These days, designing and building a new model vehicle is only half the battle when it comes to bringing a car to market. Go back 10 or 15 years and there were fewer competitors, clearly defined differences between each brand’s primary focus — whether it be sporty performance, economic pricing, a reputation for safety, or off-roading ability — and fewer media channels through which it was necessary to promote a new model.
Nowadays, however, there are a dozen worthy competitors in every market segment and it seems, three niche variations on every broadly recognised sector; consequently every manufacturer’s marketing team has to shout above the background noise, insisting their latest product is set to redefine the world’s opinion about coupés/crossovers/hybrids/insert vehicle type here.
Caught up in this product placement whirlwind, the basis of Volkswagen’s launch of the new Tiguan was to extol its virtues as a capable off-road vehicle with a rugged new all-wheel drive system. Whilst the intention was to convince the assembled journalists that the Tiguan deserves a slice of the lucrative SUV market, I couldn’t help wondering if the vehicle’s real appeal, as a high-end, A-sector crossover, was being rather overlooked.
Introduced in 2007, the old model Tiguan sold particularly well in Europe and the US market. After shipping 2.8 million of the Golf floorplan-based crossover, including one I should add, to the Ansell household in 2009 (and which we still own), its replacement, now based on the “MQB” modular transverse platform, has a successful act to follow. The new platform is shared with the Mk 7 Golf and Audi TT Mk3, amongst others, so the Tiguan is in good company, and the new basis has allowed VW to ring the changes when it comes to the vehicle’s body design and layout. It’s now 60mm longer and the wheelbase has been extended by 77mm. Atop the floor pan sits a pleasantly restyled body, which, whilst 30mm wider, also stands 33mm lower. My car was fitted with the huge optional panoramic roof, which certainly made the interior feel light and airy, and despite my height I had plenty of headroom inside. Think long and hard about that option, though, because in Middle East summers, although there is a full length shade of course, I could imagine the vehicle’s interior becoming a mini greenhouse with that much glass up top.
Sat in the driver’s seat, the digital instrument panel is supplemented by a retractable head-up display, which relays information about speed limits, navigation prompts etc. to the driver. A three-zone climate control means you can set different temperatures for the rear-seat passengers, driver and front-seat passenger. The system also features allergen filters, whilst sun and humidity sensors serve to optimise its performance in the extremes we’ll experience throughout the Gulf. One of the reasons my wife and I chose a Tiguan over other crossovers six years ago was the fact that it had well placed AC vents in the back, so on the school run our children would be comfortable. You’d be surprised how many others we looked at that had none, so it’s good to see VW still paying attention to passenger comfort. Speaking of which, rear-seat passengers have 29mm more legroom than before, or if the rear seat is slid forward, there’s 615 litres of boot space available.
Inside that boot are power outlets, one of which is used to drive a compressor used to inflate a space-saver rear tyre. The tyre is supplied deflated, so it occupies less space in the boot. I’m still undecided whether that’s clever engineering, a potential source of road-side frustration, or both, so give that some thought if you’re specifying a vehicle. Shoppers will be pleased to learn that the rear-door sill has been lowered by 50mm, making it easier to load the boot, and the tailgate can now be closed at the touch of a button.
Out on the road, the new Tiguan retains the composed handling to which I’ve become familiar in the old vehicle. The steering feels a fraction lighter, but then I was driving a car with the optional “4Motion” package, which means higher ground clearance, and so a mildly different suspension geometry. I found the brakes a touch over sensitive when I first set off, but that’s perhaps because I was comparing them to those on my 2009 car and now they are more powerful. The new vehicle’s drag coefficient is down whilst VW claims the engines are also more efficient, so fuel consumption should be of little concern. The top GCC-spec vehicle comes with a new 220bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, seven-speed DSG gearbox, and the 4Motion option, designed to improve the Tiguan’s off-road performance. To put this to the test we were invited to drive similar vehicles, albeit with the modified front end off-road option (for better approach angles) around the Mellowpark BMX track in Berlin. I’d only ever ventured into the sand around Dubai a couple of times in my own Tiguan and on both occasions ended up needing a tow out after making very little progress, so I was intrigued to see how the new model would fair off road. Bear in mind that in the absence of a transfer box for low ratios, or the ability to lock the differentials, traction/torque control is governed electronically, and the core difference between the old and new set-up is in the algorithms used to control free spinning wheels (and thus deliver more drive to those still on the ground), along with the increased ride height. Certainly the Mk2 Tiguan handled the undulating, hard-packed terrain with no difficulties, but with hand on heart and with 20-plus years of sand-driving experience, I think it’s important to differentiate between a short, custom-built (and thus tailored to suit the ride height) European test route, and even low-level UAE sand dunes.
There’s no hard and fast definition of what constitutes an SUV, and the needs of off-road drivers vary from region to region, but if you want to take a family of four and some camping gear into the dunes, the Tiguan has neither the power nor the transmission for the job. Volkswagen was keen to point out that the Tiguan is the first of a whole range of new and updated SUVs from the Wolfsburg manufacturer, but in reality it’d be better off calling it a ruggedised crossover. Not only is it, I think, a more accurate description, but the role of premium crossover is one the old Tiguan performed well, so why not focus on its strengths?
With its raised driving position, good visibility, larger cabin, and a string of safety features including seven airbags, pedestrian monitoring, lane assist and automatic brake assistance, it’s a great family city car. The on-board infotainment system will keep the kids entertained in the back, since Apple’s CarPlay, Android’s Auto or Mirrorlink can be used to integrate any smartphone, whilst an optional high spec Dynaudio Excite Surround System will keep their ears amused.
Got a trailer? The 4Motion-equipped models are all capable of towing up to 2,500kg and in a neat touch, a driver can keep an eye on what’s going on behind, via an image displayed on the navigation system from a rear-mounted GoPro using the Mirrorlink app called Cam Connect. Off road, forward-looking and side-mounted cameras help you to pick your lines through the potholes, but I’m sure would prove equally useful checking garage and car park clearances.
So there you have it — a perfectly well updated modern crossover, with good road manners, inoffensive looks, a host of features designed to make it family friendly and… a needlessly distracting marketing message. Gone are the days, of course, when 4x4s were only for land owners, four-door saloons were only for families, and sportscars were for the rich and famous. Product mix lines have become blurred and the crossover/sports utility/sports activity sector, call it what you will, has been booming for years. Since it looks set to continue doing so for the foreseeable future, you can’t blame Volkswagen for focusing on that market — but if you do put a new Tiguan to the test, stick to the roads and leave the dunes to the big boys.