A good compact crossover is like a good winter coat: it’s nothing to get excited about or in, but its ability to satisfy several functions can be very pleasing. The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is like a good winter coat.
Fortunately for car buyers, the hottest segment in the industry doesn’t have any duds or divas, so differentiating between them is less about the facts than a feeling. The Tiguan grew on me every day.
The design of the second-generation Tiguan is conservatively clean as opposed to some fur-lined Canada Goose thing. It doesn’t turn heads, but the Habanero Orange coat of the test car definitely stood out in gray parking lots. It’s 10.6 inches longer than the outgoing model, but weighs about 260 pounds more. Most redesigned vehicles in the modern era trim weight, but Volkswagen wanted more size on its MQB architecture, presumably to distinguish it from the subcompact crossover sold in Europe as the T-Roc. Seems like such an American name, pity it hasn’t been announced for the U.S.
It’s as roomy on the inside as the best-selling Honda CR-V but with a more spirited ride, despite weighing about 350 pounds more. The revised turbocharged four-cylinder engine features variable valve timing, which boosts max torque to 221 pound-feet at 1,600 rpm. There’s enough punch to make passing moves and enough grunt to get off the line.
The lower ride height and longer wheelbase help the crossover handle more like a car. While improved, the fuel economy of 23 mpg combined lags the 1.5-liter turbocharged Honda CR-V, which gets 29 mpg combined. The eight-speed transmission lets the driver customize the ride more than the fuel-saving continuously variable transmission in the CR-V, so the Tiguan has the edge in terms of individual freedom.
Tiguan encountered the season’s first icy snowfall with grip and grace. The tester came with conditional all-wheel drive (the Germans call it 4Motion Active Control), which in the default setting is essentially front-wheel drive. It reacted predictably, with the rear sliding into and out of turns as the front wheels correct the line. Switching the setting to snow/ice on the same side street in the same conditions created a significant difference in confidence and ability because it sends power to the rear axle as well. The system dampens the throttle response, and the eight-speed shifts earlier for more torque without the wheel spin. It held the road better on the highway at higher speed as well, where it could sluice out of the wheel ruts in the snow into other lanes with careful confidence.
That’s what most drivers want out of an AWD system: the ability to handle variable road conditions with confidence, more so than going off road. The two other settings, off-road and custom off-road, suggest the Tiguan can do that, but we didn’t have an opportunity to test it. It felt as capable as a Subaru, but that may have just been the black plastic cladding on the underbody. The Outback, Forester and Crosstrek have 8.7 inches of ground clearance, compared with 7.9 inches in the Tiguan.
The interior design is as clean as the outside. Even the middling SE trim feels upscale, with heated leatherette seats and surfaces, as well as a 10-way power driver seat. The climate controls and buttons are refreshingly familiar, voice commands are competent, and the 8-inch touch screen has a clear layout flanked by tuning and volume knobs, which is nice, Honda. As are the three USB ports. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto is standard and makes for simple navigation, but we wish the redundant steering controls enabled the driver to change the audio source and scroll thru stations.
Cargo room is much improved over the outgoing model, by up to 58 percent, according to Volkswagen, but it was the 40/20/40 folding rear seats that helped us transport four people and three kids worth of gym bags and hockey goalie pads for the weekend. The Tiguan is offered with a third row standard in the front-wheel drive version but we can’t imagine how you fit anything other than the passengers’ winter coats back there.
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SE AWD at a glance
Vehicle type: Compact crossover
Base price: $30,230
As tested: $30,875 (excluding $900 destination)
Mpg:: 21 city, 27 highway
Engine: 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Parting shot: As likable as compact crossovers get.