2016 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0T SEL 4Motion
Smartly Dressed and Nicely Priced
The Volkswagen Tiguan is now four years into a mid-cycle refresh of its first generation with a completely overhauled second-gen version on its way in early 2017, so therefore after nine years on the North American market and yet more time spent in Europe, where I first drove it way back in September of 2007 at its Budapest, Hungary press introduction, this is as much a car review as a bid farewell to VW’s classy little crossover SUV as we know it.
Despite its years the Tiguan has held up very well. VW finished its interior to a higher standard than most of its peers back in the day, while its straight-line performance has always put a smile on my face and its ride and handling compromise has long been less of a compromise than most in this class, the little Tiguan delivering segment-leading maneuverability despite a very comfortable, compliant chassis. It was one of the smallest compacts on the U.S. market when introduced and still is, even rubbing shoulders with some subcompact SUVs, which is reason enough for its light and agile road manners as well as its merely modest sales.
Volkswagen sold 35,843 Tiguans across the nation last year, which was its best sales tally ever despite this number placing it 12th out of 13 mainstream volume branded compact SUVs. Then again, when compared to the nine subcompact SUVs currently available this number propels it higher up into the mid-pack, although such reshuffling would cause us to do likewise with the smaller than average compact Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, which would bump the Tiguan back down a couple of notches, but still a better result.
Where the former South Korean model is entirely new and in many ways much more premium-like than the long-in-tooth Tiguan, oddly appearing visually akin with the Audi Q3 that shares more than just this VW’s underpinnings and arguably doling out nicer interior refinements than the wee VeeDub (what a role reversal that is), the Tiguan is still a nice looking, impressively finished crossover SUV.
It gets dressed up with VW’s trademark horizontally ribbed chrome grille, plus projector-style headlamp clusters in lower models or adaptive auto on/off HIDs with LED DRLs in higher trims like my tester, nice optional oval fog lamps set into straked matte black bezels with mesh inserts, a cool looking metallic undertray that might need to be pointed out so as not to be missed, turn signals integrated into the side mirror housings, and a set of LED taillights that look particularly alluring at night, while a sweet looking set of 19-inch twinned five-spoke alloys came as part of my tester’s SEL 4Motion upgrade. However, other than those wheels and VW’s big badge at liftgate central the Tiguan’s rear quarter view is about as nondescript as vehicles get, the perfect candidate for one of those non-branded generic SUVs used in advertising.
Volkswagen has made certain no one will be comparing the Tiguan to the aforementioned Audi Q3 on the inside either, but this said the lesser model’s interior is still a notch above most mainstream rivals in that it covers both the dash top and front door uppers in premium-level soft touch synthetic, where most competitors only do one or the other unless in their highest trim levels. While this is an SEL, I’ve tested the Tiguan many times in lower trims and the same can be said. Just the same, these few pliable plastic surfaces don’t change the reality that the majority of the Tiguan’s cabin is made up of hard plastics, including the lower half of the instrument panel, the entire center stack and lower console, plus most of the door panels. The door inserts are covered in a similar fabric or leatherette to the armrests and seat bolsters, depending on trim, while that same woven cloth or leatherette stretches right down into the door pockets that are finished with carpeting at bottom.
A couple of years ago I transitioned from leather seating at home to a fabric sofa and chair as I find it a lot more comfortable, warmer, it wears better and is more fashionable, so living with cloth seats in a car isn’t necessarily a sign of slumming it, especially the nice upholstery Volkswagen uses in its lower end Tiguans, but the SEL gets upscale hides front and back. The primary office chair is particularly comfortable in its traditional Germanic firmness, while the toasty front seat heaters were much appreciated during this mid-winter test. The rear seats are comfortable and supportive too, especially for the lower back. Being a smaller compact than average you may feel the pinch in rear legroom and overall width, but two average sized adults should be reasonably comfortable.
Tiguan switchgear is better than with the Jetta or new Golf, especially the steering wheel stalks that are made from denser plastic and therefore feel more upscale, whereas most of the other buttons, knobs and toggles are nicely damped and wiggle free, except the closest large HVAC dial in my tester that wasn’t as tightly fitted as the others.
