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First drive: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan [Review]

by Drew Johnson

VW attacks the heart of the market with a bigger Tiguan for 2018.

The Volkswagen Tiguan was an interesting proposition when it first launched in 2007. At a time when most compact crossovers were simply cheap, the Tiguan was cheerful, offering buyers European engineering and a turbocharged engine lineup.

But the competition quickly evolved and the Tiguan didn't, leaving it at the back of the pack. As a result, VW sold just 15,218 Tiguans last year. Meanwhile, Honda sold 32,186 CR-Vs last month.

But VW is back with an all-new Tiguan for the 2018 model year that it believes is better suited to compete in the hotly contested compact crossover segment. So how does it stack up against the competition? Read on the find out.

The detailsFor the 2018 model year the Tiguan switches to VW's versatile MQB architecture, which underpins everything from the tiny Polo to the gargantuan . The Tiguan slots in the middle of that spread with an overall length of 185.1 inches. For those of you keep score at home, that's a whopping 10.6 inches longer than the old model, making the 2018 Tiguan one of the largest vehicles in its class.

So why the sudden growth spurt? That longer wheelbase gave VW enough room to fit the Tiguan with an available third-row of seats. It also significantly improved the Tiguan's cargo area, with certain models boasting an additional 13.8 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the second row.

That extra space comes at a price, however, with the 2018 Tiguan tipping the scales between 3,730 pounds and 4,043 pounds, depending on options. In comparison, the Honda CR-V weighs between 3,330 and 3,500 pounds.

For whatever reason, VW chose to send the new Tiguan into the battle of the bulge with a less powerful version of the company's 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine for 2018 — 184 horsepower vs. the old Tiguan's 200 horsepower rating. Torque is up, however, to 221 lb-ft ft (from 207 lb-ft) and VW has switched out the six-speed auto in favor of a new eight-speed unit.

New looksSheetmetal is all new, but even at first blush the 2018 Tiguan is easily recognizable as a VW. Lines are straight and deliberate, with the only notable sculpting occurring around the crossover's belt line.

To our eyes the Tiguan is a better looking vehicle than the larger Atlas, but its proportions are just a little off. The grille and front lights are placed slightly too low and the rear end is a bit dowdy when viewed from straight on. The Tiguan's new styling certainly isn't offensive, it's just the kind of subtle look that's easy to overlook.

Inside the Tiguan's VW-ness continues with a business-like interior. Most models come with an analog gauge cluster and eight-inch touchscreen audio system; top-end Tiguan models use a virtual cockpit instrument arrangement and base models have to make do with a 6.5-inch touchscreen.

As with most VW models, controls in the Tiguan are logically arranged and easy to use. We're particularly fond of VW's new infotainment screen in the Tiguan, which is quick to respond to inputs and about 50 percent brighter than an iPhone screen, making it easy to view in daylight conditions. HVAC controls are physical knobs and buttons and are a snap to use.

Most compact crossovers serve as the family hauler, and this is where the Tiguan stumbles. Kids require a lot of stuff, and the Tiguan simply isn't equipped for it. Door pockets are generous, but otherwise storage space is at a premium. The storage bin under the center armrest is barely big enough for a juice box, and a netted pocket in the passenger's side footwell is just about the only other cubbyhole available. The Tiguan has additional storage areas on the dashboard and a by the cup holders, but those feel like after thoughts as they're too oddly placed and too small to be truly functional. It's almost as though VW got deep into the Tiguan's design process before realizing it didn't have enough nooks and crannies and then just decided to fit in whatever it could wherever it could.

Those that opt for a third row will also find a somewhat flawed cargo area. One of the benefits on a unibody SUV is a lower load floor, but the addition of the Tiguan's third-row brings along an elevated trunk floor. It's not like the three-row Tiguan is on the same level as a Chevy Tahoe, but the load floor is noticeably higher than in two-row models. And that's reflected in the numbers — compared to the two-row Tiguan, three-row models have 4.6 cubic feet less space behind the second row and 7.8 fewer cubic feet with the second row folded.

If you want to avoid the third-row altogether, you'll have to spring for a 4Motion all-wheel drive model; for classification reasons, all front-wheel drive Tiguan models come standard with the way-back seats.

Drive timeOur day of driving was spend behind the wheel of a Tiguan SE finished in Habanero Orange which wouldn't be our first color choice, but one we're glad to see VW offer.

Around town, the Tiguan is a well-behaved crossover vehicle. Steering is light and easy, and outward visibility is quite good thanks to thin (at least by modern standards) A-pillars. On SE and above models, safety systems like Blind Spot Monitoring and Emergency Braking are fitted as standard to provide a little more peace of mind behind the wheel. You'll have to step-up to the SEL Premium model if you want ParkPilot and Lane Keep Assist.

In stop and go traffic, the Tiguan's 2.0L engine works just fine, with its 221 lb-ft of torque capable of tugging the crossover from stop light to stop light without much fuss. However, at higher speeds the 184 horsepower engine feels overtaxed when asked to suddenly accelerate a 3,900 pound utility vehicle. Without question, the need for fuel economy has neutered the Tiguan's zip.

Likewise, the new eight-speed auto is quick to up-shift, even when put into Sport mode. There is a manual shift mode if you so choose, but all gear changes are done via the lever rather than paddle shifters. We doubt many compact crossovers are searching for a vehicle they can really grab the reins to, so we can't blame VW for that decision.

Pokiness aside, the 2018 Tiguan feels like a solid vehicle out on the road. Bumps are easily dispatched, and the Tiguan's cabin is well isolated from the outside world. The Tiguan's suspension is tuned more for comfort than all-out driving fun, but the little(ish) crossover feels composed, even on curvy roads.

Front-wheel drive Tiguan models are rated at 22mpg in the city and 27mpg on the highway. Adding all-wheel drive drops the Tiguan's city rating by 1mpg. In mixed driving we saw close to the Tiguan's stated 24mpg combined average, which is impressive considering we were whipping the utility vehicle up steep mountain passes for most of the day.

Seats in the Tiguan are a little disappointing. The front buckets offer little in the way of side bolstering and are a little lacking when it comes to thigh support. The second row seat is essentially a flat bench without much padding. The optional third row is best viewed as emergency seating — it's there if you really need it, but even kids would be uncomfortable in its cramped quarters. The Tiguan does, however, offer very good head and leg room in the first and second rows.

MG's bottom lineAfter spending a day with the 2018 VW Tiguan, we can report back that it's a thoroughly adequate compact utility vehicle.

The new Tiguan doesn't make any glaring missteps, but it doesn't excel in any particular area, either. Third-row seats are a nice touch in case of a last minute carpool assignment, but they're simply too cramped to be a viable selling point.

But still, the 2018 Tiguan is a step forward for the model line. It's bigger, more efficient and backed by a better warranty than its predecessor. We doubt the Tiguan will threaten stalwarts like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 for top honors in the small crossover segment, but it should be a strong seller for VW, and that's exactly what the company needs right now.

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