It's mid-life update time for the VW Tiguan, which is a huge-seller for Volkswagen in Ireland. Can it keep pace with electric and hybrid SUV rivals, though?
In the metal
It's the new Volkswagen Tiguan, and that's actually quite a big thing. Well, OK, it's not ENTIRELY new. This is the Tiguan's mid-life update and upgrade, but it's still a big deal because last year, in spite of the presence of the eighth-generation Golf in dealerships, this was Volkswagen Ireland's best-seller.
Does that sound wrong? That a big, relatively pricey SUV should out-sell the mighty Golf? Well, maybe it shouldn't - after all, while the Golf may be cheaper to buy outright, the fact is that, on a PCP plan, the Tiguan is a mere €80 a month more expensive. Clearly, many Irish families decided that the massive boot and roomier back seat were worth sacrificing a couple of lunches out every month.
So, what's new? Well, most obviously the styling is. At the front, there's an entirely new grille and lights that makes the Tiguan look smoother and classier, with less of the snub-nosed look of the outgoing version. In fact, it's quite the mini-Touareg now. There's also some new tech, both in terms of electronics (the new MIB3 infotainment system) and oily stuff (the 'twin-dosing' AdBlue system that tries to convince the world that a diesel engine really can be 'clean').
Can I just be really shallow for a second and say that the paint colour and the wheels on our test car are among my favourite aspects of this Tiguan? I know, I know - I'm supposed to be concerned with more serious aspects of vehicular assessment, but the fact is that those 20-inch 'Suzuka' alloys and the Lapis Blue Metallic paint really class-up the Tiguan's looks, and give it a visual presence that would make you question the need to upgrade to an Audi.
That's true of the cabin, too. While the styling of the Tiguan's cabin hasn't changed much, there has been a palpable improvement in quality, fit and finish. So much so that, again, you'd really have to want that four-ring badge to walk past this Tiguan and pay the extra for an Audi Q3. The Tiguan's interior is spacious, with stretch-out room in the back seats, and the boot is massive. Yes, you could upgrade to the even larger Tiguan Allspace, but unless you really, really need the extra row of seats, we'd struggle to see the point.
The updated MIB3 infotainment system is impressive - the graphics on the screen look crisp, and it reacts quickly, and thankfully this is the first upgraded VW infotainment system we've tried recently that wasn't glitchy and annoyingly un-cooperative. The digital instruments also look good, and there's a useful level of information that you can call up on the big screen behind the wheel. I'm less sure of the touch-sensitive steering wheel buttons (which seem like the answer to an un-asked question), but the new heating and air conditioning controls are neat, and simple to use (in sharp contrast to those of the Golf 8).
To drive, the Tiguan struggles to justify the sporty nature of its R-Line badging, but I don't mean that in a bad way. The steering has a little dead-patch at the centreline, but once you have lock on it livens up considerably. Even with the 20-inch rims, and the sports suspension, the ride quality never devolves into unpleasant roughness, although it can occasionally get a little fidgety. It's never uncomfortable, though. Through corners, the Tiguan feels rock-solid and reassuring, even if you'd struggle to describe it as a driver's car. That's OK though - clearly the mission in life for a big family SUV is to be roomy, comfy and safe, and on all those points, the Tiguan hits its marks.
I'm really not sure whether to put the Tiguan's diesel engine in the demerit category or not. You see, it's actually a really good engine, in and of itself. It's mostly smooth (aside from a little low-down clatter on start-up) and very economical - we easily matched VW's official 5.8 litres per 100km in daily driving. It also mates up well with the DSG gearbox, and VW seems to have dialled out the low-speed hesitancy that so annoyed, even scared, us in some other Volkswagen Group products with the same combo in the past couple of years.
So why the doubt over whether we like it or not? Well, because it's a diesel and that just seems like a pariah fuel to be talking about. OK, being entirely objective about it, we have to acknowledge the following - that a big portion of Irish buyers still choose diesel power, that for those whose daily life is long motorway hauls, or those who don't have access to off-street parking for charging an electric car, this is a good, economical and likely reliable engine.
But. But the zeitgeist is moving away from diesel, in a big way, and the truth - uncomfortable for some - is that this engine will be obsolete in not too many years. On top of which, the €47k asking price for this Tiguan puts you well inside the price bands of the new Volkswagen ID.4 all-electric SUV, which, if you have that off-street parking, and don't rack up hundreds of kilometres every day, could be the better long-term choice.
What you get for your money
Our test car was a high-spec R-Line version, fitted with the 150hp TDI diesel engine (there is a 1.5 TSI petrol option too, as well as a 200hp diesel and a plug-in hybrid yet to come) and a raft of standard equipment. For the €47,920 Volkswagen is asking for this particular car, you get lots of R-Line styling details, sports steering and suspension, keyless entry and ignition, adaptive cruise control, rear-view camera, self-parking, and a whole family of electronic safety devices to help keep you in your motorway lane and to watch for traffic in your blind spot.
So, it's not cheap, but it is very well equipped. If there's a value-based weakness here, it's that hybrid-engined rivals from Hyundai, Ford and Toyota are equally well-priced. Indeed, in some cases they're actually better value overall. And of course, there's the all-electric ID.4 to consider at this price level...
That time is running out for diesel SUVs is undeniable, and this Tiguan is an entirely conventional diesel SUV, which maybe puts it on notice for obsolescence. That said, it's a seriously impressive conventional diesel SUV, and as such should very definitely be on your family car shopping list if you reckon that's the sort of thing that suits your motoring needs.