Volkswagen's little Tiguan has grown up quite a bit for its second generation. The new Tiguan has gone from a compact and cute choice for young SUV shoppers to being a solid, spacious selection for small families raising the next generation of young drivers. Packing more amenities and more safety tech, the Tiguan is better than ever before in many ways, but it's not perfect.
In growing larger, the Tiguan is also a bit softer. Its performance isn't as sharp as it used to be. Are the comfort improvements worth these performance tradeoffs?
Now with three rows
The new 2018 Tiguan is about 11 inches longer than its predecessor, and both wider and taller, too. This opens up a lot of extra elbow room for all passengers and makes way for a newly available third row, giving compact SUV buyers seating for seven.
Front-wheel drive models come standard with three rows. Tiguans with 4Motion all-wheel drive start with just two rows, but can be upgraded to seven-passenger capability through a $500 third-row seating package. That way-back row is probably too tight for most adults -- I certainly didn't enjoy cramming back there to test it out -- but small kids should fit just fine.
With both the second and third rows folded flat, the Tiguan boasts a spacious 65.7 cubic feet of cargo space, and an optional kick-to-open power liftgate comes in handy when your hands are full. If you value cargo room more than people room, opting for a model without the third row bumps your total cargo capacity up to 73.5 cubic feet, a full 30 percent more than the old Tiguan.
Slightly underpowered performance
The 2018 Tiguan uses a new version of VW's 2.0-liter TSI turbocharged four-cylinder engine, producing 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. That's 16 fewer horsepower than the outgoing model, though an extra 14 pound-feet than before. This engine has a flatter overall torque curve than VW's older 2.0-liter powerplant, which helps with responsiveness, especially mid-range. But the larger Tiguan also has to lug around 373 more pounds of curb weight than the outgoing model, so despite having more torque than before, it's basically a wash.
The new 2.0T provides adequate power for around-town driving and highway cruising, but this new Tiggy can feel a bit underpowered when climbing steep hills or passing on the interstate. And that's just with one overweight journalist in the driver's seat, I imagine it'll feel more sluggish loaded up with six or seven souls onboard.
An eight-speed automatic gearbox is the only transmission available. It features a Sport setting and a manual shift option, but no paddles on the steering wheel. The transmission tuning certainly emphasizes economy over responsiveness, but the shifts are smooth. Given the Tiguan's primary mission of urban comfort duty, the transmission feels perfectly matched to the turbo engine.
Unfortunately, the decrease in power results in lower towing capacity and payload ratings. The 2018 Tiguan is only rated to tow 1,500 pounds, a 700-pound drop, and overall payload capacity is reduced by 225 pounds, to 970.
If there is a silver lining to the power and capability cuts, it's that the Tiguan is a hair more fuel efficient. My front-wheel drive example is good for an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. That's a 1-2-mpg gain across the board. I averaged around 25.7 mpg during my testing. 4Motion all-wheel drive models take a slight fuel economy hit, dropping back down to 21 city and 23 combined mpg.
The powerplant is a bit softer and so is the chassis. There's more body movement when cornering, less feedback through the wheel and an overall dulling of responsiveness when initiating a turn. The brakes feel a bit squishy and vague, but did a respectable job hauling the heavier Tiguan to a stop in an emergency. However, the ride is smoother, quieter and much more comfortable, all positives for those looking for a family-friendly errand machine. The suspension is better at soaking up jolts from potholes and those annoying steel road plates. This more comfortable, compliant ride isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does make this new Tiggy feel less playful.
Excellent dashboard tech
The Tiguan's cabin tech and infotainment amenities see a significant improvement for this generation.
VW's latest Car-Net App-Connect tech is standard across the lineup, with either a 6.5-inch touchscreen for S models or a larger 8-inch display for SE or higher trim levels. Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink are standard technologies, but even without them the onboard software is super easy to use. My top SEL trim levels also add navigation to the tech party.
At the tippy-top SEL Premium trim level, the Tiguan is also gains VW's Digital Cockpit, a 12.3-inch screen that serves as the instrument cluster, displaying traditional driving information -- including speedometer and tachometer gauges -- as well as more advanced functions such as a live navigation map. I especially like this feature because it allows me to control most of the infotainment without looking away from the road or taking my hands off of the steering wheel. If you're a techie looking at a Tiguan, consider Digital Cockpit the car's killer app.
The cherry on top of this great tech package is the sweet-sounding Fender audio system. The 9-speaker, 480-watt rig has a slightly "Beats Audio" bass-heavy character by default, but produces clear and distortion-free audio even at family-unfriendly volumes and sounds good with a variety of music and content types.
Keeping the family safe
The newer platform of this second-gen Tiguan enables a level of driver aid tech that the previous Tiguan could only dream of.
Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts and pre-collision auto-brake assist with pedestrian detection help prevent fender benders. These features are standard at the SE trim level or better, or part of an $850 Driver Assistance package for the base S model. Post-collision braking keeps a bad day from getting worse by helping to prevent additional collisions after an impact and is standard across the board.
Stepping up to an SEL model grants owners adaptive cruise control that works all the way down to stop and go traffic, while SEL Premium models gain lane keeping steering assist tech, active assistance for the blind-spot and rear cross-traffic systems and automatic high beam headlamps. In parking lots, the top model also showcases a cool multi-camera Area View system that gives 360-degree visibility around the SUV.
How I'd spec it
The bigger, more cuddly 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan starts at $24,595 for the base S trim with front-wheel drive. However, the Tiguan's best balance of value and features comes at the upper SEL ($31,090) trim level. This model rolls in all of the driver aid features that a young family could ask for, the best version of VW's dashboard tech and makes standard a massive panoramic sunroof that makes spacious cabin feel even more open.
The SEL Premium ($36,250) trim tested here adds the Digital Cockpit tech -- which I absolutely loved using for its ability to simplify all of the dashboard tech down to basic steering wheel controls -- nicer leather trim and LED headlamps. If you've got the extra dough to spend, the SEL Premium is nice, but I think the SEL is the sweet spot.
Next, there's the choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive ($1,300). I'd go front drive unless you live an an area that gets much snow or rain. Add $900 for destination charges to reach a recommended $31,990 for the SEL FWD. (For comparison, my SEL Premium FWD tester stickers for $37,150.)
The new Tiguan sits in an interesting place between classes. On one hand, it's bigger and more spacious than most of its traditional competition -- Honda's CR-V, the redesigned Toyota RAV4, Mazda's CX-5 and the like -- and boasts tech that's among the best in this class. Plus, it's one of the only vehicles in its segment with three rows.
But on the other hand, if three-row capability is a must-have, the Tiguan might not be your best bet. Pricing overlaps with more spacious vehicles like Mazda's CX-9, Toyota's Highlander and VW's own Atlas.
The Tiguan may be a tough sell for families who really need seating for seven. But if it's a well-rounded compact SUV you seek, the Tiguan might just be the ticket.