The 2018 Tiguan is the SUV Volkswagen has desperately needed for years

Business Insider's 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 4Motion test

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Business Insider’s 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 4Motion test
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Hollis Johnson

    Volkswagen has struggled in the US market without a competitive crossover SUV. The 2018 Tiguan is VW’s chance to restore its fortunes in the US. The new Tiguan is bigger and more practical. But it’s also not nearly as fun to drive as the outgoing model. We spent a few days with the Tiguan to find out if it can challenge the industry leaders.

As car companies work to satisfy America’s almost insatiable appetite for crossover SUVs, Volkswagen has been all but left behind. While brands like Honda, Toyota, Ford, Chevrolet, and Nissan have charged ahead on the strength of their SUV sales, VW’s Tiguan and Touareg models have grossly underperformed.

For example, VW sold just 43,638 compact Tiguan crossovers in 2016. It’s a figure that pales in comparison to Ford, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. Each sold more than 300,000 compact crossovers in the US during the same period.

(Point of disclosure: I’m one of the 43,638 people that took delivery of a Tiguan last year.)

Fortunately for VW’s brand loyalists, the German auto giant has been working to revamp its entire SUV lineup in a bid to turnaround the company’s less than desirable performance in the marketplace. For 2018, a new near-full-size Atlas SUV has been added to the roster, while the pricey Touareg has been axed.

And there’s the new second-generation Tiguan. The compact crossover is now larger with room for more cargo and passengers- a major shortcoming of the car it replaces. (Oddly enough, the first gen Tiguan will remain on sale in the US as an entry-level model called the Tiguan Limited.)

Even though the second-gen Tiguan went on sale in other parts of the world last year, the US will help debut the long-wheelbase version of the crossover. The US Tiguan, which will be sold as the Tiguan Allspace in other markets, is 8.5 inches longer than the standard-wheelbase version.

But the question remains. Is it good enough to help VW make up ground in the race to sell more SUVs?

To find out, Business Insider borrowed a new 2018 Tiguan SEL Premium 4Motion in Premium Gray Metallic from Volkswagen. The base Tiguan starts at $25,345 while our top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive SEL Premium model started at $37,550. With options, our test car came to $38,950.


Based on the 5th generation Volkswagen Golf, the gen one Tiguan has been around for a decade. While VW has made subtle refinements to the crossover over the years, it remains too small and too expensive to effectively compete against newer and larger rivals like …

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Volkswagen

… The Honda CR-V and …

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Honda

… The Nissan Rogue.

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Nissan

The first thing you notice about the new Tiguan is its size. The new car is nearly a foot longer than the outgoing model.

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Hollis Johnson

The Tiguan is built on VW’s highly flexible MQB platform that also underpins …

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Hollis Johnson

…. The larger Atlas SUV and …

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Hollis Johnson

… The seventh generation Golf.

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Volkswagen

Aesthetically, the new Tiguan has been given VW’s new corporate front fascia, with rounded-out headlights and grille. Thanks to the MQB platform, the Tiguan is wider and rides lower, giving it an athletic yet refined look. With that said, ground clearance has actually improved by an inch.

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Hollis Johnson

Outback, the Tiguan gets the formulaic SUV rear end with a single-piece lifting rear hatch.

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Hollis Johnson

Inside, the Tiguan’s interior really impresses. VW’s updated interior is attractive with superb ergonomics.

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Hollis Johnson

The overall quality of the materials used is quite good, while the seats are softer and more supportive than those found in its predecessor.

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Hollis Johnson

Our test car came equipped with the optional 12.3-inch Volkswagen Digit Cockpit configurable instrument display. The system is quite intuitive and is a dialed-back version of Audi’s flashier Virtual Cockpit. Lower spec cars come standard with a traditional analog gauge cluster.

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Hollis Johnson

The center stack is dominated by an optional 8-inch touchscreen display running VW’s latest MIB II infotainment systems. Tiguan’s come standard with a 6.5-inch screen running the same system.

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Hollis Johnson

While the screen tends to smudge a bit easier than others we’ve tested, MIB II is one of our favorite systems.

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Hollis Johnson

It’s quick, responsive, and easy to learn. The screen-side buttons work well in conjunction with the on-screen menus.

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Hollis Johnson

While we can’t see it here, MIB II features full Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration.

