First Drive: Volkswagen Tiguan 1.4 TSI, an impressionable tale of competence

I remember the first time I laid sight on the new Volkswagen Tiguan when it broke cover in 2015 and thought to myself: “Now that’s what I call a proper looking SUV.” It made the original Tiguan look like a helpless wuss, and admittedly I was struck with a slightly overwhelming sense of desire.

In selected markets, up to four trims of the Tiguan can be had: Trendline, Comfortline, Highline and R-Line. The one that got me hooked was the R-Line because it had 20-inch wheels, full-coloured bodykit and oozed masculinity.

There. I wasn’t lying.

Back at home, Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia (VPCM) will only be introducing the mid-ranged duo, the Comfortline and Highline. Both share the sole 1.4-litre TSI engine producing 148 hp and 250 Nm of torque. The good news is that the Tiguan is locally assembled in Pekan, Pahang, which means there’s a chance we can get our hands on the plug-in hybrid Tiguan GTE or even the 7-seater Tiguan Allspace in the future!

Now, Volkswagen is the first of many carmakers poised to launch their next best SUV, such as the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5. And as far as being early is concerned, VPCM certainly has the upper hand. But are they all cut out for the race, though? After spending two days with the Tiguan Highline, here’s my best take on the promising new SUV.

It’s exceptionally spacious and comfortable

All five occupants including the driver would feel adequately snug in the Tiguan. It may not look the part from the outside, but Volkswagen did a terrific job masking the cavernous cabin with a sleek-cut body. There’s plenty of room for rear passengers to stretch their legs, and I’d go as far as to say that legroom is just as good as the Honda Accord, if not a tad better. In fact, the entire rear bench slides by a hair, and the backrests recline as well!

The chassis is another MQB derivative, bestowing additional length to the wheelbase and width. It also sits significantly lower than most SUVs in its class, granting effortless egress and ingress. If you like your SUV to ride high, this one won’t cut it for you. But on the bright side, your 70- or 80-year old parents will face no difficulties getting in and out of the car.

Seats are plush but not too punishing for the spine on extended drives – just nice. The Comfortline gets fabric upholstery with interesting quilted-esque stitching, whereas the Highline comes with leather seats. There’s no intricacy in the design of the leather seats, but what’s worse is the inconsistent finishing between the seams. This may just be an isolated incident and could vary between cars, so VPCM, if you’re reading this, you’ve got some suppliers to grill.

High quality, high tech cabin

To give credit where its due, Volkswagen is uncompromising when it comes to interior build quality. Those impressed by Mazda cars will find the Tiguan more reassuring in nearly all aspect, with the flip side being the rather boring design. But if you’re new to the Volkswagen family, there’s really not much to fault with.

Stowage spaces are aplenty; door cards are sufficiently large to accommodate a variety of items. I’ve tried chucking an iPhone 6S Plus, 600ml water bottle, Smart Tag and a wallet with some room to spare. There’s also a pair of flexi cubbies in the centre tunnel, aft of which is a sizeable armrest to keep the cabin as neat as humanly possible.

Standard features include keyless entry and push-start button, cruise control, electronic parking brake, electronic tailgate release, heated seats and tri-zone climate control. Unfortunately, there are no air vents in the B pillars for rear passengers, except for the duo in the middle. Fan speed for the rear air vents are dependent on the front, though.

Is the 1.4 TSI good enough?

More than good enough for most people, actually. With 148 hp, the Tiguan is not big on power, but it makes do with a healthy 250 Nm of torque. We will only be getting the front-wheel drive version for the time being, and delivering all that grunt up front is a six-speed dual clutch transmission (more famously known as DSG).

The turbocharged engine is identical to that of the Golf 1.4 TSI, but here it’s more eager to perform and feels sprightlier thanks to appropriately clever gearing ratios. Flick it into sports mode and you might even get some wheel spin from the get go. As an urban runabout, the Tiguan will meet most expectations. The car feels light on its feet, which makes weaving through traffic a little less daunting for first timers.

Where it starts showing signs of lethargy is on the freeway, especially past 160 km/h. Few cars of this output point (that includes most naturally aspirated 2.0L engines) can exhibit the desired degree of athletic competence. As is the case for the Tiguan, the 1.4L motor struggles to build speed past this limit. It can if you insist, just don’t expect seat-strapping accelerations.

What’s the ride quality like?

It’s sturdy without being overly harsh on the rebounds, but it’s still no match for the impeccable damping of the Hyundai Tucson. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a trade off, because the Tiguan is far more pliant and composed at highway speeds. Damping varies very slightly between the Comfortline (17-inch wheels) and the Highline (18-inch wheels), if not barely discernible at all.

A brief head-to-head driving comparison with the Mazda CX-5 2.0 GL and Nissan X-Trail proves that the Tiguan is indeed the better all-rounder, emerging triumphant in almost all instrumented tests. The biggest contributing factor here is weight: the 1.4-litre TSI engine weighs far lesser. Couple that to Volkswagen’s breadth of knowledge in vehicular dynamics and you have yourself a true contender for the class crown.

Is this car for you?

In all fairness, the Tiguan is an excellent product. It’s quiet, refined, comfortable, sufficiently powerful and is jam-packed with features that altogether punch way above its weight. If it sounds like I can’t recommend it enough, that’s because I struggle to find faults with the car.

The Volkswagen Tiguan 1.4 TSI will soon be joined by the crowd favourite Honda CR-V, one which we believe will also come with a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Until then, the Tiguan is probably the best bet for the money.

But if you ask me for an honest opinion, I’m just bummed we won’t be getting the R-Line, because that’s unequivocally my pick of the lot.



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