Review: 2021 VW Tiguan still charms
It has its own shortcomings, but the Tiguan is a charming small SUV with an optional seven seats.
The Road Beat reviews the 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL R-Line. Words and photos by Mitchell Weitzman.
What is it?
Volkswagen's Tiguan, their not-so-compact compact SUV. Designed to compete with vehicles like the Chevy Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, or Mazda CX-5 among others, it's a (relatively) affordable way to move you, your family, and pets all about in your daily routines. Why would you want one? Because you like the concept of owning something German with lots of space and for a price most can afford. Is it a perfect 'people's car?' Not quite, but it does display some pretty good merits of why you would choose this over a domestic or Japanese rival. It's a very crowded field of compact SUVs, and I think the Tiguan stands out by, well, not standing out. Read on why that could be what you want.
The Tiguan, especially this 4Motion AWD model, drives particularly well. Steering is on the light side for my tastes, but it's wonderfully accurate which loads you with confidence once the road starts zig-zagging. The chassis reassures, too, maintaining a neutral and eager outlook when it comes to handling. You can throw the nose in and get back on the power early and hard, with the Tiguan modestly firing out of corners with very little understeer. In the real world, albeit with some practice, you can easily terrorize the casual Porsche owner on back-roads quite easily, such is the capability and ease of use. No, I'm not saying it's faster than a new 911, but considering many Porsche owners haven't a clue what they're doing behind the wheel, then yes you can be faster than them.
The ride quality impresses, too, exhibiting controlled responses to bumps. For example, a recent Hyundai Tucson had a horrible reaction to larger dips that left the car bouncing up and down long after the impact. The Tiguan remains neat and tidy at nearly all times while remaining comfortable. It can get out by larger imperfections, but it's better than many others.
I like the style of the Tiguan, even if it's quite understated. Toyota's RAV4 is angular to grab attention while that same Tucson looks alien-futuristic (I rather like that, but I understand many others won't). It all comes across as very German here, and in a time where so many other cars have bold styling cues strewed about, it's almost now a luxury to see something so simply handsome. This R-Line example adds a few niceties for a more catching appearance than other Tiguans such as those 20" wheels. Perhaps it's still a little boring? Sure, but handsome nonetheless.
For being considered a compact SUV, the Tiguan is nothing of the sort. Space in the front and second rows is generous and able to fit a variety of shapes and sizes of human (or canine). The storage/cargo area is plenty for anything that doesn't require a Suburban and this Tiguan even has a fold-down third-row of seats, a rarity for a vehicle of this class. Granted, those third-row seats suck, but at least they're there in case of emergency (they're optional so you can either choose with or without the third-row). The third-row option is unique in this class, as I can't think of another compact SUV that boasts seven seats.
Performance is far from hot. While the turbocharged four-cylinder is smooth and friendly in operation, speed is not in its dictionary. 0-60 MPH happens in a glacial 8.8 seconds, which places it far behind competitors; A Mazda CX-5 Turbo will clear 60 MPH over two seconds quicker! Pickup from a stop and accelerating up to speed in normal conditions is perfectly adequate and presents no issue whatsoever, but stomp your foot down like Toretto and you're greeted with basically nothing. Passing isn't easy in the Tiguan.
You would think that maybe they sacrificed performance for economy, but that isn't the case either, with an average showing of 25 MPG overall and 33 on the highway. Rivals that perform better are also just as or even more efficient. The one caveat is that the Tiguan is at least slightly bigger, so the economy isn't so much of a demerit as it was just middle of the pack. I hoped for more after being so impressed with the 50 MPG freeway runs of past Jettas and Golfs. Let me be clear, the economy is fine - others might call it good - but I just hoped for more considering how slow it is.
The Tiguan, here in totally loaded up SEL Premium R-Line spec, has an interior that will please some, but not once you realize just how much it costs. I was perfectly fine with the interior of the last Tiguan I tested, but that was a sub-$35,000 Tiguan. With this example cresting over $40,000, it's just not quite good enough. I do like two-tone design and brightly colored Storm Gray seats, and they're comfortable, too, but other materials are somewhat lacking for the high asking price. The general design of the center of the dash with its infotainment also looks dated. It's easy to use and also works quite well, but it could be held to a higher standard for sure. You might also notice the Fender-branded stereo, but I found it nothing more than average.
I like the Tiguan a lot. It drives really nice and has all the space you could need or want. The performance is weak, but it isn't meant for that anyways. The interior doesn't impress, but you could bag yourself a far cheaper version than this that is basically the same quality. And that is what I would recommend. Like the R-Line appearance package? You can get an SE R-Line (instead of this SEL) for nearly $10,000 less, and that represents huge value.
20221 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium R-Line AWD As-tested price: $40,885
Pros: Very nice to drive; Spacious; Handsome exterior
Cons: Slow; Unimpressive interior quality at this price; Also, expensive as optioned
Verdict: The Tiguan is a favorite for a reason, but careful with the price and packages