I know what it’s like to be small in stature. Throughout school I was always height challenged, as some like to call it. Making matters worse, my overall build didn’t easily accumulate upper mass—the type desired—yet had no problem attracting mid-rift bulge—the unwanted variety. I worked hard to overcome the bodily challenges plus greater interest in books and hobbies than sports, combined with a love of sweets, and albeit somewhat unwillingly became a fairly decent athlete. I suppose this is why I relate to the Tiguan.
After all, it’s always been pintsized compared to its supposed “compact” competitors, although it’s more recently had the ego-boosting benefit of looking large among a bevy of new subcompact SUVs—kind of like yours truly “towering” above many of my oh-so wonderfully friendly family, friends and colleagues in my second home of the Philippines. Of course, all of this VW SUV small talk will soon become moot as the German brand prepares to replace this abbreviated 2017 Tiguan with a newer and larger version for 2018, which should help it attract more buyers looking for additional size and functionality at a similar price point.
The current model, which only received a mid-cycle update since debuting in 2007, is smaller than most compacts, and therefore sells in much fewer numbers than more popular compacts like Honda’s CR-V, Toyota’s RAV4, Ford’s Escape, Nissan’s Rogue, etcetera. The Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage suffer from a similar scenario, as they’re sized closer to large subcompact SUVs like Mitsubishi’s Outlander Sport, Toyota’s new C-HR, and Nissan’s just-arrived Rogue Sport.
The actual Tiguan sales numbers might be emotionally deflating to those within VW’s ranks were they not in the process of launching a completely revised version, with the current model’s 2017 year-to-date sales of 15,218 units as of May 31 ranking 16th out of 16 models selling into the mainstream compact SUV segment; yes, its YTD sales are now slower than the normally bottom feeding Mitsubishi Outlander. The Tiguan fared slightly better last year, its 43,638 total sales placing 15th overall after all 12 months of 2016 came to a close. Then again, to put all this into perspective last year’s bestselling CR-V sold 357,335 units.
This said does the Tiguan’s poor sales ranking make it a bad choice in the compact SUV class? Not at all. In fact, if you were to compare its sales among subcompact SUVs, its 2017 YTD number and 2016 calendar year sales would put it fifth out of 11 competitors (although two were just added last month). Of course, if we did this we’d need to toss the two Korean compact SUVs into the mix, but even knocking that fantasy sales chart standing down a couple of notches would be a good showing for the little VW.
If you hadn’t noticed, I find sales stats compelling. They’re often the only real indicators of how much we consumers like a given vehicle, or not, and often reflect the overall goodness of a given model, not to mention its value proposition. Of course, in order to achieve a better understanding of true popularity we should also factor in model allocation (just how many units a manufacturer makes available to a given market), the advertising spend (the RAV4 and CR-V get a lot more ad money than the Tiguan), and so on, but as far as unscientific “polling” goes these sales numbers help separate the so called “men from the boys.” That (admittedly gender-specific and therefore totally unacceptable) adage inelegantly segues me back into the current 2017 Tiguan’s size equation, which I’ll get out of the way right now.
The Tiguan is 174.5 inches long with a 102.5-inch wheelbase, 71.2 inches wide and 67.0 inches tall, the latter dimension being the only measurement that exceeds the larger compact SUV rivals mentioned a moment ago. The high roofline makes it ideal for loftier folk (a common physical trait among Germans), but results in an oddly proportioned visual top-heaviness and that short, pudgy appearance noted at the beginning of this review. Some might find it cute, but the Tiguan isn’t an SUV that buyers lust over.
Where it comes up shorter than average is cargo capacity, the Tiguan’s 23.8 cubic feet of rearmost luggage space and 56.1 cubic feet upon second-row seatbacks being laid flat nowhere near as capacious as the Escape’s 34.3 cubic-foot and 68.1 cubic-foot respective offering, or for that matter the Rogue’s 39.3 cubic-foot and 70.0 cubic-foot advantage, the RAV4’s 38.4 cubic-foot and 73.3 cubic-foot benefit, or the CR-V’s even grander 39.2 cubic-foot and 70.8 cubic-foot capacity.
What the VW has over most of these Japanese competitors (Rogue excluded) is rear seat passenger/cargo flexibility, the seats folding in the usual 60/40-configuration, albeit enhanced by a large center pass-through that also acts as a dual cupholder-infused armrest for rear outboard passengers. This means when laying longer items like skis down the middle those more comfortable window seats are available for a much nicer trip up the mountain. The cargo area is finished nicer than most competitors too, with higher-grade carpeting that goes all the way up the sidewalls.
Where lack of size seems an obvious shortcoming, I fully understand why some SUV buyers will appreciate the more compact model’s inner city driving, parking and handing advantages. The Tiguan is a wonderfully agile little runabout, its nicely sorted independent suspension nimbly capable through intertwining streets, lanes and alleyways, some of the latter not even paved in my town and therefore appearing more like backcountry trails than anything urban. Such is a good proving ground for the suspension’s inherently compliant nature. Deep dips and rugged bumps are easily overcome in comfort, whereas the model’s aforementioned ride height provides excellent visibility when tightly surrounded by traffic. The Tiguan’s general lightness aids fast-paced handling as well, as does its unique German suspension tuning, the little ute managing to ably slingshot through serpentine stretches of tarmac just as easily as it points and shoots through commuter congestion.
