DENVER, Colorado—The Tiguan, Volkswagen’s compact SUV, has been soldiering along for nine years now, doing its duty and reaping decent sales for Volkswagen Canada—so there was never any doubt it would be updated for 2018 and remain a player in VW’s lineup.
However, over those past nine years, an interesting trend’s begun to emerge in Canadian SUV sales, one that’d significantly shape what the all-new 2018 Tiguan would be. Yes, I’m talking about the growth of the compact and mid-size SUV segment.
Coupled with sliding car sales, that segment’s growth points to a new niche: Canadian car buyers who are looking for the same luxuries and capabilities they used to enjoy in a sedan, but now want out of an SUV. That’s what VW figured anyway; it’s the niche the German automaker’s hoping the new Tiguan will fill. But does it?
While the shape and sheetmetal is familiar, the size of the 2018 Tiguan is the first thing you notice: it’s 10.6 inches longer than the original. A calculated design update gives the smallest of VW’s SUV family the upgrades customers want. Specifically, that extra chassis length boosts cargo space by 58 percent and, for the first time, puts seven seats in the cabin. (To be fair, that third row seat is for kids only.)
While it’s still not as big as the Touareg or the new Atlas, this is a hefty little truck tipping the scales at 4,043 lb (in AWD, seven-seater trim) and capable of towing 1,500 lbs, more than it ever has before.
VW says the new Tiguan doesn’t share a single bolt with the old one, but appearance-wise, you’ll mostly notice a few tweaks to the grille and the belt-line on the truck in keeping with the look of the rest of the range. Past that you may note it rides on new 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels and has LED taillights as well as DRLs. Up top, you can get a set of roof rails if you’d like.
Three trim levels carry the Tiguan: the base Trendline; the mid-point Comfortline; and the Highline. Each includes the most-wanted features in the vehicle and then some.
Within each trim line is an additional option package that groups another set of popular features together; on the Trendline, for example, you can add a Convenience Package to upgrade your base model with an alarm system, cargo cover, composition media group (that’s an 8-inch touchscreen radio and three USB inputs), front fog lights, heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, and SiriusXM satellite radio.
The design execution inside the Tiguan is, in a word, functional. Every surface and all materials feel like high-quality and well-constructed. Gauges, dials, and switches are arranged logically, within reach, and with obvious purpose. However, if you’re looking for “flashy,” this interior is not it. But I mean, efficient, functional, and well-designed can be considered pretty as well. Your call.
The only engine option in Canada is the updated 2.0-litre TSI gas engine, coupled to an eight-speed transmission and making 184 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. Anticipated fuel economy for the AWD model will be 11.2 L/100 km city; and 8.7 L/100 km highway—the front-wheel-drive version will be slighter better. This engine and chassis combination is rated to tow up to 1,500 lbs.
While the base model is available in a FWD version, the bulk of sales will no doubt be of models equipped with Volkswagen’s 4Motion AWD system. This new drive system has four selectable modes that cover varied terrains and weather conditions—including snow for us Canadians. A computer changes engine inputs depending on the selection, as well as steering, cruise control, traction control, and automatic braking. Each are adjusted, often in real-time, to suit your selected weather and terrain.
This all-new Tiguan platform also gave VW the chance to load up this platform with the newest driver-assist technologies. Some, like lane-keeping assist and blind spot monitoring, have been around for a while, but they’re now joined by much more specialized systems like front-brake assist with pedestrian monitoring; rear traffic alert with braking; adaptive cruise control that works at speeds right down to stop-and-go; parking distance control with rear maneuver braking; and something called “automatic post–collision braking.”
Most of these assists are still designed to help prevent an accident, but the last one, post-collision braking, is designed to stop the vehicle if you’ve been hit and are unable to brake yourself.
Driving this new Tiguan up into the mountains outside Denver showed me a vehicle that feels small and agile, even if it is larger than its predecessor. The most noticeable difference in the new model was the smoothness of the ride, a result of the weight and longer wheelbase. Still, the steering remains light and accurate. The turbo on the engine gives it the extra power it needed.
As for driving: I started at around 5,000 feet of elevation and worked my way up and down to a peak of around 8,200 feet. This is significant not so much because the switchbacks made for one heck of a steering workout; but instead because the lack of oxygen at altitudes that far above sea level can definitely affect engine performance.
The only effect I felt, though, was an increase in the turbo lag as we climbed higher. However, after about a second, it did spool up the turbo two-litre and proved to be quite capable on the mountain roads. It’s not a rocket, but highway merges will never be a problem, even at the altitudes I was driving at.
In Canada, the Trendline will start at $28,925, but the addition of 4MOTION bumps that up to $31,175, though that also adds those aforementioned selectable driving modes.
The Comfortline 4MOTION trim begins at $35,175, and the top-line Highline 4MOTION trim will put you north of $39,175.
VW has now completed the update of its three-member SUV family. Tiguan and Touareg are already-known models each in their second generation. Add to that the all-new Atlas released earlier this year and the strategy becomes obvious: give the VW faithful options to buy bigger, or smaller, as their lives dictate.
But, past this, VW’s timing is right on to cash in on the current shift towards smaller SUVS in general. With it, it can hope to keep its existing customers, as well as conquesting new ones from outside the brand. The 2018 Tiguan will arrive around August at dealers across the country.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.