The most interesting thing about ‘class’ and how to determine if someone or something has it is not surmised by virtue of what it poseesses, but by what it lacks. Put simply, class isn’t about what you do. Rather, it’s about what you don’t do.
For example, a person that lashes out at a waiter for getting his order wrong during a heavy shift is definitely not classy. Is a person who does not lash out at the same said waiter classy? Not quite. If a person receives the wrong order, continues eating anyway with little fuss, refuses any reparation offered by the manager, and doesn't post about it on social media later, that is definitely a class act. Class is not about sweating the small stuff, but sailing through turbulence toward broader horizons.
In some ways, Volkswagen’s new Tiguan is one that holds back on a lot of aspects. And yet we can’t quite fault it for being conservative, as it contributes to a truly admirable whole package.
The Tiguan has likely escaped most people’s radar simply because it’s quite unremarkable on the surface. The design is rather androgynous, there’s very little flair, and not much in the way of tech.
Looks-wise, it will more likely appeal to those that want to blend in rather than stand out. Hawkeye headlights, a bland grille and lower valence, and modest coke-bottle contours are par for the course. Its daytime running lamps are halogen, not LED. Behind is a rather plain tailgate only accented by jeweled LED tail lights. You don’t press down the VW logo to open the trunk. There's a button by the plate housing.
Inside, the austerity continues. A predominantly black dash is only contrasted by aluminum accents, white stitching, and a white headliner. The instrument cluster is pretty plain with high contrast numbers on black dials, red needles and a multi-info display in the center. Controls are mounted on the simple three-spoke wheel which govern the info display and stereo.
No touchscreen LCD in the center console. It’s just a white dot-matrix display with buttons on the side and below. Just above it are slots for credit cards. These are actually quite handy for European tollways, but best used for gas reward cards locally. Simple dials manipulate the climate-control, with a built-in filter for cleaner air. At the base is the DSG automatic stickshift with manual mode, which hardly advertises that fact. In the glove compartment, you’ll find a handy clip for holding a pen. Simple, but a surprising rarity in many cars.
Above passengers’ heads is the massive panoramic sunroof. It has a semi-translucent shade that still lets some light in when closed. This is controlled by a simple dial that is quite intuitive. Only the front passengers will enjoy the fresh air, but rear passengers will still enjoy quite a view.
Behind is the second row that benefits from BMW 7-series levels of legroom thanks to this long wheelbase edition. There’s also an actual 220v socket to plug in a laptop. I only wish VW included the seatback tray from the original German-made Tiguan to truly make it a mobile office.
The rear cargo area is ample, but can be expanded by the 60:40 split folding seats. The center arm rest can be swiveled down to accommodate small but long items. The rear decklid is easily removable. There’s also a cargo floor extension that ensures the seat backs don’t get scuffed. The cargo floor cover can be held up with a handy clip when accessing tools and the spare tire.
Moving all of this along is a 1.4L inline 4 turbo. Its size may not be impressive, but the 150 PS and 250 Nm from that tiny thing is. It’s paired with a 6-speed direct shift gearbox. Although it was designed for speed, it’s quite possibly the smoothest I’ve ever driven. Even when sometimes hunting for gears at low speeds, it doesn’t jerk, it just gently hesitates. Drive aggressively and it's still silky smooth.
The Tiguan may not return stellar fuel consumption when used purely in the city. Our few days with it in heavy traffic yielded just 8 km/L. However, take it on a longer drive on highways and the benefits of its small but potent engine start to pay dividends with readings at 16-18 km/L.
As expected of a long wheelbase, the ride is comfortable. It’s a pleasant mix of very mild body roll, but still with sharp enough handling in spite of its length. It may not come close to a Forester, but it will definitely be at par with most of its competitors on corners.
At night and in heavy traffic, the Tiguan’s convenience features really show their worth. Its autohold handbrake makes crawling through successive stoplights and heavy traffic much more bearable, giving you time to lift your foot off the brake. Auto headlights and wipers kick in with the slightest shadows or raindrops. Turn the wheel and cornering lamps illuminate the bend, sending out a distinctly different beam from the fog lamp. The cabin is incredibly quiet, but the glass roof can be quite noisy in the rain.
I personally own a 2017 Germany-sourced short wheelbase Tiguan 2.0 TDI AWD. In all honesty, the 1.4-liter engine felt far more powerful and responsive than my diesel. The TSI gets better mileage too. The handling was very similar, with the TSI offering a softer ride. The difference between it and the current Chinese-made Tiguan is only felt in the crispness of the switches and dials. The perceived Chinese-built inferiority is honestly undetectable.
Je ne sais quoi
Compared to competitors like the CR-V, RAV4, and Forester, it’s quite hard to justify its slightly higher price point with specific features. And perhaps that’s why it is so quickly glossed over by most buyers. The advantages it offers — like good combined fuel economy, smooth but potent power delivery, and class-leading cabin space — are hard to financially quantify.
Like any celebrity that we may deem ‘classy’, the Tiguan doesn’t bother to distract from its shortcomings with trendy design touches, headline-grabbing driving tech, or impressive specs. Rather it presents itself as it is, with little introduction, pretension, or fanfare. The result is a greater admiration for its intangible qualities — an easy, distraction-free drive, a delightfully bright and spacious cabin, and a statement in itself.