VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN

Intro

With 7.5 million examples of the Volkswagen Tiguan shifted in its 16-year history, the last thing Volkswagen wanted to do was change the formula. Which is why, above all else, it has concentrated on refining and enhancing its best-seller's perceived cabin quality to the point where this third-generation car feels slightly more in keeping with premium rivals like the BMW X1 than traditional ones (such as the Kia Sportage).VW doubtless has a lot riding on it, not least because UK customers are already spoilt for choice if they want a family SUV with upmarket intentions, ranging from the Nissan Qashqai right through to other Volkswagen Group cars such as the Seat Ateca and Skoda Karoq, to premium offerings such as the Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40.But can this new one not only pick up from but also build on where the last one left off? And how does it cope with rutted, potholed British roads? Time to find out.

Design

For this new Tiguan, you would maybe have imagined there would be a sort of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ ethos that pervaded the glistening halls of the Wolfsburg R&D centre. 

But even though the powertrain offering is broadly familiar and the design – while substantially renewed – hardly revolutionary, it becomes clear pretty quickly that the new Tiguan is related to its predecessor in not much more than size and general silhouette. 

It’s a bit 'Honey, I shrunk the Volkswagen Touareg'. Not such a bad thing. New IQ LED headlights frame a glass-covered horizontal bar with optionally integrated LED strip, replacing a more traditional radiator grille. Lots of different wheel combos. Quite a few colours.

Tonnes of choice too, with five trim levels: Tiguan, Life, Match, Elegance and R-Line.

Interior

The centrepiece of the totally overhauled cockpit is a new infotainment system, running through either a 12.9in or a massive, 15.0in touchscreen – the latter of which is a mite intrusive on your field of vision and slightly at odds with Volkswagen’s humble acknowledgement of well-publicised public feedback that it went too far with touch controls in its recent cars. 

The screen itself hosts small icons that can be quite difficult to hit at times, especially on bumpy UK roads. Otherwise, its graphics are some of the sharpest in the class, it reponds nicely to your inputs, and once you allow time to get used to it, its menus and sub-menus shouldn't cause you too much irritation.

The climate control touch bar is now permanently sited at the bottom of this screen so you won’t have a head-on collision every time you try to adjust the air-con, and the controversial heating control sliders are now backlit, so you won't have to drive home sweating or shivering in the dark. 

But maybe the most welcome introduction – or reintroduction – is the array of good old-fashioned buttons and switches on the spokes of the steering wheel. 

The old Tiguan's frustratingly unresponsive haptic panels for cruise control adjustment and stereo volume were not, it is plain, a resounding success in customer clinics and the Tiguan is among the early beneficiaries of a brand-wide return to analogue controls for such functions. 

A new rotary control with its own miniature screen can be used to alter the driving profile, radio volume and the cabin background lighting colours too.

Overall quality has taken a step up over the last car, with plush fabrics and soft-touch plastics dotted around the cabin to make it feel more like a natural rival to the BMW X1 and Audi Q3. The only hair in the soup is that some parts feel a bit hollow and overly flexible, which means it can't quite match the premium Germans in the quality race. 

Over many of its rivals, however, the Tiguan is one of the first family SUVs to receive ChatGPT. This addition is all about Volkswagen attempting to get us off Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and dialled into its systems. 

It’s all about big data. But in this instance, it means ChatGPT works a bit like Apple’s Siri. Ask it a question and it’ll give you an answer.

I asked Ida (Volkswagen's voice assistant; the Germans insist it’s pronounced Ay-da rather than I-da, but she answers to both) what the oldest car publication in the world is, and she replied with Autocar. Good stuff. 

I asked her who made better cars, Volkswagen or Mercedes, and she replied that both manufacturers had solid reputations. Not so good. 

Volkswagen's ChatGPT expert kept encouraging me to ask her how to make a chocolate cake. Her answer was, as far as I could tell, legit. But asking ChatGPT via Volkswagen while I’m driving for cooking instructions seems like the worst, most ill-conceived and stupidest way of receiving cooking instructions.

Performance

Engines come in two by two. There are two mild-hybrid petrols, two plug-in hybrids, two 2.0-litre turbo petrols and two 2.0-litre diesels – although in the UK, we won't get the higher-powered diesel.

Not that the engine really needs that extra power. Volkswagen really knows what it’s doing with diesels.

It’s effortless, really. At speed, it doesn’t need to shuffle much between the seven speeds and it just serenely gets on with the business of ferrying you to your next appointment. 

It's not quite so brilliant at lower speeds. The 'box can be a little hesitant to change down when travelling more slowly, so sometimes you’re left a bit in the lurch when joining a roundabout, for instance. It also sounds pretty gruff at high revs.

It’s quite normal diesel fare. You can get around the hesitancy of the gearbox with a pull of the left-hand paddle.

The PHEVs offer very convincing alternatives to the diesel. There are two power options (201bhp and 268bhp), both of which are officially capable of 62 miles on electricity alone. Both support fast charging too. 

