Losing its mojo in the quest for American mass appeal.
– Los Angeles, California
Remember the first time you heard your favorite band on the radio? I know the feeling, it’s hard when you realize that what you thought was oh-so-cool is actually now part of the mainstream. A decade ago, compact crossovers were no more than niche vehicles, only finding homes with a small percentage of buyers. Now, they’re all the rage. If a car company wants to succeed – especially in America – it has to be on top of its small CUV game.
That’s why the Volkswagen Tiguan you see here is so vastly different than the model it replaces (though if you really hate it, VW will still sell you the old one). It’s a lot bigger and a lot softer, and honestly, that makes it a lot more approachable. VW is hoping this Tig will appeal to a much larger swath of American CUV shoppers, and as far as I’m concerned, it should. But what the 2018 Tiguan gains in practicality and mass-market appeal, it loses in behind-the-wheel verve. For better or worse, the once-plucky little Tiguan now plunges right into the heart of the crossover-hungry mainstream. It used to be unique, and now it’s just trying to be a better Nissan Rogue.
All grown up. While the old Tiguan looked a bit cartoonish, the new one trades too-cute features for refined maturity. Even in this shade of Habanero Orange, the Tig is handsome. Upscale, too, what with the full-LED headlights and taillights and 19-inch dark-finish alloy wheels of this SEL Premium test car. It’s like a five-eighths scale Atlas, though I much prefer the way Volkswagen’s new SUV design language looks on the Tiguan’s smaller body.
Tech advantage. If you like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit driver information display, you’ll love the 12.3-inch Digital Cockpit interface that’s available in the Tiguan (because, well, it’s the exact same thing). The high-res display is wonderful to look at and simple to use, and no other competitor in the class offers anything similar. Of course, Digital Cockpit is only available on top-trim SEL Premium models – lesser Tigs get traditional gauges. But opting for this trim also means you get goodies like Fender premium audio and an eight-inch touchscreen center infotainment display, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Quiet and spacious. While nothing to write home about in terms of fit and finish, the Tiguan’s cabin boasts a ton of room and great acoustics. Wind and road noise are nicely filtered out, and there’s ample head- and legroom for folks in all rows. Get out of a Ford Escape and into the Tiguan, and you’ll think you’ve stepped into a vehicle one class size larger. That’s even true without the panoramic sunroof of this SEL Premium tester, too – I have the same feeling of airiness even in the base Tiguan S.
Cheapest way to actually seat seven. The third row seats in a Nissan Rogue are a joke – incredibly hard to get in and out of, with very little room for anyone larger than a toddler. On the other hand, the Tiguan’s way-back is spacious enough that smaller adults can ride back there without (too many) complaints, with easy ingress/egress from the rear doors. Plus, the three-row Tiguan undercuts the price of a seven-passenger Rogue – only by a couple hundred bucks, sure, but for families who need maximum utility out of a small vehicle, every penny counts.
Putzy powertrain. Volkswagen’s new EA888 2.0-liter turbo-four makes its U.S. introduction under the hood of the Tiguan, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and the whole package is… not great. The output ratings of 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque seem fine on paper, but there’s a noticeable lack of thrust when pulling away from a stoplight, and heaven help you if you have to accelerate up a hill. The transmission jumps around, sometimes erratically, and it makes for a disjointed, wonky driving experience. I’d forgive the weak engine and weird shift points if they resulted in impressive fuel economy, but the best the Tiguan will do is 27 miles per gallon highway, even with front-wheel drive.
Where’s the fun? The old Tiguan felt like a GTI on stilts, and that made it kind of a hoot to drive. It was punchy and powerful, with nicely weighted steering and a taut chassis – one of the more involving small CUVs on the road. With this second-gen Tiguan, Volkswagen’s priorities shifted, putting a stronger focus on functionality and a more competitive price point, but I wish some of that fun-to-drive character was still baked in. The new Tig isn’t a dud by any means, and still better than snoozefests like the Chevy Equinox, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota RAV4. It’s just not as sharp as it used to be, and while I know I’m in the minority, I’ll miss that higher level of engagement. Thanks a lot, America.
Photos: James Bradbury / Motor1.com