If you build it, they will come. It's a simple concept (and just a slight misquote from Field of Dreams) embodied in the first iteration of the Volkswagen Tiguan. When it debuted for the 2009 model year, most major automakers were already producing at least one vehicle in the compact crossover segment. Not only was the Tiguan late to the party, it had a difficult-to-pronounce name, and its luxury-lite cabin and brawny turbocharged engine made it significantly more expensive than rivals.
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan First Drive
Slightly Bigger and Significantly Improved
Volkswagen is hitting the reset button with the fully redesigned second-generation 2018 Tiguan. Based on the same platform that underpins everything from the compact Golf hatchback to the full-size Atlas, the Tiguan is more than 10 inches longer than its predecessor. Not only does this solve the complaints about tight rear legroom and cargo space that plagued the outgoing model, it also allows for a third row of seating. Fuel economy is also improved thanks to an eight-speed automatic transmission and an updated version of the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine. Volkswagen seems to have nailed the price point, too; the Tiguan begins at $26,245, right in line with the rest of the class.
Makes a Good First Impression, Inside and Out
From the outside, the new Tiguan has a blocky, muscular design that closely mimics the Atlas'. The similarities continue inside, as the central touchscreen, climate controls, steering wheel and instrument panel all seem to be lifted from the larger crossover. Top-notch materials quality is evident throughout, with luxuries such as faux leather door inserts and a leather-wrapped steering wheel available on upper trims. Overall, the cabin feels more upscale than most in this segment, but it's not as jaw-droppingly handsome as the Mazda CX-5's.
The driver seat offers a wide range of adjustments, and the front passenger seat is height-adjustable even in the base trim. Tall passengers will appreciate the abundance of legroom in the first and second rows, and the panoramic sunroof doesn't encroach upon the substantial amount of headroom. On the downside, the third row is a tight fit for anyone larger than a child.
The cloth upholstery on the base trim is more durable than supremely comfortable, but the cushioning felt supportive during an hourlong drive. You'll find faux leather upholstery in the middle two trims, with real leather reserved for the top trim. It's undoubtedly more attractive and luxurious, but we found it didn't breathe as well as the cloth or faux leather on a hot summer day.
Cargo space hovers between average and good for the class, depending on which seating configuration you get (a third row is standard on front-drive Tiguans and a $500 option on all-wheel-drive models). Volume behind the third row is 12 cubic feet, which is slightly more than the Nissan Rogue. On two-row models, cargo volume behind the rear seats measures 37.6 cubic feet, which is better than most vehicles in this segment. However, storage shrinks to 33 cubes on three-row models. You'll find the same reduction in maximum cargo capacity. In two-row versions, you have 73.5 cubic feet to work worth, while three-row models have 65.7 cubes. The seats create a nearly flat floor when folded.
Taking it for a Test Drive
Many vehicles in the compact crossover segment offer the choice between a budget-friendly, fuel-efficient base motor and a more raucous unit producing far more power. The Tiguan makes do with just one engine that attempts to walk the line between economy and performance. It's a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, which is slightly less power and a little more torque than last year. The previous six-speed automatic transmission has been swapped out for an eight-speed automatic. The changes give the Tiguan a 2-3 mpg boost across the board, with EPA estimates coming in at 24 mpg combined (22 city/27 highway). Unfortunately, these estimates put the Tiguan near the bottom of the pack in terms of fuel efficiency for both standard and upgraded engines.
On the road, the turbo-four feels punchy when you put your foot down at speed. The transmission keeps the engine churning at low engine speeds while cruising and is reasonably quick to downshift when you ask for a little more. Taking off from a stop is frustrating, though; the car exhibits a delayed response when you jump from the brake pedal to accelerator. The delay is pronounced enough that you'll have to alter your driving habits and look for larger gaps in traffic when turning onto perpendicular streets.
Compact crossovers generally don't provide much fun when tackling serpentine mountain roads, and the Tiguan isn't any different. It feels a little more buttoned-down than some of the other soft-roaders, but don't look for a sporty driving experience here. If your typical commute doesn't involve multiple twists and turns, you'll likely enjoy the quiet, comfortable ride. We recommend against larger wheels for city dwellers; the 19-inch wheels on our SEL Premium test car produced a sharp, heavy impact when we ran over sunken manhole covers. The 17-inchers on a Tiguan S model proved much more forgiving in the same circumstances.
A Thoroughly High-Tech Crossover
Two key components of the redesigned Tiguan are a revised technology interface and the addition of advanced safety equipment. The base S model comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen with a single USB port, while all other trims are equipped with an 8-inch screen and three ports (along with HD and satellite radio). The interface itself is intuitive and similar to the one used in last year's Tiguan, though the system has been upgraded for faster response times. Both displays come with smartphone integration via Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink. A virtual instrument panel called the Digital Cockpit is new and only available on the top trim level. It replaces the physical gauges and dials with a crystal-clear, full digital display that gives a high-tech feel to the Tiguan's cabin.
As a result of the previous Tiguan's old age, there were no advanced safety features outside of a rearview camera. In contrast, the new version is available with nearly every driver assistance option you would expect in this price range. Every Tiguan comes with a back-up camera and a system that automatically applies the brakes following an impact to prevent secondary collisions. Forward collision warning with emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring are available on the base model and standard on all others. Front and rear parking sensors are also offered, while lane departure warning and mitigation, a 360-degree camera, and automatic high-beam control are all reserved for the top trim level.
The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan starts at $26,245 for front-drive models and $27,545 when equipped with 4Motion all-wheel drive. That might seem high for the class, but it's about the same as a comparable Chevrolet Equinox and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and its engine is more powerful than what you'll find in base-level versions of competitors such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue.
The Tiguan comes in four trims: S, SE, SEL and SEL Premium. The base S comes with automatic headlights, heated mirrors, roof rails, a rearview camera, a six-speaker sound system and the aforementioned the 6.5-inch touchscreen. You can add a Driver Assistance package for $850, which adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and forward collision warning and mitigation. Those are both included when you step up to the SE trim ($29,980), along with keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, simulated leather upholstery, heated front seats and the 8-inch screen. A panoramic sunroof is available for $1,200, which is standard on the next level SEL ($33,450), as well as a power liftgate, navigation and adaptive cruise control. At the top of the ladder is the SEL Premium ($37,150), equipped with LED headlights, automatic wipers, a hands-free liftgate, the Digital Cockpit, a Fender premium audio system and the safety systems mentioned above. An R-Line package will be offered later in the model year for SEL and SEL Premium models; it adds larger wheels and more exterior styling elements.
Models with the 8-inch touchscreen also have access to Volkswagen's Car-Net services suite, which includes, among other things, remote access to the vehicle through a smartphone app, automatic crash notification, Family Guardian monitoring services, and the ability to send a destination to the car's onboard navigation system. A six-month trial of this suite is included, with subscriptions offered thereafter.
The Bottom Line
If you're looking for the ultimate blend of performance and fuel economy in a compact crossover, the new Tiguan falls a little short. But if you're willing to give up a little fuel efficiency or outright horsepower, the Tiguan does offer a comfortable ride, quiet and roomy cabin, high-tech creature comforts, an abundance of desirable safety features and an attractive price. And don't forget about that optional third row of seats. It's not spacious, but it'll come in handy when you need a couple extra spots for carpool duty.