American-sizing brings mostly blessings, and a couple of notable curses.

– Denver, Colorado

There was a time when pretty much every compact SUV was defined by its weirdness. The Toyota RAV4 started life as a sneaker-shaped three-door with some metal sunroofs. Early Honda CR-Vs were best remembered for the picnic table in the cargo area. The Saturn Vue was odd because, well, it was a Saturn.

A decade ago, the Volkswagen Tiguan was a compact SUV launched partly to address that the Touareg was too expensive and unpronounceable for mainstream success. Still, the Tiguan had a bizarre name, was small even for a compact SUV, and only available with a 2.0-liter turbo four from the GTI. Adding desirable options made it very expensive very quickly.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: First Drive
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: First Drive

VW cannot rest on any of its successes in the U.S. these days, so the 2018 Tiguan has been made specifically with Americans in mind – no quirks allowed.

Thanks to a round of fuel-economy improvements and price cuts over the years, the aging Tiguan managed a record sales year in the U.S. in 2016, undoubtedly helped by Americans’ love affair with all things SUV. But VW cannot rest on any of its successes in the U.S. these days, so the 2018 Tiguan has been made specifically with Americans in mind – no quirks allowed.

There’s been a second-generation Tiguan on sale in Europe for about a year now, hailing from Wolfsburg, Germany. But the model destined for U.S. showrooms at the end of July is built in Puebla, Mexico, enlarged predominantly for North America and China. This big Tig will also be sold in European markets as the Tiguan Allspace, sourced from Mexico.

The additional 8.9 inches of length over the short-wheelbase, Euro-spec version makes the U.S.-bound Tiguan a relative giant among “compact” crossovers. It’s five inches longer than the Honda CR-V, 6.4 inches longer than the Ford Escape. And it’s a full 11 inches longer than its predecessor, which actually sticks around for 2018 as the Tiguan Limited. Of course, at 4,100 pounds fully loaded, the Tiguan is also one of the heaviest vehicles in its class.

All of the size allows for what is supposed to be the Tiguan’s standout feature: a third-row seat. It’s standard on all front-wheel-drive models and a $500 option on versions equipped with 4Motion all-wheel drive. This makes the base Tiguan S one of the least-expensive vehicles in the U.S. with seven seats.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: First Drive
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: First Drive

The Tiguan is one of the least-expensive vehicles in the U.S. that has seven seats.

That said, the size and comfort of these “seats” recalls that time adult-sized me thought it was a good idea to get in the rear-facing seats of a friend’s Volvo 850 wagon. All 5-foot-10-inches of me technically fit with the second-row slid back in its normal position, but most American adults will think the accommodations are a sick joke. (Forget about a graceful entrance or exit.) Parents who forever find themselves bringing home extra kids after soccer practice, however, may find use for the small third row.

You’re also left with just 12 cubic feet of space behind that third row, but fold it down and there’s a useful 33 cubic feet behind what’s actually a very spacious and comfortable second row. Tiguans offer 73.5 cubic feet when all the rear seats are folded. All versions get a useful 40/20/40 split second-row bench, too, increasing the number of people-versus-cargo combinations.

There are some less-than-posh plastics throughout the interior, though most of them feel more serviceable than cheap. It’s up front where the Tiguan makes you forget about many of VW’s past interior sins. The window and climate buttons are substantial, the seats are properly supportive, and even the infotainment screen (SE grade and higher) is sharp and clear. The door pockets are lined with the same fabric you get on a Golf – and don’t get on a $50,000, Tennessee-built Atlas.

Shared with the Atlas, however, is the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit that comes only on top SEL Premium models. It puts a 12.3-inch TFT display in place of the easy-to-read conventional gauges, but has a nice resolution reminiscent of the similar Audi Virtual Cockpit. It’s also a unique selling point for the Tiguan – no other compact SUV offers this.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: First Drive
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: First Drive

The lackluster power delivery is a real shame, because elsewhere, the Tiguan is clearly one of the more engaging vehicles in this class.

Another significant new feature is found under the hood. VW is using the new Tiguan to launch a revised version of its ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four, soon destined for use in a number of its mainstream models. Executive editor Seyth Miersma drove it last month – read his brief impressions here – but the important figures are 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque.