The big news for the Tiguan is the inclusion of a USB port instead of what had become a mostly useless 30-pin Apple dongle. It’s located in an open bin mid-console, just above the as-tested engine start-stop button, although be forewarned that this USB isn’t powered and therefore won’t restore your smartphone’s battery one trickle. It’ll hardwire it to the infotainment system, however, useful for playing tunes and more, although most of us use wireless Bluetooth streaming technology for this and a USB for recharging. Therefore, while VW still fails in the USB department it’s not an epic fail like that proprietary Apple connector they held onto for much too long.
VW would’ve probably wanted me to say the biggest news for 2016 was its new infotainment system, because it really is superb. It gets proximity-sensing capability that, for one, brings up a row of go-to digital buttons when your hand gets close. I first experienced this type of tech from a Bose system in a Maserati Quattroporte I drove in and around Salzburg, Austria during an intro program back in 2009, but VW’s system is a lot faster and therefore much better, plus screen quality has come a long way since the late aughts. The as-tested navigation mapping includes wonderfully crisp and detailed graphics, the same for all displays actually, and Drake’s Hotline Bling sounded brilliant on the deep and richly toned audio system.
That stereo gets upgraded from the base Composition Color display radio to VW’s new Discover Media infotainment system in SE trim, one step below this SEL, the improved infotainment system also adding “App-Connect” smartphone integration along with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Mirrorlink, an SD card, satellite radio, the USB audio input, voice control and of course satellite navigation. The audio system was VW’s top-line Fender, which is very good especially if you like rock or dance that makes the most of its rich bass tones and crisp highs, while its rearview camera was made even better than base thanks to this larger display.
Of note, base S model, which starts at just $24,890 in FWD or $26,865 for 4Motion AWD, comes well stocked with features already, some of these including signature daytime running lights, roof rails, heatable powered side mirrors, heatable windshield washer nozzles, rain-sensing wipers, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, one of the nicest leather-wrapped tilt and telescopic multifunction three-spoke steering wheels in the industry as well as a leather-clad shift knob, a multi-function trip computer, cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free with audio streaming that’s now easier than ever to connect, heatable front seats, a flat-folding front passenger seatback, tire-pressure monitoring, an alarm, and all the usual safety equipment, while its 16-inch alloy wheels on all-seasons and manual climate control were upgraded to 19s plus a dual-zone auto HVAC system as part of its SEL trim.
Along with these improvements and those mentioned earlier, the SEL gets power-folding side mirrors with memory and passenger’s side reverse auto-tilt, 12-way power-adjustable front seats including adjustable lumbar support and driver’s seat memory, and a power-sliding panoramic sunroof for $34,445 in FWD or $36,420 as-tested with AWD, plus freight and dealer fees, while my tester’s Pepper Gray Metallic was a no-cost option.
That flat-folding front seatback is a pretty useful feature, making it possible to load very long cargo into the backside of this otherwise abbreviated ute. The Tiguan only gives you 23.8 cubic feet of volume behind its 40/20/40-split rear seats and 56.1 cubic feet when they’re laid flat, but fold that front seatback down and you can lay in a 8.2-foot long flagpole, vaulting pole, a beach volleyball net and posts, a stack of regular ceiling-height 2x4s, a similar stack of 4x4s for that fence you’ve been wanting to build, or whatever else you might want to throw in.
It may be small, but get behind the wheel and all of a sudden the Tiguan feels substantive. As noted earlier its ride is much too refined for such a diminutive SUV, and the little VW’s handling is wonderfully planted unless pushed way beyond reason. Again, the Tiguan is no Q3 and it shows with a little more fore and aft jounce on the freeway, but it’s nevertheless a joy on a road trip, great fun through corners and easy to point and shoot within congested city traffic.
A direct injected and turbocharged, DOHC, 16-valve 2.0-liter four-cylinder puts 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque down to the front wheels via a six-speed manual in base trim or standard six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual mode and 4Motion AWD, optional across the entire line. As you can probably imagine with numbers like these the little Tig gets going in a hurry, while its EPA claimed fuel economy is extremely good for the compact SUV class at just 20 mpg city, 26 highway and 23 combined as tested.
The Tiguan might be getting on in years, but it still looks and feels quite current whereas its new infotainment system makes it seem downright modern compared to others that are nowhere near as advanced. Consider its long tenure as time-proven experience that only goes to make this little CUV more reliable. While it’s up against an unfathomably challenging compact SUV segment as well as a subcompact CUV category that’s getting more competitive by the year, its class-splitting size might be an ideal fit for your active lifestyle.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Volkswagen; Copyright: American Auto Press