Why is VW so late to the 4x4 party?
Blame management, complicated model cycles and just about every other excuse under the sun. And speaking of the sun, those countries from the land of the rising sun have been doing the medium-sized 4x4 thing since the mid-1990s. Toyota launched the Rav4 over a decade ago, let's not forget. Only this year have we seen offerings from Europe: Vauxhall’s Antara has just arrived, and we’re still awaiting the Ford Kuga and Renault Koleos. Now VW are plugging the small 4x4 hole in their line-up with this, the Tiguan. No, not Touran or Touareg, but Tiguan.
So if you’re late to the party you bring something special, right?
Well yes and no. Nothing stands out as spectacular but tardiness does mean that the Tiguan gets the latest Haldex four-wheel-drive system. The system no longer needs to register wheelspin to engage the four-wheel drive. In general driving conditions about 90 percent of the torque goes to the front wheels but it can momentarily go 100 percent rear drive. There’s also what VW calls APA, which is short for axle parallel steering. It’s VW’s latest electro-mechanical steering that auto adjusts to compensate for crosswinds and camber, and also reduces kickback should you ever leave the tarmac. But perhaps the highest accolade we can give the Tiguan is that with the right equipment, right colour and a nice set of wheels, the new VW will exude enough street cred to challenge the BMW X3. It’s a soft-roader you can pose in, then.
VW is famous for platform sharing - so what’s under the Tiguan?
A little bit of everything all rolled into rolled one. The base platform is Golf, but there’s Passat front and rear suspension, Phaeton brakes, and that new Haldex four-wheel drive system. There are two different set-ups. The Track & Field trim level comes with a 28-degree front approach angle, as opposed to other models' 18-degree one. Thankfully VW hasn’t compromised the majority for the sake of a minority: this off-road spec model looks a little ungainly. Opt for the Trend & Fun or Sport & Style trim, and the car looks better. Such names also give a clue to the Tiguan’s target audience.
So what’s it like to drive?
There’s nothing stellar in the chassis department but it all works very well. The compliant ride is excellent, especially compared to the BMW X3. It’s even more remarkable when you consider that our test car ran 18-inch wheels. What those wheels also help to do is provide lots of grip and traction. The steering has no feel and no real feedback, but it would be more of a shocker if such a car had any. But it means the car is stable during high-speed cruising. It also stays neutral in fast sweepers, and only understeers in tighter turns. The BMW X3 is ultimately more entertaining than the VW, and while it’s more powerful, don't forget it’s also around £8000 more expensive.
So if the Tiguan uses a Golf platform, does that also mean Golf engines?
But of course. Initially there will be only the 148bhp TSI and the 138bhp TDI units. The TSI unit is a 1.4-litre with a supercharger and a turbocharged, and bests the Rav4’s 2.0-litre petrol’s 143lb ft with 177lb ft from 1750 to 4000rpm. Early next year, two new 2.0-litre TSI powerplants will be added, as well as a 168bhp 2.0-litre TDI. Our test car was the 138bhp diesel with 236lb ft from 1750rpm to 2500rpm. It’s now common-rail as opposed to VW’s old pump-duse item, and is thus quieter and cleaner. But throttle response isn’t as instant and it misses the old sledgehammer oomph that made previous TDIs such fun. If you hang on for the higher power diesel just remember that you can’t have it with the six-speed auto.
Golf underneath, Golf interior?
It’s close, because the cabin started life as a Golf Plus. It’s fairly compact so you sit upright, but it’s still comfortable. It is a truly decent bit of kit. The (optional) leather is nicer than in a Nissan Qashqai or BMW X3. The driving position is better, the sat-nav is more intuitive, the rear visibility superior and even the fit and finish are ahead too. Fold the rear seats and the Tiguan has 1510 litres of space. In first gear, 1000rpm equals 4.2mph – a crawler gear, almost in line with a low range transfer case. Useful for going up steep stuff, then.
Compromises don’t come much better than this, and apart from the slight increase in fuel consumption due to the four-wheel drive system, there’s little to fault the new Tiguan. It’s still compact for the school runs, but is beneficially bigger than the Golf Plus. VW might be late, but it’s been worth the wait. And if you can wait a little longer VW is readying electronic dampers for the Tiguan, plus you’ll be able to spec wider wheelarches and 19-inch chromed alloys. Bling bling. There’s also an R-line bodykit coming, and - should VW see the demand - a V6 and a 200bhp+ diesel.