Monday, June 26, 2017

First Drive: The Mk2 Tiguan



Volkswagen has an America problem. One that stretches back years. Apart from this little community of enthusiasts and oddballs, the land hasn’t really understood what makes the automaker great for a long time. And, to be fair, the automaker hasn’t quite understood the land, either. Now VW is back, trying to show America why it belongs here with the Mk2 Tiguan, one of the most important vehicles this administration has put together.
While the Atlas was important for VW because it showed the scale the brand was capable of achieving, the Tiguan is arguably more important, because it slots into the highly competitive and lucrative compact SUV segment. With battle-hardened competitors like the Honda CR-V, the Ford Escape, and the Hyundai Tucson, the Mk2 Tiguan has its work cut out for it. As far as I can tell, it’s going into the fight with all the necessary tools to succeed.
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Based on the MQB chassis, the Mk2 Tiguan, despite being new from the ground up, feels as familiar as a hug. You get in: Volkswagen. You press the start button: Volkswagen. You drive around: Pure Volkswagen. The Atlas proved that the platform was amazingly flexible, so it’s no surprise that it feels great under the smaller Tiguan, but with little body-roll, calm cornering, and autobahn stability the Mk2 is further proof of the platform’s excellence.
And thank Murgatroyd for that, too, because Volkswagen took us out to Denver to test drive the car. The mile high city, walled to the west by Rockies, is within spitting distance of some mighty fine mountain roads. All curves and topography, the Tiguan handles these roads joyfully. The tightly wound ribbons of tarmac that we drove—really, really tightly wound—were nothing but fun, thanks to the communicative, if light steering wheel, and the easily modulable brake pedal, that combine to allow you to smoothly roll down hills. Up hills, though, the Mk2 Tiguan is let down slightly by an adequate, but nothing more, 2.0-liter engine.
That 2.0 is brand new and benefits from the new Budak cycle that allows the valves to stay open longer when that’s useful. The result is that you get 221 lb-ft of torque when you need it and decent fuel economy (an easily achievable 21 mpg combined). It’ll get the nearly 4,000 lb Tiguan up to speed on an onramp, but it hollers and you have to bury your foot to generate any Gs. Not even its 8-speed transmission can help it feel like it’s in any real hurry and if you ever felt like VW’s transmissions spent most of their time searching for gears during spirited driving, it only adds another gear to look for. Pop it in “manual” when you’re in the twisties, though, and the problem goes away.
Once you’re on the highway, though, the Tiguan is VW’s first vehicle with active cruise control that can stop and go again in traffic. The system, simply put, is perfect. It slows down gently, but firmly when you come up on a car and accelerates naturally when the slowpoke ahead of you gets out of your lane. Also new, though not unique to the Tiguan, is the 8-inch infotainment screen. The new infotainment system is great, with knobs for volume and quick refresh rates on the touch screen. Its only downfall is that navigation is an option, though Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not (they’re standard) so that pretty much makes up for it.
The other touchable stuff inside feels good, too. Simple geometric shapes abound made out of materials of reasonable quality. It’s not all leather and finery (though leather seats are available in the highest trim), but it’s everything and more you’d expect out an SUV with a $25,000 starting price. The design inside and out, admittedly, isn’t that exciting, but it does at least look and feel good. Space is ample, though you won’t be fitting any adults into the third row (standard for FWD, +$500 for AWD). The second row is perfectly acceptable and will doubtless fit kids well. And seven inches of backward and forwards travel means that it will continue to fit kids as they grow up. Really this is a 5 +2 seater, but it’s one of the few in the class, so the extra seats are only a bonus.
Another bonus is all the safety equipment available to you. According to the IIHS safety equipment is one of the most persuasive features a car can have, and boy does this thing have them. Its brakes will try to stop you from having an accident (optional Autonomous Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Monitoring), but if you’re really determined to have one, they’ll keep you from having another one after you’ve crashed (standard Automatic Post-Collision Braking). The Tiguan also tries to give you as much warning as possible about the dangers around you with (all optional) blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert with braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, high beam control, and more.
If you’re thinking of adventure, meanwhile, every Tiguan comes ready to tow—though an actual hitch will be a dealer option—up to 1,500 lbs. With 150 lbs of carrying capacity above and nearly 66 cubic feet of cargo capacity (with the third row stowed), it’ll carry a kitchen sink. That’s 58% more cargo capacity than the Mk1 Tiguan, which addresses the biggest concern people had with it. And with prices ranging between $25,345 and $37,550 the Tiguan fits right into its market, albeit on the high end.
Volkswagen has said time and again that it wants to be a volume player in the American market, and getting into the compact SUV market with a real volume seller is a wildly important part of that. The brand isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but it has made a good vehicle. When sales start at the end of July, we’ll see how well it does, but there’s no obvious reason why its sales shouldn’t be very similar to sales of cakes of the hot variety.


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