We drove the faster version and can confirm that it’s more than competent. It's fair competition for the diesel if you’re looking to reduce your benefit-in-kind tax bills or simply want to cover a bit of zero-emissions local driving.

Clever swapping of battery and fuel tanks not only means there’s no loss in boot space but also that weight is kept low, so the car feels tied down in the corners. 

The blending of petrol and electric power is generally good and the driving modes make sense. Eco keeps it mostly in electric; Sport adds a bit more ICE. 

However, when you really need both to work in tandem quickly, a firm press of the accelerator pedal will send the revs rising. It feels jolty and sounds strained.

As does the 1.5 mild-hybrid unit, which we drove in the UK. This is its only negative quality, though. In all circumstances apart from overtaking, it remains hushed and unintrusive and makes the car a nice companion on long journeys. 

It also offers a decent level of performance. We drove the higher-output, 148bhp car and at no point did it feel anything other than competent, both in its efficiency and power delivery. Throughout the day's test, the car averaged 39.2mpg, having been driven through towns, on fast A-roads and through winding country lanes. If you're looking for a nice balance of power and economy but don't fancy the hybrid or diesel model, this is the engine to go for.

Ride and handling

The Tiguan has been subject to a drastic chassis overhaul, with slick new two-valve dampers promising to substantially boost both refinement and response, controlled by a new Vehicle Dynamics Manager programme shared with none other than the Volkswagen Golf GTI.

All of which translates into impressively comprehensive variability in the suspension settings, simply illustrated and operated by a new sliding scale on the touchscreen that offers 15deg of variation between the extremes of Comfort and Sport. 

In Comfort, the Tiguan handles lumpen UK roads with a sense of unruffled, rubbery solidity and an impressive secondary ride quality, managing to isolate occupants from bumps without much in the way of road or tyre noise.

It takes shattered Tarmac and cobblestones in its stride and separates the vertical movements of wheel and chassis so cleanly as to imbue this humble family hack with genuine premium panache. 

Volkswagen didn’t want a ‘magic carpet’ ride, engineers told us, referencing the cloud-like qualities of the old Citroën DS as an example. Instead, the aim was to drastically enhance straight-line comfort while preserving a sense of connection with the road, the latter largely achieved through gentle but tangible feedback over imperfections through the steering column and – to a far lesser extent – the seat base. 

Configured as such, the ride is floaty and soft but stops short of wallowing, and body roll is kept in check remarkably well for what remains at its core a near-1.7-tonne, 1640mm-tall family car with scant (if any) requirement to offer any sort of dynamic reward. 

Which rather prompts the obvious question: how many thrill-seeking Tiguan owners are really ever going to swipe right on the interface and set the suspension to Sport? Volkswagen reckons it’s for those occasions where you’ve had a long day at work, the kids aren’t in the car and you fancy taking the long way home. 

But be under no illusion: the Tiguan has not been reinvented as some sort of physics-defying, apex-hunting Q car for its third outing.

Even with the dampers in their stiffest setting and the steering tuned for more resistance and heft, there’s no getting away from the dynamic limitations posed by the lofty stature and high centre of gravity of an SUV, and anything beyond a mildly enthusiastic approach to cornering will have you sliding from bolster to bolster as the body tips and dives through the turns.

Criss-cross southern England in full-on Comfort mode like we did and you will appreciate how floaty the ride is. Approach a bend a bit too quickly and you will feel some roll, but not in an unpleasant way, and it doesn’t wallow as such.

The newly fettled steering rack is quick and quite precise, helping to inspire confidence in more demanding environments.

MPG and running costs

Officially, the diesel will do around 53mpg. The PHEV is theoretically more economical and in triple figures (although official MPG for UK models has yet to be released).

As with all PHEVs, though, its economy depends on whether you bother charging it and how you use it, whereas the diesel will chug along on the motorway, implacably delivering value.

As mentioned, our 1.5 mild-hybrid test car still managed to achieve nearly 40mpg on a mixture of driving roads without the need to drive especially economically – good news if you're looking to tow or go skiing and have the Alps to climb.

Verdict

The Tiguan really needs to provide no-fuss, carry-all daily motoring without complaint. 

And it does. This new Mk3 Tiguan continues to promise big SUV practicality in a relatively compact package, looking to uphold its billing as ‘the Golf of crossovers’. It matches its predecessor’s 2681mm wheelbase, for instance, but has 10mm more head room and a 33-litre bigger boot than its predecessor

It has also been embellished with even more road-going refinement and solidity, decent interior quality and even a bit of sporting appeal.

New powertrains keep it fresh and move it slightly ahead of a lot of the competition that don’t offer PHEVs, and the improved interior is largely easy to use and well thought out.

All things considered, it’s hard to not recommend. It feels better suited to UK roads than ever and has nearly all the cachet it needs to compete with true premium rivals.

2024-02-21T23:17:07Z dg43tfdfdgfd