2020 Volkswagen Tiguan 4Motion Review
The Road Beat Tests Volkswagen's Bestseller, the Tiguan Crossover
I want to confess: I've never been the biggest fan of newer Volkswagens. Apart from the Golf GTI, I always felt most models from the 'people's car' (that's what Volkswagen translates to from German) lacked any real excitement and were designed and engineered by automotive pharmacists. Basically, they were the automotive equivalent of cough medicine. This I found to be true with the last Volkswagen I drove, the Atlas Cross Sport, which put on a pretty face to disguise an otherwise sterile and overpriced antibiotic.
Consider me more than surprised then that the Tiguan, Volkswagen's American bestseller, proved to be more than just a trip to Rite Aid. In fact, after spending a week with the crossover, I understood why so many do have them in their driveways (sales have been over 100,000 the past few years). It's not perfect, though, with a couple issues. Chief among which is the poor fuel economy. Where a similarly powered and priced RAV4 will do 35 MPG on the highway, the Tiguan could only manage 31. What's worse is in overall driving (and driving like a saint), Volkswagen's champion only mustered a mere 21 from the small 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder. I thought small and turbocharged engines were supposed to provide better efficiency? Well they can. A BMW X1, with a comparatively stonking 227 horsepower 2.0 turbo, will average close to 30. Hmmm. Maybe the effects of VW's emissions cheating has led to more restrictive engines...
Besides the disappointing economy, it's more pony power than quarter horse. Acceleration testing yielded 9.2 seconds to 60 MPH. I was so shocked by the number I repeated it with different methods and still couldn't improve the times. With 184 horsepower and 221 pounds of torque from the turbo-four, it should be faster. 50-70 lasted 5 seconds, while on a hill that number was a crawling near-8 seconds. Pulling away from traffic lights is fine, but accelerate when you need to, and there simply isn't anything there. I wouldn't be surprised if I'm told this Tiguan was defective of some sort, like it was missing 50 horsepower. And for being turbocharged, it was the lacking midrange punch that should be there to shove you along. So, assuming this to be normal for this engine choice, I hope you are fine with the performance, or severe lack thereof. Plan passing maneuvers carefully.
Apart from that, the 4-cylinder is among the smoothest fours out there. Some can be 'boomy' and coarse as they rev, but the Tiguan's unit refrains from such atrocity. The 8-speed automatic works perfectly well, delivering smooth shifts basically everywhere. But dig your foot in, let it downshift, and your pace just doesn't seem to increase. Even with sport mode engaged to give sharper throttle response, the gears will change more briskly and attentively, but it doesn't make it any faster.
And that's where the good begins for the Tiguan. Once you get the slowness out of the way, this is a very good car. This SEL-badged trim level was loaded with all sorts of goodies, and the ones you want in your modern everyday car for yourself or family. Some highlights included the large panoramic sunroof, 19" alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control (not a fan, but I'm the minority), blind sport monitoring, lane keeping assist, remote engine start, wireless charging, collision warning and emergency braking, and of the course, the 4Motion all-wheel drive system. In fact, the only options on this SEL were $92 floor mats - everything else is included as standard. With a price, including destination, of $34,657, it's a very well-priced machine for all the equipment onboard and lives up to being a 'People's Car.'
Also, it must be said how simplistically good-looking the Tiguan is. Adorned in its Cardinal Red paint, it's an understated eye-catcher. While Kia and Hyundai and even Toyota have gone for more dramatic styling recently, the Tiguan is simpler, but effective. Bearing strong resemblance to more expensive Audi siblings might have something to do with it, too. Inside, the cabin is no luxury power player, but works for a $35K car. It's essentially the same interior as the $43K Atlas I last drove, just slightly shrunken down. The Atlas' interior was borderline mediocre for the price tag, but here, for significantly less, it's more than acceptable. The layout and styling of the cabin matches the exterior in sending a simple, yet effective utilitarian message. The leatherette seats were plenty decent in feel and comfort and I'd see no reason to desire leather.
Volkswagen/Audi's 'Digital Cockpit' gauge cluster replaces traditional needles for a completely electronic affair. Armed with too much information, I found it overwhelming and dizzying to control at times (distracting). I also happen to know that others will love it. Space, while less than an Atlas, is still more than enough for anyone, with no complaints from passengers both front and rear. Open the tailgate and the cargo space can easily transport your latest (reasonable) Green Acres or Costco purchases.
I had the chance to drive the Tiguan in a variety of scenes, of which the most telling perhaps was a drive to New Melones Lake in Calaveras County and back home, about a 150 mile round trip. The Tiguan proved quiet and comfortable for the duration of the drive. The steering was surprising, reminding me more of the Golf hot hatches, with nice weighting and accurate responses. On winding historic Highway 49, the Tiguan never felt lazy in its handling. If anything, it was eager to change direction and tackle corners.
While not a hot hatch like a GTI, the Tiguan was unexpectedly fun to drive with its tied-down chassis and willingness to change direction and tackle corners. I figured it would understeer into oblivion, but there was a lovely ability to rotate the front end with a small throttle-lift on entry. For what could and should be a boring family carrier on paper, the handling is a welcome delight. The 4Motion all-wheel drive provided total traction, all the time, and by sending some power away from the front and to the rear, this surely contributed to the good balance. Torque steer, where front-wheel drive cars attempt to wriggle the steering wheel out of your hands during acceleration, was also non-existent. It's just a shame that it can't accelerate between the corners with the weak engine. MPG during this trip at least hit 25 on 60 MPH hill-laden country roads, but that number should be higher.
Rounding things up, I enjoyed driving the Tiguan for the week, being a nice thing to climb inside of leaving work each day. The overall quality and equipment are great for the price, and it has handling chops to boot. The only subjectively objective metric holding it back for me is the engine with its poor performance and lacking economy - even the EPA rates it at just 20 city and 27 freeway. Get a proper engine in there, and the Tiguan will be the ruler of the people's cars.
2020 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0T SEL 4Motion
As-Tested Price $34,657
The Road Beat rating: 4/5
Pros: Well-priced and good value, fun handling
Cons: Dismally slow, disappointing MPG
Verdict: Almost a perfect people's car