2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium 4Motion Review – Perky and Peppy Gives Way to Mellow and Mature

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium 4Motion

2.0-liter DOHC inline-four (184 horsepower @ 4,400 rpm; 221 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm)

Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

21 city / 27 highway / 23 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

11.3 city / 8.8 highway / 10.2 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

25.9 mpg [9.1 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $26,245 (U.S) / $30,820 (Canada)

As Tested: $38,745 (U.S.) / $42,540 (Canada)

Prices include $900 destination charge in the United States and $1,895 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

It took Volkswagen forever. But finally, in 2008, more than a decade after the compact SUV craze began, the first-generation Tiguan landed on U.S. shores. The Tiguan was more premium-priced than it deserved to be and smaller than it needed to be, but with a potent powerplant and fun-loving on-road behavior, those who could afford it and fit in it were happy.

It took Volkswagen forever. But finally, in the summer of 2017, nearly a decade after the first Tiguan arrived and eventually watched the release of two new Honda CR-Vs, two new Hyundai Tucsons, countless rival redesigns, and a bevy of new competitors, the second-generation Tiguan landed on U.S. shores.

The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is now competitively priced. It’s properly sized — marginally larger than many rivals rather than distinctly smaller. This time, however, because of extra weight and an intransigent powertrain, the Tiguan doesn’t feel quite so punchy off the line. And in place of a dynamic repertoire vaguely reminiscent of an Mk5 Golf GTI — lively steering, quick turn-in, grippy cornering — the 2018 Tiguan is comfort-focused, keen on absorbing and mollifying and coddling.

Bigger, more comfortable, and arguably more attractive? The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan finally sounds like a Tiguan American crossover buyers might actually want.

They certainly didn’t want the first Tiguan. Blessed by price reductions, a renewed focus on models that weren’t previously sold with outlawed TDI diesels, and a rising pro-SUV tide, Tiguan sales peaked in the U.S. at only 43,638 units in 2016, the final year of its nine-year run. Even then, Volkswagen represented just a drop in the bucket by claiming less than 2 percent market share in America’s small SUV/crossover segment.Size Matters

For a company with lofty sales goals — cast aside by a diesel emissions crisis — failure to adequately compete in one of the biggest new vehicle segments is unacceptable. So the second-gen Tiguan is more than 10 inches longer than the undersized first Tiguan. In fact, at 185.1 inches long, the Tiguan stretches 7 inches past the bumper of the Ford Escape, 5 inches farther than the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, and 3 inches beyond the Nissan Rogue.

By no means does the Tiguan feel vast. It’s still half a foot shorter, bumper to bumper, than the Volkswagen Passat. But the newfound length pays huge dividends in the second row, which has a broad range of fore/aft motion and presents loads of legroom. Three across? It’ll be tight — there’s a tall center hump and only 56 inches of shoulder room — but that’s not abnormal for the class.

Out back, too, the Tiguan is now a capable hauler of cargo. The previous model’s 24 cubic feet of storage was laughable. The 2018 Tiguan competes well against the CR-V (39 cubic feet) with a squared-off 38-cubic-foot storage area.Sound Matters

With an attractive and up-to-date MIB II infotainment unit, a suite of available safety systems, a smooth start-stop system, and an optional panoramic sunroof, the 2018 Tiguan also competes with a modern array of equipment. Far from outdated, the second-gen Tiguan, at least in this top grade example, does a capable job of feeling more premium than its counterparts.

Material quality helps. So does the integration of the 8-inch touchscreen. The Audi-like customizable digital display shames the utilitarian gauge clusters of mainstream compacts. The entirely muffled wind noise and generally hushed tire hum lend an air of luxury to the proceedings, as well.

Granted, the refined silence serves to highlight some unpleasant sounds. The front door panels and B-pillar covers periodically squeaked and moaned in unison, sometimes throughout long drives. There were still only 1,300 miles on this Habanero Orange Volkswagen Canada-supplied press car when it finished its tour at TTAC’s Prince Edward Island bureau.Style Matters

Beauty remains forever in the eye of the beholder, but surely it’s safe to say the first-gen Tiguan’s awkward proportions, while masked by pleasant styling elements, have been replaced by a more conventionally handsome vehicle. Admittedly, the 2018 Tiguan does a poor job in photos of revealing its cohesive design. But from the moment this new Tiguan set wheel on my driveway, I was struck by how well the uncluttered scheme appeared in summer light.