All 2017 Tiguans come with VW’s peppy 2.0-liter TSI gasoline-powered four-cylinder, producing 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic with Tiptronic manual mode puts the power down to the front wheels more engagingly than many of its peers’ continuously variable transmissions, while as-tested 4Motion all-wheel drive is optional and very adept at mild off-road and snowy situations. Again, the Tiguan’s general lightness allows this little engine to feel more energetic than it might otherwise in one of its larger compact rivals, but either way it’s a more formidable entry-level powertrain than all of the above-noted SUVs. In fact, of the four mentioned only the Escape offers a more capable four-cylinder engine, and then only in a much pricier trim, making the Tiguan’s performance advantage obvious as soon as you step on the throttle.
This performance comes at a cost, however, the Tiguan’s fuel economy not the thriftiest in the segment at a claimed 20 mpg city, 24 highway and 22 combined in FWD or 20 city, 24 highway and 21 combined with AWD. This hardly compares well against the CR-V’s 28 mpg city, 34 highway and 30 combined rating with FWD or its 27 city, 33 highway and 29 combined AWD estimate, the Honda also being the largest and most powerful alternative of the four rivals just mentioned, so going smaller doesn’t necessarily give you an advantage at the pump.
I mentioned trim levels a moment ago, and in a nice change of events Volkswagen provided a more basic Tiguan for this go-around. This normally happens when a given automaker is trying to promote a special edition model, our weekly rides usually fully loaded so we can enjoy the best experience possible. Without fail our second-rung (out of four) tester was in fact the Wolfsburg Edition, which takes a base $24,995 Tiguan S and adds 17-inch Novara alloys, a panoramic sunroof, and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with four-way powered lumbar, while according to VW a set of “Wolfsburg Edition” badges were to be added to the outside B pillars, but I couldn’t find any.
I defer to the associated paperwork VW handed out when picking up the car, and yes it says “Tiguan Wolfsburg Edition 4MOTION” right there in black on white. A quick trip over to the VW.com website verifies that indeed the Wolfsburg Edition’s infotainment system isn’t available with navigation (not included in my loaner), and its only paid option is 4Motion AWD for $2,840 (check). So this $32,070 SUV is indeed a fully equipped 2017 Tiguan Wolfsburg Edition 4Motion in standard Pacific Blue paint (new for this year), sans “Wolfsburg Edition” badging. It must have been an early build or someone forgot to add these on at the factory, and yes our American-spec Tiguans actually do come from VW’s Lower Saxony assembly plant, although not for long as the German brand’s Puebla, Mexico facility will produce its successor.
Anyway, it may be interesting for you to know that Reflex Silver is new to the Tiguan paint palette this year and available with the Wolfsburg Edition too, while other possible Wolfsburg colors include Deep Black Pearl, Pure White, and Pepper Gray Metallic, while yet more 2017 Tiguan additions (can you believe they still updated this eight-year old model for its final partial year before getting replaced?) are relegated to pricier Sport and SEL trims.
Notable features pulled up from the base Tiguan S include auto on/off headlights with coming and leaving home functions, roof rails, privacy glass, power adjustable heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, rain-sensing wipers, heatable washer nozzles, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a leather shift knob, heatable front seats, leatherette upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth phone connectivity with voice activation, cruise control, air conditioning, a rearview camera, USB and auxiliary audio inputs, satellite radio, tire pressure monitoring, and all the expected active and passive safety features, plus the base Tiguan also includes VW’s (new last year) 6.33-inch infotainment touchscreen with a very cool proximity-sensing display, App-Connect with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink phone connectivity, an SD card slot, and eight-speaker audio, so together with the additions mentioned earlier the Wolfsburg Edition is quite well equipped.
The Tiguan’s cabin was always a cut above its peers when it came to perceived quality, or rather the touchy, feely stuff that lends to a more premium experience, although to be fair its aforementioned rivals have stepped up their game considerably, so this VW’s full soft-touch dash top and front door uppers are hardly class leading anymore. In fact, my notes merely said, “materials quality is average for the class.” All door inserts were covered in a pleasantly padded rubberized surfacing, while this Wolfsburg Edition’s armrests featured attractive stitched leatherette. The perforated leatherette seat inserts were even nicer, thanks in part to no-charge two-tone beige detailing (all black or solid beige are no-cost options too), while Volkswagen always includes the best quality leather for its steering wheels, this one no different, with switchgear on the spokes that’s way above average. I like the functionality of the numerous big air vents, allowing you to direct ventilation almost anywhere. Lastly, the beautiful panoramic sunroof over top is a particularly welcome bonus to this Wolfsburg, as it adds an open airiness to the interior that would help brighten the cabin year round.
On the downside the monochromatic multi-information display within the primary gauge cluster is more of a simple trip computer and therefore somewhat substandard, but last year’s infotainment system upgrade is still state of the art kit. As noted earlier it gets proximity-sensing capability that, for one, brings up a row of go-to digital buttons when your hand gets close. The graphics are attractive as well, while the resolution is excellent and overall usefulness superb. Likewise, my tester’s audio quality was decent for a just-above-base system, although I must criticize the backup camera for carving off the top portion of the visual with an odd black arc.
Such are the challenges of fitting new technologies into an old design, but all in all the Tiguan is impressive considering it’s been on the market for nearly a decade with very little change under the metal. Nevertheless, the 2018 redesign couldn’t come soon enough. Its larger size, fresh styling, updated features and overall newness guarantees it much greater success than the current version, while the outgoing model’s demise will mean a true subcompact SUV can more effectively slot below to do battle in the fast-growing entry-level sport utility segment. Until then, this 2017 Tiguan represents a well-proven alternative that bridges the gap between subcompact and compact SUVs, delivering plenty of performance, refinement, and first-rate tech.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press