In theory, performance should be good with those class-competitive numbers, even if there are 16 fewer horsepower than the old Tiguan. But 14 lb-ft more torque available from a paltry 1,600 rpm up to 4,300 sounds like it should compensate for that. Put your right foot down, however, and there’s a disconcerting pause before much happens. Push the pedal further and more noise happens, less in the way of movement. Further conspiring against the engine is the eight-speed automatic transmission and its fondness for higher gears, requiring at least two downshifts to prompt the engine to deliver proper passing power. Shoving the gear lever into Sport or moving it to the right and shifting manually doesn’t entirely resolve the problem. There are worse offenders than this Tiguan, but any exuberance from the old one is absent.

Because of the aforementioned heft, fuel economy ratings fall to the back of the pack: 22 miles per gallon city, 27 highway for front-drive models, and 21/27 for all-wheel-drive versions. Compare that to the CR-V at 27/34 mpg; even a 250-hp Subaru Forester XT pulls in 23/27.

All Tiguans get Eco, Normal, and Sport driving modes that can also be customized by the driver. But all-wheel-drive versions get the Active Control knob that offers an additional four modes depending on the road surface. Power normally goes to the front wheels at all times until wheel slip is detected and power shifted to the rear. An Off-road Mode alters other settings such as traction control to increase drivability on snow, ice, or gravel, for example.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: First Drive
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: First Drive

U.S. car shoppers continue to leave sedans for compact SUVs, but the Jetta still outsold the Tiguan last year nearly three to one, so there’s a lot of ground to be made up.

The lackluster power delivery is a real shame, because elsewhere, the Tiguan is clearly one of the more engaging vehicles in this class. Sport mode adds more steering effort, but even in Normal, the feel is noticeably more communicative than most in the class. Body roll and vomit-inducing motions are also kept to a minimum, yet the ride is smooth and fuss-free.

Pricing starts at $26,245 for a front-wheel-drive, seven-seat Tiguan S – including a $900 destination charge – and will eventually rise to $40,495 for a seven-passenger SEL 4Motion with the late-availability R-Line package. All models get LED taillights, a backup camera, and support for Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink. Popular SE models add a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and dual-zone automatic climate control, while driver assistance features such as automatic emergency braking are optional. SEL and SEL Premium get that safety tech as standard.

Like the recently released 2018 Atlas, VW is making a big play for owner confidence with a six-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty to bring back those who may have been burned by the company’s past products.

VW officials are notoriously tight-lipped about sales projections, but one gave the impression the company could rest easy in the States if the new Tiguan’s sales were able to approach the Jetta’s, long its best-selling model here. U.S. car shoppers continue to leave sedans (like the Jetta and Passat) for compact SUVs, but the Jetta still outsold the Tiguan last year nearly three to one, so there’s a lot of ground to be made up.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: First Drive
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: First Drive

That’s where the new Tiguan’s case gets murkier.

While the old iteration carved a small niche as a sporty and quirky vehicle, the 2018 Tiguan gives it all that up to be buttoned-down, practical, and decent value – just like an CX-5, Equinox, Sportage, Tucson, and so many others. How will VW get a Forester owner to stop loving Subaru? For all of its quiet competencies, little about the new Tiguan grabs attention – there’s no must-have factor here.

Despite that, the case is still strong for the 2018 Tiguan. The VW is spacious and sophisticated, even in the $30,000 guise most will go for, and offers a better seven-seat option than its rivals. Its power and efficiency deficits weigh on it noticeably, but the Tiguan can confidently line up with the best of its rivals.

It’s just too bad “CR-V” is easier to pronounce.

 

Photos: Zac Estrada / Motor1.com; Volkswagen USA

2018 VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN SE FWD

Engine Turbocharged 2.0-Liter I4
Output 184 Horsepower / 221 Pound-Feet
Transmission 8-Speed Automatic
Fuel Economy 22 City / 27 Highway / 24 Combined
Drive Type Front-Wheel Drive
Weight 3,885 Pounds
Towing 1,500 Pounds
Seating Capacity 7
Cargo Volume 12.0 / 33.0 / 73.5 Cubic Feet
Base Price $26,245
As-Tested Price $29,090

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