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Hollis Johnson

The nine-speaker 480-watt Fender audio system is also terrific. It delivers rich bass and a full sound that’s perfect for jamming out to some classic rock. Which is a good thing since my colleague Matt DeBord believes the satellite radio should remain set to the classic rock stations at all times.

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Hollis Johnson

The center console features a traditional PRND shifter (THANK YOU!) rather than a joystick. There’a also a drive mode select with several on-road, as well as snow and off-road settings.

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Hollis Johnson

As a result of the extended wheelbase, the second row of the Tiguan has ample room for three adults.

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Hollis Johnson

Rearward visibility is also quite good. — something we can’t say about many modern crossover SUVs.

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Hollis Johnson

On the other hand, the third-row seat is almost pointless. It was too cramped for everyone except the smallest of children and is a $500 option on all-wheel-drive models. Oddly enough, it comes standard on front-wheel-drive Tiguans. We really only used it as a cargo divider.

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Hollis Johnson

Matt also thought it was much too small, but figured it could be useful of you suddenly had to transport an extra pair of kids.


Speaking of cargo, it’s a major improvement over the previous model. According to VW, cargo capacity up 58%. With the third row folded down, the Tiguan has 33 cubic feet of cargo room.

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Hollis Johnson

What is the Tiguan like to drive?

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Hollis Johnson

Under the hood, all US-bound Tiguans are powered by an updated version of VW’s venerable E888 2.0-liter, turbocharged, inline-four-cylinder engine. The motor has been updated to improve efficiency and torque delivery. In addition, the old Tiguan’s 6-speed automatic has been replaced by a new 8-speed unit.

However, the overall output of the engine is down 16 horsepower to just 184 – all while it’s gained more than 200 pounds in weight.

Even though peak power and torque are more accessible than the gen-one Tiguan, the new car lacks the pep and enthusiasm of the outgoing model. According to Car and Driver, the sprint to 60 mph takes a leisurely 9.1 seconds. Not good, considering the old car could do it in around 8 seconds.

For me, the Tiguan driving experience was solid, but not spectacular. The steering was responsive albeit a bit numb (common for crossovers) while the ride was compliant and comfortable. On the highway, the Tiguan’s lack of power is apparent. The engine and transmission combo feel overwhelmed and winded during high-speed passing maneuvers. The Tiguan will summon up some power and speed, but there is a delay and you will have to put the transmission into sport mode.

Matt DeBord also complained of some roughness in the drivetrain and juddering at low-speeds. However, I couldn’t replicate those symptoms on our test car.

These are all issues that, we believe, can be solved with a more powerful version of the E888 engine. The 235 horsepower unit found in the entry-level Atlas should do the trick.

One major area of improvement is fuel economy. The old Tiguan’s fuel economy was appallingly poor for a four-cylinder compact crossover.

My personal vehicle routinely struggles to reach the 19 mpg mark. Loaded with people, groceries, and a large cache of apples fresh from a trip to the orchard, our all-wheel-drive test car managed to return about 24 mpg in mixed city and highway driving. Further, a front-wheel-drive Tiguan we tested earlier this year managed to deliver a stellar 31 mpg on the highway.


Our verdict:

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Hollis Johnson

In baseball terms, the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan isn’t a grand slam, but it is a bases-clearing triple. So, almost as good.

With more room, more features, better fuel economy, and more competitive pricing, VW has gone a long way in fixing the previous Tiguan’s many shortcomings.

However, the old Tiguan is a heck of a lot more fun to drive.

While it has lost some of its driving verve, the new Tiguan more than makes up for it with a level of everyday practicality its predecessor couldn’t approach. In many ways, it shows that VW understands the needs and wants of the crossover buyer.

Utility, comfort, and style outweigh driving dynamics. After all, VW will gladly sell those who need cargo room, ground clearance, and driving fun a new Golf Alltrack wagon.

With the Tiguan, Volkswagen’s SUV revolution is in full swing. The new car should be the brand’s volume leader for SUVs this year. But with the way the market is trending these days, if VW steadily improves the Tiguan over time, it could very well become its overall top seller.

Thus, the 2018 Tiguan gives Volkswagen the crossover it has desperately needed for years. For the first time in recent memory, VW is properly equipped to do battle in the most competitive segment of US auto market. Should Honda, Toyota, GM, Ford, and Nissan be worried? Only time will tell, but things are looking good for Volkswagen.