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The Tiguan, named by blending the words ‘tiger’ and ‘iguana’, is one of the few so-called tweenies that bridge the gap between the compact and midsize crossover segments — it’s large for a compact, but a little shy of being a true midsizer. This is underscored by the fact it’s one of the few in the segment to offer three rows of seating.
The resulting package is remarkably roomy. There’s plenty of space in the middle row, and they’re fairly easy to move out of the way for third-row access — which is very much on the tight side for adults, but it works for kids and certainly beats walking in the snow! As for cargo space, it ranges from 340 litres behind the third row to 1,860 when everything is folded.
Move forward and the front half of the cabin is a cut above class standards. The materials are off the top shelf, and the seats and driving position are comfortable. The infotainment system follows this lead, as it’s one of the easiest to use in the segment. The eight-inch touchscreen (lesser trim levels get a smallish 6.5-inch display) makes good use of the available area by hiding most of the icons along the lower edge until a hand reaches for the screen.
This makes life so much easier because the visual clutter isn’t taking up valuable screen real estate, so the map is that much larger. The combination of the quality materials and smart ergonomics set Tiguan apart from much of the competition, and the chic blue seating on this particular tester certainly added to the sense of posh.
The IQ.Drive trim tested here ($37,670 to start, $38,430 as-tested) was a special edition for 2020 — for 2021, it has been replaced by the $37,145 United special edition. Both are very similarly equipped and focus on delivering more features for minimal added cost. The key is the level of standard equipment including safety assistants, such as blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams, in addition to GPS navigation and a power panoramic moonroof.
The Tiguan arrives with a 2.0-litre turbo-four making 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. It drives all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The combination works well; there’s minimal turbo lag off the line and the transmission is quick to shift when Sport mode is engaged, but the lack of paddle shifters is disappointing. