Mountain Wheels: Upsized, reinvented VW Tiguan offers a polarizing experience
September 9, 2017
In Volkswagen's somewhat ambitious and ultimately dangerous mission to become the biggest car company on the planet — essentially, a journey to knock Toyota off the throne — there have been some hits and some misses. You're very familiar with their less-positive efforts.
But VW has a marginally better chance of finally cracking the ever-elusive U.S. market (besides all the fanboy kids in their GTIs and whoever it was exactly who's bought the new Passat) by getting more seriously into the explosive compact SUV market.
Thus the 2018 Tiguan, a bigger, wider and more all-around present kind of vehicle, a substantial SUV that's now scaled more along the lines of the larger, older Touareg.
In this new guise, sensually spiffed up with the Habanero Orange paint job you've seen in the ads and featured in my test vehicle, Tiguan takes a giant leap from the charming but small and often overly precise models it replaces.
You get a small SUV that's no longer small, with design that could nicely be called middlebrow — updated, edgy in spots but mostly calm overall — plus a general feel in the cabin of low-watt chic, as is the case with the entire brand. It can be ordered in two- or three-row configurations, and starts at $25,345.
All of which will probably disappoint early gen Tiguan fans, who liked their vehicle's limited scale, its well-wrought German precision and its failure to fit quite into standard CUV norms.
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The proportions of the 2018 are the big story, so here's the scoop. Overall, it's 10.6 inches longer than the model we've been used to (there's also a 2017 Tiguan Limited for sale that reflects the somewhat larger edition sold in Europe, in an effort to move all the units they can).
Cargo capacity is up 30 percent to 73.5 cubic feet with the second-row seats flattened, and the enhanced wheelbase and overall stretching produces a competitively sized automobile. You get very substantial sliding space in the second row on the two-row edition, and even with the seats up, the new capaciousness is quite striking.
All of that wide-open room is, however, dulled considerably by a generally smooth blandness that also makes the vehicle difficult to differentiate from its other bland-ish competitors, such as the Chevy Equinox — though 2018's Tiguan does remain competitive on entry-level pricing.
The wider, square-edged looks also get a little subdued by the midsection (my notes said something about "old Chrysler Pacifica crossover," which might be a little mean on my part).
Just don't come expecting a luxurious experience, as those pleasant but not mind-melting features and interior experience also seem pretty underwhelming.
Mine got supportive but unexciting cloth seating, and in typical VW style, a grey-black-silver cabin color scheme featuring only one really fun knob, Active Control — VW's rendition of the adjustable terrain response system found on other SUVs, which promised to change the vehicle dynamics for snow or off-road use. I tried its on-road mode in "sport" setting and got a little extra revving, but I expect the biggest changes are mostly felt in those winter-prep modes.
VW is touting the new Tiguan as a more dynamic experience — a challenge to do when your vehicle becomes so much larger, as was the case with the U.S.-built Passat — but the pleasant news is that it's actually a pretty fun car to drive, even if the looks don't make it the sexiest thing alive.
Tig the Big, as I took to calling it, comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder good for 184 horsepower and a helpful 221 lb.-ft. of torque, the latter being fully achievable at much lower RPMs.
I decided to overlook the suburban hauling duties the car has been reconfigured for and take my bright orange tester through some mountain roads south of Boulder, and I was quite pleasantly surprised by the results.
Here, the eight-speed automatic made the most of those sport-setting shifts and with a overall feeling of solidity in steering and suspension, I found it to handle pretty well on curves and take a fair amount of abuse.
You may notice a slightly hollow resonance to the whole affair as there's all that extra cubic feet to haul around, but maybe the nine-speaker Fender Premium audio system featured on the SEL can help fill up the noise of empty space.
Mileage was also impressive, with a 30 MPG figure achieved in mostly highway driving, higher than the EPA suggestions.
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