drive (4Motion in VW-speak).
Much the same applies in terms of its driving characteristics, but we were also happy to be able to drift the tail a little through fast damp corners, revealing a playfulness that we just weren’t expecting from a medium SUV. The nicely weighted and progressive steering that is talkative enough to keep the keen driver entertained is something that we just weren’t prepared for.
The heavier turbo-diesels were less revelatory, with both the 110TDI and 140TDI feeling a bit tardy off the line, before the torrent of torque swept through to sweep the Tiguan along at a heady rate of knots. The Germans seem to have engineered mechanical noise intrusion right out of the cabin in these cars, though they can’t quite overcome the slight nose heaviness that also come with the TDIs. For covering ground quickly few medium SUVs can match the diesels, but the TSI petrol models are livelier underfoot in almost all conditions.
The overriding feeling is that Volkswagen has applied its learnings from the award-winning current-generation Golf with ambitious and dazzling effect, cherry picking the strong bits like dynamic prowess, superb refinement and bank-vault build quality, to end up with a medium SUV that feels and behaves more like a (premium) car.
So while it is expensive compared to most mainstream rivals, the latest Tiguan is by no means dubious value – quite the opposite, in fact, when you realise that it concedes virtually nothing to luxury brand alternatives in terms of safety, technology, comfort, and features.
Beyond the subjective stuff like styling, actual faults are few. Even the at-times choppy ride on the 140TDI Highline R-Line with 20-inch tyres can be mitigated by a push of a button to switch the adaptive dampers into comfort mode. Every medium-sized SUV alternative from Kia to Audi is on notice.
Volkswagen may still be in the wars, but on the strength of all the achievements displayed by the latest Tiguan, the German giant deserves to fight its way back to redemption. Certainly it is a win for medium SUV buyers across all brands and classes.
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