Road Test: VW Tiguan a nice drive but lacking stand-out appeal

This hatchback-SUV crossover comes as a smooth, efficient drive, but where is the fun?

Make: Volkswagen

Model: Tiguan SUV

Year: 2016

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: June 23, 2016

Wed, Jun 29, 2016, 01:00

   

Now is not the time to be a sacred cow in Wolfsburg. The Volkswagen chief executive, Matthias Muller, has promised he will not spare the “sacred cows” in his plan to turn around the car giant.

We are about to see the dawn of a new Volkswagen Group. A new strategy was laid out in recent weeks, powered by plug-ins, on-demand ride service in keeping with the cuddly sharing economy buzz, and a host of less cuddly job cuts.

Not even the blessed cattle are safe. In the midst of such a massive upheaval one has to wonder what the boardroom butchers will make of the Tiguan range. If one is to take it that models such as the Golf and Passat are regarded as part of the holy herd, isn’t this mild-mannered mid-range crossover really a mere mortal?

Needless to say at this stage crossovers are all the rage, with Hyundai Tucson the best-selling car in Ireland and families across Europe turning their backs on hatchbacks and people carriers in favour of these mock SUVs.

Understandably people like the higher seating position, that feeling of ruggedness adding to the perception of safety – if not the reality – and the better styling compared to boxy high-roofed people carriers.

This, therefore, should push the Tiguan into the VW pantheon. Yet I sense that Volkswagen has never really put in its best effort to its crossover, perhaps hoping to protect sales of the prized Golf.

With this latest iteration, there’s no question the Tiguan has upped its game. The fit and finish are vastly improved, the technology on board is brought up to date with the latest on the market, including features only recently introduced on models from its premium sister brand Audi.

The Tiguan, for example, is offered with a very smart digital central console – Active Info Display – that’s the same as Audi’s award-winning virtual cockpit. The system is standard on the top-level Highline specification.

The styling takes its cue from the larger Touareg, though it is in no way as dramatic. Overall, despite some nice detailing on the light clusters, the look is quite conservative unless you dress it up with sharp alloys and opt for a louder colour. I expect most Irish buyers will opt for silver and more sedate wheels than those which were fitted to the test car.

Value for money

The Tiguan marks the continuing efforts by Volkswagen to push closer to the premium brands. It makes the Tiguan remarkably competitive when you consider the price tag starting at €30,000 for the petrol variant and €34,000 for diesel.

Our test car was the Highline version, with VW’s new 2-litre diesel in 150bhp format. It has a nice long torque range and engine noise is well dampened.

It is not a performance vehicle by any measure, though it cruises comfortably and, when married with the twin-clutch DSG automatic transmission, delivers respectable fuel economy figures.

Officially it should manage 50mpg (5.6l/100km). We came relatively close to that on motorway journeys, though our fuel figures took a hit when we took the Tiguan onto the back roads.

While the 1.4-litre petrol is offered as the entry model you’d need to consider this long and hard, as the market for used petrol crossovers is pretty small. It’s really a teaser car, allowing the marketing department to advertise the Tiguan with prices from €30,000. I suspect buyers of this version will be thin on the ground.

Our test car featured VW’s 4 motion four-wheel drive but this adds the guts of €3,000 to the price tag and frankly it’s engineering that most buyers won’t need. Money would be better spent in opting for regular front-wheel drive and moving up from mid-range Comfortline to top-level Highline, which works out at roughly the same price.

Tight handling

The beauty of the Tiguan is actually in its handling. At the initial international launch event, the test route was over sedate suburban roads and we never got a chance to test this. On regular Irish roads, however, the crossover really handles like a hatchback. It corners sharply and there’s little body roll, despite its added height.

The positives are clearly the extra practicality and the good looks. The boot is bigger than that of arch-rival Nissan Qashqai, particularly when you slide the rear seats forward. The front passenger seat can be folded down as well, giving you plenty of space for an Ikea run. In terms of legroom, the fact that the rear seats slide means that in most instances you can cater for taller adults as well.

If we were to choose from the range on offer we’d opt for the manual 2-litre diesel in Highline for €36,015. The twin-clutch DSG automatic is nice, but doesn’t justify the €1,700 extra spend.

In terms of competitors, the list of rivals is long and comprehensive. The VW badge certainly helps, and the pricing is in line with the market, although smaller engined Nissan Qashqais and Renault Kadjars are cheaper.

For sure the Tiguan is accomplished: it feels strong and well-built, and there is a definite sense that it’s a viable rival for full-premium entrants from BMW or sister brand Audi. Like the Golf, the Tiguan is a cut above its mainstream rivals. It is clinical and precise, comfortable and poised. Yet it is lacking in fun. The Golf possesses all the positives mentioned, but it also has a boot full of character.

VW promises other iterations of the Tiguan will be added to the crossover range, including more sporty, coupe-crossover formats. Perhaps they will offer the missing ingredient to spice up VW’s crossover mix. That should be enough to see it survive the cull of sacred cows. Lowdown: VW Tiguan

Engine: 2-litre diesel 150bhp. Six-speed manual or twin-clutch DSG automatic

Specification: Entry-level Trendline includes leather steering wheel; 17-inch alloys; LED rear lights; 5-inch colour radio system with Bluetooth and USB; air-con; rain sensor; land departure warning system. Comfortline offers multifunctional steering wheel; lumbar support front seats; 6.5-inch media touchscreen system; ParkPilot reversing sensor system; fatigue detection system; 3-zone air-con. Highline adds: heated seats; 18-inch alloys; LED headlights; VW’s Active Info Display; Park Assist including rearview camera; hill descent control

Price: €33,765 for 2-litre diesel manual Comfortline (€41,015 as tested in Highline auto 4Motion)