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Does the Volkswagen Tiguan blend a hint of SUV bad-weather confidence with decent on-road dynamics?

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Should anyone feel so minded one day to write the history of the compact SUV, that curious breed of car known more commonly and excruciatingly as the ‘soft-roader’, it’s hard to see the Volkswagen Tiguan making much of an impact on its pages.

The Volkswagen would do well to make it out the footnotes, while the original Toyota RAV4 or Range Rover Evoque might merit a chapter to themselves,.

Few small SUVs are particularly serious about going anywhere remotely off the Queen’s highway

It’s not because the Volkswagen Tiguan is a poor car, or unsuccessful. On the contrary after the staple Volkswagen Polo, Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen Passat, VW sells more of them in the UK than any of its many other cars.

But it’s not exactly an extrovert, a car designed to get itself or, indeed, its occupants noticed. Like so many VWs over so many generations, its self-appointed role is to quietly and discreetly get on with the job and leave the posturing and posing to others.

But while that confers a certain pleasing honesty on the car, you have to question the relevance of the approach in the 21st century. It has long been known that this breed of car rarely ventures furthers from the tarmac than the nearest school playing field and that the real reason for their burgeoning popularity has little to do with how well they fit family life relative to, say, a conventional small estate and rather more with how their owners think such cars will help them be perceived by the neighbours.

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Happily we need not delay ourselves too long with such considerations. We’ll leave it to do you decide whether the Tiguan makes the right kind of statement and concentrate instead on letting you know whether it’s actually any good at the real job it’s been designed to do.

The range is quite complicated, spread across four grades, S, SE and R-Line with a special Escape off-road version with revised bodywork to improve approach and departure angles.

Four wheel drive is optional on on all but the base spec diesel and all engines carry forced induction. Petrol engines range from a 158bhp 1.4-litre motor past a 177bhp 2-litre and end with the 207bhp unit used in the last generation Volkswagen Golf GTi.

But the vast majority of sales will be diesels, so VW provides three specs of the same 2-litre motor – a 108bhp for the entry level S, a 138bhp variant available in all models and a 174bhp range topper only for SE and R-line customers. The Escape is available only with the 138bhp diesel.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Volkswagen Tiguan headlight

As there seems to be in quite a lot of products emanating from Germany these days, there’s quite a bit of Volkswagen Golf underneath the Tiguan.

But the platform from which it’s derived isn’t the fancy new lightweight hybrid steel and aluminium chassis featured on the seventh generation of Volkswagen Golf, but the undeniably effective but rather more prosaic underpinnings of the fifth and sixth.

The Tiguan is an upright 4x4 with little to demonstrate its dynamism

Suspension for all models is covered by McPherson struts at the front though at the rear there is either the multi-link arrangement from the Golf or, for all-wheel drive versions, the four-link rear suspension from the Passat 4Motion.

Those opting for all wheel drive will be buying a Haldex system that unlike many today that are effectively front drivers with four-wheel drive on demand, always directs a minimum of 10 percent of the torque to the rear wheels.

Naturally this provides a traction advantage in poor conditions, because there’s already some drive to the rear the moment it’s needed, but there will be small and commensurate fuel consumption penalty too.

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INTERIOR

Volkswagen Tiguan dashboard

Next time the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary choose to redefine the word ‘functional’ they could spare themselves a lot of time and effort by just showing a shot of the inside of the Volkswagen Tiguan.

The cabin is such style-lite zone it seems form has been made to follow function at such a distance it got lost on the way. And those who buy cars for what they do rather than what they say, wouldn’t have it any other way.

The fascia is pure Golf Plus, though no less neatly assembled

The driving position, for example, is technically perfect. The seat, wheel and pedals are all correctly aligned (you’d be amazed at how often manufacturers stil fail in this most simple regard, especially with right hand drive cars), and the seat has long runners and excellent height adjustment. Better, the steering wheel telescopes so far that if could you pulled it any closer to your chest you might be mistaken for a BTCC driver.

The switchgear massed around an easily read central screen is beyond serious complaint while the dials eschew all attempts at funkiness in favour of simply getting you the information you need as clearly and concisely as possible. Only the small bank of switches where you can switch off the stop/start system, activate ‘off road’ mode in Escape versions and disable the traction control looks like an after thought.

For the class the Tiguan is also quite spacious, albeit not to be mistaken for a mini-SUV. There is of course not even the option of third row seating, but the back seats do slide and recline individually while the centre seat or, we should say, perch, can be folded down to provide an armrest with a handy couple of drinks holders. Stowage space elsewhere on board is good, but not exceptional.

The boot however is quite large and easily accessed through the sensibly shaped tailgate. There’s no underfloor storage however, that area being allocated to a space-saving spare tyre

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Volkswagen Tiguan rear quarter

It’s not hard to see why sales of petrol Volkswagen Tiguans are dwarfed by those of the diesels. All petrol models actually provide quite strong performance with even the 1.4-litre car hitting 62mph in 8.9sec and the GTI-powered version needing just 7.3sec when equipped with a DSG transmission and four-wheel drive.

But as we will see in the next section, this isn’t a car that makes you want to set an alarm and tiptoe out of the house at dawn on sunny Sunday morning; indeed the prospect is far more likely to make you turn over and go back to sleep. So it comes down to the running costs which, as we’ll also shortly see, are predictably skewed in the direction of diesel.

