2018 Volkswagen Tiguan hits the target, but misses the bullseye

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(May 27, 2018) After the plus-size Atlas, the 2018 Tiguan felt like a station wagon in comparison. It’s not as tall, not as wide, not as long, nor is it as boxy as its bigger brother. It’s also, it should be noted, nowhere near as small — tiny really — as the first generation Tiguan. That vehicle felt like a Golf GTI, and had about as much interior room, making it an anomaly in the crossover market. It was close in size to today’s subcompact SUVs, but more expensive.

With the introduction of the 2018 Tiguan, VW has aimed at the center of the compact SUV market populated by the likes of the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and the top selling Nissan Rogue.

Unlike most of the competition, the Tiguan offers third row seating. It’s standard on some trim levels and optional on others, but is available across the lineup. This is not a place for adults, teens, or even most pre-teens as it is very tight on leg room. (In my notes I described it as “perfect for amputees or infants or those who like to be shoved in small spaces and seated with their tails down and feet up.”) However, there is a strong contingent of buyers for whom it is a necessity, whether real or imagined, and VW is not willing to let any potential sales slip through its fingers by not offering a third row.

The front-drive models (like the one tested) come standard with three-row seating, and a second row bench that has seven inches of fore-aft movement, as well as a 40/20/40 split. There’s an even 12 ft.3 of space behind the 50/50 split third row seats, and 33 ft.3 when you fold them down.

Pull the cargo bay releases for the second row, and cargo volume increases to 65.7 ft.3. One neat item — it’s brilliant, really — is the covered storage cubby behind the third row. Its includes an area to store the roller shade cargo cover when it’s not in use. This lets you use the shade to cover the cargo area when the third row is folded, but gives you an out of the way place to store it when it’s in use. Brilliant.

As an early build model, the car we tested did not come with Front Assist (Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Braking) or Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Traffic Alert. Had it been available at the time, it would have increased the price of the Tiguan by $850, and brought the price (with destination charge) up to $31,030.

We didn’t miss some of the nannies, though the blind spot system was missed. It has the ability to look 65 feet to each side when pulling out of a parking spot, provides visual and acoustic warnings, and will apply the brakes if a collision is imminent. A good thing to have in parking lots full of SUVs you can’t see around, driven by inattentive drivers.

While it would be nice to have the more powerful EA888 2.0-liter turbocharged four found under the hood of the Atlas, the Gen 3B version of that engine with its modified Miller-cycle (known inside VW as the Budack cycle) is no slouch. It produces 184 hp from 4,400-6,000 rpm, and 221 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,600-4,300 rpm. It was relatively easy to hit or exceed the EPA mileage ratings of 22 city/27 highway/24 combined, with 30 mpg highway within reach at a steady 70-75 mph.

The much larger Atlas, on the other hand, has similar ratings of 22/26/24, produces 235 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, but has more frontal area to push through the wind. Unlike the Tiguan, which underachieves on the EPA’s dyno, the Atlas has a harder time reaching its mileage ratings.

Surprisingly, the first impression of the Tiguan on the road was that it felt dynamically inert. Enter a corner too early and you are met with understeer and body roll, though it sticks surprisingly well. Alter your technique by carrying slightly less speed into the corner, apexing the corner later and straighter, and balancing the Tiguan on the throttle before slowly feeding in power as you unwind steering lock, and the drama goes away. It’s no GTI, but it also doesn’t put you into a coma of boredom on a winding road, though it does feel a bit anodyne.

At times, the suspension could be surprisingly harsh, especially when asked to ask it to control cornering and ride motions over rough surfaces. Much of this is due to the fact that the Tiguan is designed to carry both people and cargo, and must be able to do so safely at the maximum rating. Run it empty, however, and this capability becomes a bit of a disability. You may never notice it if you carry people and/or things most of the time, but it's not any worse than the competition in this respect when unladen.

Ergonomics are as you expect from a Volkswagen, exemplary. All the major controls are within easy reach, the steering column adjusts up/down and fore/aft, and you are seated almost directly in line with the steering wheel and pedals. The gauges are crisp and easy to read, and the control weights are nicely balanced and consistent. It’s a comfortable and nicely tailored cockpit, with a roomy second row and a third row should you need it. And for most buyers, that, and the aforementioned fuel economy, are enough.

And while this makes the Tiguan a strong competitor, it does nothing to make it stand clear of the pack. True, it checks all the boxes, has some nice features and is solid, but the chassis doesn’t feel particularly engaging. A bit more steering feel, a slightly crisper turn-in, and alterations to the springs, dampers and bushings should perk it up, and give it the personality we’ve come to expect from Volkswagen.

Do this with the appropriate exterior and interior trim under the R-Line badge, and you have a crossover able to make the neighbors jealous and that mom and dad will want to drive.

The Virtual Driver