On the Road Review: Volkswagen Tiguan SE

Consumers now can find a wealth of reporting, information and commentary about today’s auto industry. Buying a new vehicle is easier than ever due to the available data on pricing, but no less complicated than before when determining which vehicle best suits individual driving needs or taste. That is a decision only you can make — despite the marketing ploys used by automakers.

So it is with great surprise that a relative newcomer to the crossover business is apparently building one of the more interesting, and consumer-impressive, compact wagons available today. Volkswagen, one of the largest automotive brands on the planet, has finally entered the compact crossover wars with a competitive entry — and the critics are applauding the results.

The redesigned Tiguan is larger and more spacious in every dimension than the initial offering (now called Tiguan Classic and still on sale), and while it may lack some of the driving swagger of the first Touareg and Tiguan crossovers that Americans are used to, it will play very well in a segment long dominated by Ford, Toyota and Honda. Almost the same size as generation two of Chevy’s Equinox, 185 inches long, 110-inch wheelbase, the Tiguan is close to the same portly weight — tipping the scales at over two tons with the 4Motion all-wheel drive. That’s about 250-500 pounds heavier than several smaller rivals.

It’s no penalty to the VW’s ride and handling, though, as the Tiguan proved to be responsive, smooth, predictable when pushed, and hushed when hustled. The 2.0-liter turbo-four engine found in numerous VW products creates good torque here, 221 pound/feet that comes on at very low engine revs, yet the 184-hp seems modest given the excitement this engine generates in other VW designs. But that’s OK; in over 1,300 miles of very mixed driving, the Tiguan SE with its eight-speed automatic transmission returned a stellar 30 mpg, crushing the EPA estimate of 21/27 mpg. And like virtually every VW since the first GTI, this Tiguan cruises effortlessly.

From 40 feet away, the Tiguan looks more than a little like a smaller Ford Explorer. Sliding inside will make you think this is a midsize crossover instead of a compact; the front cabin is wide and open, while the rear seats offer spacious accommodations (like that Equinox) on a seat that slides fore and aft and reclines. Cargo space also is generous for this class — roomy enough that buyers can opt for a three-row, seven-passenger Tiguan for front-drive models and AWD versions.

Painted a fetching Habanero Orange, the Tiguan’s fall visit allowed it to demonstrate its subtle virtues during heavy rains, high winds and falling temperatures. The VW’s cruise control system detected the slightest bit of wheelspin through the damp roads of the White Mountains and quickly turned itself off, while the three-range seat heaters provided torso warmth as the mercury plummeted behind ominous clouds. SE trim adds an expansive touchscreen, nicely angled for intruding sunlight avoidance, while operation is simple with large icons that catch your intended finger strikes. With selectable drive modes, as well as various traction modes, the Tiguan 4Motion achieved its balance of drivability and economy in Sport mode. Drivers with a less aggressive approach to travel might prefer Eco mode and see a larger return on their fuel dollar.

Slightly more than a month ago, we had a brief exposure to a front-drive Tiguan, but not enough time to gauge its real-world fuel economy. This exposure showed us much more; crossovers achieving a 30-mpg standard make them more viable, and valuable, against the compact sedans that drivers are forsaking for additional space, comfort and versatility. The VW Tiguan hits that sweet spot.

A Tiguan S with front-wheel drive starts at around $26,000. Move up to SE for $29,980 ($31,580 with 4Motion), while an SEL starts at $33,450, and the SEL Premium begins at $37,150. Optional features range from the usual driving aids to panoramic sunroofs, power liftgates and complete navigation and audio packages.

With this Tiguan, Volkswagen now has three crossovers for sale in America — including the built-in-America full-size Atlas. It has taken far too long for VW to embrace this category, yet these recent offerings are competent products that should help restore some of the brand luster lost over the past two years.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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