Europe's largest automaker historically has taken a wait-and-see, glean-from-what-works approach to the U.S. crossover segment.
Volkswagen's first foray into the burgeoning crop of compact crossover began back in the 2009 model year with Tiguan's debut. The segment's rebirth of sorts took place a dozen or so years prior in the mid 1990's with the launch of Toyota's RAV-4. During the subsequent decade, most major mainstream automakers introduced a player into the entry-friendly segment.
What did VW learn from the growing cadre of 'cute utes'?
First, include the choice of front-wheel or all-wheel drive (which VW markets at 4Motion). Four-wheel drive comes in handy especially for hearty Midwesterners.
Second, keep engine four-cylinder yet potent. Tiguan's sole powertrain, a 2.0-liter turbocharged four banger, cranks out 200 horses while teaming with a standard six-speed automatic transmission with performance sports mode.
Third, cast a wide appeal. While Tiguan does not excel in any one category (not the largest or least expensive), it blends the entire driving experience nicely together.
Many lessons learned from Tiguan's trek will soon apply to VW's long awaited three-row crossover constructed at the German automaker's sole U.S. plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Scheduled to arrive in the 2018 model year, the yet un-named vehicle, will joust with family-friendly mid-size crossovers including the Honda Pilot and Mazda CX-9.
For Tiguan, the 2017 chapter undergoes minimal changes from 2016. The trim lineup now consists of Base S, new Wolfsburg Edition, new Sport (with sport-tuned suspension and firmer settings), and SEL.
Our new-to-the dozier, nicely loaded Wolfsburg Edition tester with 4Motion and standard panoramic sunroof stretching both rows, checked in at $31,970. With $865 destination charge, the button line ended at $32,835, a few Euros higher than similar-contented rivals. A Base front-drive S starts at $24,995. Need 4Motion? Add $1,975. It's available in all trims.
The Wolfsburg, Sport and SLE editions include chrome rimming around side windows, offering a nice contrast with body color. Squared-off wheel wells differ from many rivals opting for an arched, circular style. Plastic protectant framing the wells and lower fender helps guard against dings from wayward stones or debris.
Thin front 'A' pillars contrast with thicker rearward 'D' pillars. The manual lifting rear hatch, hinged at the top, includes a standard wiper and provides enough open head clearance for those 6-feet one-inch and shorter. Elevated hood creases at the base of each front 'A' pillar travel forward towards the front end, flanking the grille. Below, headlight housings wrap gently to side fenders.
Volkswagen's familiar circular stacked logo adorns the hatch, center grille and steering wheel center. The front nose also continues a familiar trait shared with other VWs: a long, narrow grille adorned with horizontal chrome bars and aforementioned logo. Stretched oval tail light housing connects together the hatch door and rear side fenders. A circular Wolfsburg badge about the size of a half-dollar adorns the bottom portion of middle B pillars
Our Wolfsburg Edition included a power-operated driver's seat. The manually-moving passenger seat features an outboard, easy-grab loop to help maneuver fore and aft, a smoother operation than a below-seat pull-bar. Even with the driver's seat positioned at the lowest point, it's elevated enough to provide good visual command of the road and side shows thanks to door windows longer than most rivals.
The easily-interpreted-at-a-glance flat-faced instrument panel includes two chrome trim circular analog gauges and small round inserts along the bottom (the right-side home to a fuel gauge). At night, white backlighting teams with fire-red needles. In the middle, a vertically-arranged digital multi-information window with several tutorials to choose from via 3 o'clock on the manually tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.
Two adults fit with optimal comfort in row two, while enjoying the comforts of a fold down middle arm rest. Three can squeeze in a pinch. Rear door swing-out provides a narrow entry way. Seatbacks fold down with a 40/20/40 split once lift loops at the intersection of the seat back and cushion get pullout forward. Rear seats conveniently slide six inches forward and back.
The remainder of the dash travels west to east in a low-key, simple design (non-serpentine) with soft-touch materials. The glove box includes a large, non-partitioned single bin design.
Now standard in all trims: a 6.3-inch multi-function touch screen prominently displayed in the center top. Volkswagen's media infotainment system supports Bluetooth wireless connectivity along with Apple CarPlay, MirrorLink and Android Auto. Sport and SEL trims include in-dash navigation.
Below is a row of buttons (air conditioning, rear-window defroster) residing above three small, easy-to-grab dials monitoring temperature, fan speed and direction.
Standard electronic push-button start resides in front of the transmission shifter, a more direct route than lower dash, where the steering wheel/column could impede access. Just ahead resides an alcove for Smartphone placement with near-by plug-in ports and 12-volt outlet.
During hard braking encounters, Tiguan remained poised, smooth and straight. As with many rivals, wind noise at highway speeds remains muffled, a feat earlier era compact crossovers didn't come close. For optimal results, Tiguan recommends higher-octane premium fuel to top off the 16.9 gallon tank. Fuel ratings of 20 mpg city and 24 mpg highway check in average at best.
Cruise control operation takes place at the butt end of the steering column's left-side turn signal stalk. Some recently revamped competitors (including select trims the 2016 Toyota RAV4) have introduced radar-enhanced cruise control, not long ago the domain of luxury-priced rides. This technology, automatically speeding and slowing the vehicle based on distance of the car/truck ahead, is not a Tiguan staple.
Other newly arriving high-tech safety features including pedestrian/lane departure warnings and front-rear parking assist monitors remain absent from all Tiguan trims.
While Tiguan soldiers on here in the U.S. with the platform introduced in 2009, expect a major generational update sooner rather than later to keep pace with the rising tide.
Unlike many of its compact VW brethren, Tiguan escaped relatively unscathed from the dark diesel engine cloud episode.
In the fall of 2015, VW found itself contending with a self-inflicted, worldwide brouhaha. At issue? High-mileage four-cylinder diesel engines (found in Golfs, Jettas and Beetles) included onboard slight-of-hand software programing monitoring particulate pollutant output.
In short, higher levels of Nitrogen Oxide emissions were released then permitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during daily commutes. Roughly 483,000 four-cylinder TDI diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. from 2010 to 2015 are affected. Volkswagen continues battling legal and public relations fall out, but recently reached a compensation agreement with U.S.-based showrooms concerning lost dealership valuations.
At a Glance
Price as tested: $32,835
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo
Wheelbase: 102.5 inches
Overall Length: 174.5 inches
Overall Width: 71.2 inches
Overall Height: 67.1 inches
Fuel Economy: 20 mpg city, 24 mpg highway
Powertrain Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles
Assembly: Osnabruck, Germany