Crossover shoppers typically experience the Goldilocks syndrome before settling on a choice suited to their purse and purposes. At Volkswagen dealerships, their selection process is aggravated by the yawning gap between the baby-bear Tiguan and the papa-bear Touareg. The remedy, to be unveiled at the coming 2017 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, is a second-generation Tiguan benefitting from a 7.4-inch wheelbase stretch and a 10.7-inch increase in overall length. This new mama-bear Tiguan combines significantly more cargo space with an optional third row of seating capable of accommodating two cubs.
Kalahari, Here We Come
Practicing for the crucial American launch, VW began selling a new short-wheelbase Tiguan in Europe last spring. To warm journalists to this cause, VW invited us to South Africa’s Kalahari Desert, where the ambient temperature was 107 degrees Fahrenheit, to drive camouflaged prototypes. Why here? Because these vast, open, and unpatrolled paved and gravel roads follow clocks that are always within an hour of VW’s Wolfsburg, Germany, home base, making them ideal for extending the company’s summer test schedule by several months. Sunscreen and scorpion repellent were issued as balm for wounds sustained in the line of journalistic duty.
The Tiguan’s foundation is formed from the MQB modular components set created early in this decade for wide-scale use within the VW Group. Since 2012, VW has built and sold 28 models for its brand and a total of 4.6 million vehicles in 32 worldwide assembly plants atop this versatile platform. All MQBs share a transverse engine and transmission orientation, but from that starting point, practically anything goes—front- or all-wheel drive; three-, four-, and six-cylinder engines; significant wheelbase, track, and exterior-dimension variations; and body styles ranging from the next-generation subcompact Polo to the coming 2018 Atlas large SUV. The flexible-platform seed planted 20 years ago by VW’s master arborist Ferdinand Piëch has flourished to become a lush family tree of products.
What VW stridently touts as “German engineering” means that all of its products share common dynamic characteristics. You sense that in the new Tiguan’s leather-wrapped steering wheel, which has grip, thumb-notch, and rim-section parameters reminiscent of the one in VW’s illustrious GTI hatchback. The Tiguan’s driver’s seat is well bolstered to hold upper and lower torsos in place—sadly, a distinct lack of paved corners on our drive route kept us from challenging these buckets at anything close to the adhesion limit. Nor did we have any opportunity to evaluate VW’s optionally available 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system beyond rotating the console controller through modes for snowy, highway, and off-road conditions. In highway mode—which essentially is meant for all dry paved roads—punching a button at the center of the mode knob lets you choose among Eco, Normal, Sport, and Custom operating modes.
Many miles on poorly maintained gravel roads revealed that ride-and-handling engineers have excelled at filtering all wheel kick from the helm. The algorithms that manage the Tiguan’s electrically assisted power steering also mute communication between smooth pavement and the driver’s fingertips. The best one can hope for in this age of computerized steering assistance is no center slack and a pleasing rise in effort off-center, two characteristics that are clearly evident in the Tiguan’s calibrations. Adaptive dampers let the driver toggle between Comfort and Sport damping levels at will.
Fewer Horses in the Corral
U.S. Tiguans will be assembled at VW’s Puebla, Mexico, assembly plant, in service since the original Beetle’s days. This necessitates sourcing engines from Silao, Mexico, instead of Europe. The new version of VW’s EA888 turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four carries over several features from the outgoing Tiguan’s engine: a cast-iron block, chain-driven overhead cams, counter-rotating balance shafts, direct fuel injection, and an exhaust manifold cast integrally with the cylinder head. The unfortunate part is a loss of 16 horsepower (now 184), allegedly sacrificed in the interests of improved torque and fuel efficiency, although exact mileage figures are still unknown.
The Tiguan’s new engine working in collaboration with an Aisin six-speed torque-converter automatic transaxle provides this heavier crossover with energetic acceleration from rest. A manual mode is available for those who enjoy shifting for themselves. While we noticed some vibration at idle and found less passing urge from 70 mph than we prefer, the engineering prototypes we drove in South Africa are far from final spec and therefore still have a chance to improve their behavior.
It’s also premature to comment on the quality and execution of the new Tiguan’s interior, but we did peel back the dash-camouflage curtain to inspect the centrally located 8.0-inch touchscreen abetted by a pair of knobs for infotainment volume and tuning. One of many available menus supports off-road driving with a screen that shows a compass, steering angle, pitch and roll angles, and engine oil temperature. A second electronic display between the speedometer and tachometer conveys navigation, trip, and mileage info; we had no opportunity to study them in detail beyond noticing how clear, concise, and useful these displays are.
Rear and Rearmost
The real center of attraction lies rearward. The Tiguan’s comfortable second row of seats slides fore and aft through seven inches of travel and offers an adjustable backrest angle. One high-mounted release lever allows tipping and sliding either the large left- or the smaller right-seat section for third-row entry. A low-mounted fabric loop, which seems unusually chintzy for VW, also releases the backrest while leaving the bottom cushion in place.
Those expecting adult-sized accommodations comparable to the Honda Pilot, Ford Flex, and Buick Enclave three-row crossovers will be deeply disappointed by the Tiguan, which lives just above the Mitsubishi Outlander in terms of wheelbase and overall length. While someone of normal stature can get to the rearmost seat and find sufficient legroom, griping will ensue when heads rub the ceiling, and the exit maneuver borders on Olympic gymnastics. Those families without little ones can skip the steerage-class third-row seats altogether, saving a few dollars and pounds. VW cites a 44 percent increase in cargo space over the outgoing Tiguan, although the precise details of how storage volume grows when seats are successively folded won’t be revealed until sometime next year, when VW’s new 2018-model-year crossover should be on sale in time for summer vacations.
Longer and lower exterior proportions, a fresh face, and a less-is-more design motif will attempt to draw shoppers beset with choice toward VW showrooms. Beyond the wisdom of reinventing the Tiguan to better battle mounting competition, VW shrewdly spotted it where the vaguely defined classes of compact and mid-size crossovers overlap. Assuming our guesses of a $26,000 base price and no window sticker topping $40,000 are accurate, the Tiguan is set to garner a greater share of crossover sales, America’s single largest market segment.