Or maybe it was just the color, the lone premium shade on the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan. It’s a $295 option, a classy blend of red and orange that fortunately does not appear burnt.

The new Tiguan isn’t a looker; it’s not the Range Rover Velar of mainstream compact crossovers. But it’s inoffensive without being painfully dull, and the exterior design bolsters the case for Tiguan normalization.

Spirit Matters

Normalization is certainly what occurred underneath the 2018 Tiguan’s body. The assumption that Volkswagen would build upon the first Tiguan’s main claim to fame — a fun-to-drive nature — with the second model was entirely incorrect. Alter drive modes with a console-mounted rotary dial all you like, switch from Eco to Sport, tailor the Custom menu. It won’t matter: the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is not the Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape rival you expected.

Maybe, just maybe, that’s a good thing. After all, it’s not as though the Tiguan turned into a pot of overcooked spaghetti. There’s still a stiff structure and generally composed behavior. And hustling down, say, County Line Road, at a brisk pace is a breeze. The 2018 Tiguan absorbs brutal pavement with ease, remaining entirely unflustered by poorly patched pavement. Tracking straight and true on the highway in a relatively muted environment with light-effort steering and just enough power for mandatory overtakes? That’s the new Tiguan in its prime.But the 2018 Tiguan prefers to complete these tasks at a slightly slower pace. Fully loaded, the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan Premium SEL weighs around 300 pounds more than a full-spec 2017 Tiguan, according to Car And Driver’s scales.

With a minor horsepower loss and a modest amount of extra torque, the new Budack-cycle 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is unfavorably linked to an eight-speed automatic. There’s turbo lag on the one hand, a transmission that slurs early shifts on the other. The long-travel throttle pedal requires a vigorous right foot, yet the 2.0T’s unpleasant noises discourage your heavy-hoofed approach. You know the 2018 Tiguan isn’t slow; you’ve made use of the mid-range torque when a tractor refused to move over to the shoulder. But in many circumstances, whether the Tiguan is slow on paper or not, it’s decidedly underwhelming in practice.Savings Matter

The unresponsive 2.0T/eight-speed combo doesn’t counteract its lackadaisical approach with unparalleled fuel economy, either. Though thankfully unencumbered by the 2017 Tiguan’s premium fuel recommendation, the 2018 Tiguan 4Motion is rated at a mere 23 miles per gallon combined.

With a 1.5-liter turbo, the Honda CR-V AWD hits 29 mpg combined. The Nissan Rogue AWD is rated at 27 mpg. The Ford Escape does Tiguan-like mileage, but that’s with its hi-po 2.0-liter turbo generating 33-percent more horsepower and 24-percent more torque than the Tiguan’s 2.0T. In mostly rural driving at highway-aping speeds, our 2018 Tiguan tester managed 26 mpg, not quite as good as the CR-V’s city rating.

But the case for the Tiguan, as with any vehicle, isn’t just a simple economic argument. It doesn’t boil down to dollars and cents. The 2018 Tiguan is ze Deutschland entry, albeit the Mexican-made one. It offers a $500 third row (that’s standard on front-wheel-drive models.) Particularly with orange paint, it stands out in a sea of CR-Vs, Rogues, RAV4s, and Escapes — four vehicles that collectively generate 2.5 more U.S. sales in a typical month than the Tiguan does all year long.

Nah, the argument for Tiguan exceptionalism is too difficult to make. The all-new, second-generation, 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is nothing like the unique offering its predecessor was. Far more suited to the mainstream now, the Tiguan has nevertheless lost its primary claim to fame, and it now must compete — whether as a $38,745 example such as ours, or a $26,245 base model, or as a more appetizing $31,280 mid-grade SE 4Motion — smack in the middle of the mainstream compact crossover arena.

The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is sufficiently competitive to earn consideration, but not competitive enough to cause concern among the segment standard-bearers.

[Images: © Timothy Cain]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.


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