The 138bhp diesel engine is the one to go for in the Tiguan

Of the three diesels, it’s not hard to see why the mid-spec 138bhp engine is the only motor common to every grade of Tiguan: it just makes the most sense.

There’s no fuel consumption benefit in the 108bhp diesel but the performance drop off is massive, extending the 0-62mph time from an entirely respectable 10.2sec to a closer to interminable 11.9sec, and it’s only available in the base ‘S’ trim. The 174bhp diesel does race off the line to 62mph in 8.5sec but model for model it costs over £1000 more and does compromise fuel consumption.

The mid-range 138bhp engine is a VW stalwart, a faithful workhorse found in VWs from the Beetle to the Volkswagen Caravelle. It’s not especially refined, nor particularly quick but its powerband is wide and ably covered by the six gears standard in even the cheapest Tiguan. We’d think long and hard before choosing a DSG transmission for the car however.

The seven speed unit is fine if you change manually, but without paddles and with the sequential shift pattern the wrong way around (you push forward to change up), who’s going to bother? Left to its own devices, the system is hesitant and, left to coast down hill, positively imprecise in its timing and execution of gearshifts.

The brakes don’t feel great either. All the stopping power is there but the pedal is over-assisted and can grab a little upon first application resulting in a certain decelerative inelegance.

RIDE & HANDLING

Volkswagen Tiguan cornering

The Tiguan is a car you feel could be made to handle quite well if only VW were minded to make the effort. The structure feels commendably stiff while the steering is free from kickback, well weighted, positive and accurate.

But VW is aware of how far down the priority list lies handling prowess and appears to have turned its attention elsewhere before the Tiguan’s dynamic responses were honed to a fine degree.

The Tiguan is capable in nearly every dynamic attribute but it's not exceptional

The result is a car that, like so many of its rivals, feels needlessly sloppy, especially if you’re unlucky enough to come to it after something as taut and controlled as a seventh generation Volkswagen Golf.

It’s not the soft spring rates we quibble with, it would be absurd to equip such a car with rock hard suspension, but the way the resulting roll, heave and pitch are controlled. In normal driving you’re aware of the body moving quite easily on its springs but if you press on it this movement soon leads to rather lurching progress, never enough to affect the stability of the car but more than sufficient to make you abandon all attempts to enjoy the Tiguan on a good road.

On street tyres and with no low ratio transfer box, even all wheel drive Tiguans have limited off-road ability but the towing limit of 2200kg is far better than most in the class and Escape versions come not only with hill descent control and a softer engine map for off-roading but also a 2500kg towing capacity, fully half a tonne more than that offered by the best Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V.

The ride quality is quite good, but only if you compare it to what else is available in this broadly under-achieving class. Primary body control isn’t great for reasons outlined above, but in less strenuous conditions those soft springs and tall side walls of the 17in tyres prove perfectly capable of absorbing every day imperfections in the road surface.

But by ultimate standards, or even those of conventional cars the same money will buy, there is nothing special here. The ride of the Tiguan is good enough not to annoy, but not sufficiently special to count as a strong point in its favour.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Volkswagen Tiguan

If like most customers you buy a Tiguan with a 2-litre, 138bhp engine, you’ll own a car capable of returning 53.3mpg on the combined cycle unless it has four wheel drive, which thanks to the extra 109kg of weight and frictional losses of the extended drive system drops the figure to 48.7mpg.

Now consider that if you bought a 2-litre diesel Volkswagen Golf you’d get 10 extra horsepower and 68.9mpg – over 20mpg better than the all-wheel drive Tiguan. Such is the price you pay for buying a high and heavy car based on yesterday’s technology. In the class it is competitive with its best-selling rivals, but no more.

The Volkswagen Tiguan is well priced compared to its rivals

That said, the Tiguan boasts fairly copper-bottomed residual values so long as you choose your engine and trim level carefully (think mid spec diesel) and we have no reason to think that it wouldn’t provide years and even decades of trouble free running almost regardless of how it was treated. 

Like other VWs, all Tiguans come with a three year, 60,000 mile warranty which is pretty much the minimum a credible car manufacturer can get away with these days. 

VERDICT

3 star Volkswagen Tiguan

You’re no more likely to fall in love with a Tiguan than a toaster. It’s a car without sparkle or discernible character. It is a device for doing a specific job and it does it to a standard at least commensurate with those in the class around it.

It’s one of those cars you can drive for an hour, park at your destination and five minutes later have already forgotten how you got there. It leaves scarcely any impression on you at all.

The VW Tiguan is a good car, but it's not great and is bettered by its rivals

But that is not to say the Tiguan is without merit or even that a substandard product. Compared to other similar cars we’d rank it as reasonably good, though this says far more about what a poor deal customers get from these compact SUVS compared to normal cars that it does about the intrinsic abilities of the Tiguan.

Even so the car can be commended for the sense of strength and quality that pervades its structure. People who drive cars like this want to feel safe and you’d need to climb aboard wearing a chain mail suit to feel much more secure in a Tiguan. It is an important point in its favour.

Still, we lament its lack of zest and ambition. The Tiguan was first launched in 2007 and despite a modest facelift since then feels very much like a last generation Volkswagen, happy to provide competent transport for an undemanding audience but not much more.

Customers should be able to expect more both of the class as a whole and VW in particular.

Volkswagen Tiguan 2008-2016 First drives