2018 Volkswagen Tiguan first drive: close to closure

June 22, 2017

We’ve paid our respects to “sport” leaving “sport utility vehicle,” but we haven’t yet found closure. We held on to the last vestiges of SUVs to the bitter end. Probably too long.

We started calling them “crossovers” so we wouldn’t be reminded that we weren’t sporting in them. We believed it when, to soothe our wounded egos, they told us crossovers would support our “active lifestyles,” which is not the same thing as sports. Michael Jordan was merely active like the pyramids were merely a group of sandcastles.

Here we are with the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan, which crosses the last mental hurdle that separates crossovers from simply being “cars.” It’s related to other cars in the VW lineup, looks less offensive than yogurt, and is built to transport people so well and comfortably that it may as well be called the Volkswagen Bus. (Eds Note: We’ll believe it when we see it.)

Consider the 2018 Tiguan a solid step in the right direction for VW. And not much for the automaker has been easy recently.

ALSO SEE: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio first drive

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

Have trust, will travel

It starts with a remarkable warranty on the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan—6 years or 72,000 miles—transferable to successive owners and a warm feeling for shoppers who wonder if a new Volkswagen’s resale value would plummet quicker than its stock.

Confidence begets trust. VW has the former, evidenced by its warranty, and says it’s working on the latter.

MUST SEE: Read our 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan review

To that end, the Tiguan is squared off like a new iPhone box and packaged just as well. Touchable surfaces feel solid, and although it doesn’t take much to find where VW saved money, the Tiguan feels far from cheap despite its low entry price of $25,345. The interior is laid out to assimilate to our personal flavors so well that it’s practically tofu. Slide behind the wheel and the Tiguan is equally comfortable with teens or geezers.

There are no tricks to its interior layout or task. The hip point in the Tiguan, or how far passengers sit from the ground, is nearly as low as a mid-size sedan’s. Its windows drop lower on the Tiguan’s sides to afford better outward visibility, and the rear doors are wide for easier entry, exit, or stuffing a car seat into the second row.  

Most models will be equipped with an 8.0-inch glossy touchscreen for infotainment (a 6.5-inch screen is standard on base models) with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay capability. VW’s system is straightforward and simple, much like the sans-serif fonts it uses—both are appreciated. That sound can be channeled through a base and unremarkable six-speaker audio system that can mercifully upgraded to a nine-speaker Fender-branded affair that we’d highly recommend.

As a family car, the Tiguan overwhelmingly succeeds in space and safety.

It improves on the last version with more room for passengers—particularly rear-seat riders who can slide the bench fore and aft by more than 6 inches to accommodate long legs—and more space for cargo. By the numbers, the new Tiguan is nearly 8 inches longer between the wheels than its predecessor and nearly a foot longer overall. Its cargo area can be more than 35 percent larger than the outgoing model, which adds to its brute force flexibility.

The only detractor? A cramped third row that’s standard on front-drive models (and eats into usable cargo space behind the second row) or a $500 option for all-wheel-drive models. Like its contemporaries—the Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander, or even Land Rover Discovery Sport—the small third row in the small crossover thing doesn’t work.

DON'T MISS: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan costs $26,245 to start, on sale this summer

Better news: Even base Tiguan S models can be equipped with advanced safety features such as forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitors for $850. Go one step above the base, to the Tiguan SE, and those features become standard. Only Toyota and Nissan go further by making those features standard on more cars, but Volkswagen’s effort is noticeable—and commendable.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

More utility, less sport

The only engine available in the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. That’s down on power from the last version, but up on torque—for good reason. On initial takeoff, the Tiguan front-loads so much of its power that it feels up to the task of lugging around its nearly two tons. At neighborhood speeds or faster, that power dissipates into an efficiency-focused drawl from the direct-injected small engine.

The standard 8-speed automatic isn’t helping that feeling either. Eager to upshift to improve fuel economy, the transmission brushes off calls for more power until its back is against the wall. From a steady 60 mph, accelerating to a passing 80 mph took us a relaxed 10 seconds. That’s not especially bright, but it’s also normal for the class.

Same goes for the suspension, which adopts the basic setup from last year, albeit sprung more softly. The tall sidewalls on the standard Bridgestone Ecopias fitted to the 17-inch wheels may have influenced our opinion on ride comfort, but the Tiguan’s comfort-first mission is undeniable. The result is a little more head toss in the cabin, if it goes that far. (Our spouses yell for us to slow down well before that happens.)

Those qualities are all done in the name of Volkswagen’s whisper campaign for efficiency again. The automaker may be skittish to bang the drum on fuel efficiency for a while, so we will. The Tiguan’s base EPA rating of 22 mpg city, 27 highway, 24 combined (21/27/23 mpg for all-wheel drive) isn’t particularly impressive, but it’s repeatable. In our 71.6-mile drive that included highways, dirt roads, city streets and stop-and-go traffic, our all-wheel-drive Tiguan SE 4Motion registered a 23.7-mpg rating by our heavily skeptical calculators. That 23.7-mpg rating was achieved at an oxygen-deprived altitude of a mile high, or higher, and with plenty of grinding the accelerator into the floor.

As our skeptical eyes and heavy feet ground and wound their way through the Tiguan for a day, we drew a few specific conclusions. In base models, the Tiguan does little to hide its mass-market intentions, which the last version didn’t do very well. In top trims, such as SEL or SEL Premium, dressed up with an available 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, the Tiguan is a family-first wagon that doesn’t defy typical automotive segment definitions.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan could be closure for many. As a family wagon with a tall ride height, it closes the book on a fading compulsion to embody an active lifestyle by upsizing. Its engine, transmission, ride, and efficiency are better suited for how the crossovers are actually used.

Whether it can be closure for other things we associate with Volkswagen, well, that’s up to you.

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