Caught flat-footed by the sport-utility explosion.
- Seattle, Washington
Hang around the party long enough - like the 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan - and eventually, people will begin to tire of even your best qualities. The Tiguan, on the verge of replacement next year by an all-new version of VW's entry-level SUV, has been caught flat-footed by the sport-utility explosion that has plastered the walls of the auto industry with high tech, fuel efficient, and eminently-practical family haulers.
Volkswagen's traditionally long development cycles work well for class-leaders like the Golf hatchback, but in fast-paced SUV circles that same philosophy has seen the Tiguan surpassed by almost every rival as it patiently waits for 2018's thorough update that will once again make it competitive. There are definitely some noteworthy aspects of the Tiguan experience that will appeal to very specific customers, but VW's desire to climb out of niche status and become a player on the sport-utility scene will require the upcoming redesign to address the current vehicle's shortcomings.
Handling for the SUV does a nice job of balancing precision and comfort.
Lest you begin to think you should just skip the Volkswagen Tiguan test drive altogether and move on to the next vehicle on your list, we're going to start with what the five-passenger model does well. The VW comes standard with a 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that generates 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque, numbers that keep it safely mid-pack when compared against compact rivals, and when matched with its available six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive system the Tiguan provides smooth, drama-free acceleration even on low-traction surfaces (with base models offering standing front-wheel drive and an optional six-speed manual gearbox). Handling for the SUV does a nice job of balancing precision and comfort, and while the Volkswagen never invites boisterous driving it certainly doesn't embarrass itself in a corner.
While a standard 200 horsepower turbo is a nice-to-have feature, it also happens to be the only hand that the Volkswagen Tiguan has to play. There's no fuel-saver lurking on the options sheet, nor is there a torquey, higher-boost mill available to take on increasingly diverse SUV drivetrains such as those offered by Ford (in the Escape) and Kia (the Sportage). The single gas engine strategy might work for Honda's CR-V and Toyota's RAV4, but those motors have the virtue of being much more efficient than the VW setup.
The Tiguan continues to be priced higher than more feature-packed elements of the sport-utility spectrum.
They're also much better equipped, as this is another spot where the Volkswagen Tiguan platform's age rears its head as a liability. Although the vehicle's infotainment system has been recently upgraded to a better, and more intuitive design, the vehicle lacks any feature that could be labeled innovative, which is dangerous territory to occupy on the current tech-obsessed landscape. It also hamstrings the VW SUV when it comes to active safety features, as the Tiguan offers, well, nothing at all in that department: there's no blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, forward collision alert, or even parking assistance to be found with the Volkswagen. Despite these missing features, the Tiguan continues to be priced higher than more feature-packed elements of the sport-utility spectrum.
That pricing disconnect illustrates how the 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan's place in the SUV ecosystem hasn't changed in the minds of the automaker's decision makers. Although no doubt aware of where the Tiguan falls short of being competitive, with the next-generation version still one model year away the only real option for VW is to squeeze as much profit out of the existing vehicle as possible. That means connecting with fans of the brand who aren’t willing to wait for the more competitive redesign to park a Volkswagen sport-utility beside their Passat, Golf, or Jetta. In terms of styling, the vehicle's conservative looks inside and out keep it at arm's length from some of the more extroverted compact SUVs out there, which will be a plus to shoppers who are fans of restrained European design. It also helps that the cabin is legitimately a nice place to spend some time, as long as one is willing to overlook the fact that even with the rear seats folded, the Tiguan barely matches the much smaller Golf hatchback in terms of total cargo space - and is dwarfed by almost every other entry-level SUV on the market.
The Tiguan's appeal is likely restricted to brand loyalists unwilling to wait for its replacement.
The SUV inertia at Volkswagen is about to shift, as the brand recognizes that greater numbers of Canadian shoppers are trading in their sedans for sport-utilities that promise better versatility and practicality on a daily basis. In addition to the Tiguan's more spacious replacement, a three-row mid-size people mover will hit showrooms in the summer of 2017, and this pairing will undoubtedly invigorate VW's ability to connect with the crossover-hungry masses. Until then, the Volkswagen Tiguan's high price-to-features ratio and modest interior proportions will likely restrict its appeal to repeat buyers who have yet to stray outside Teutonic borders in their search for an SUV.
Photographs: Benjamin Hunting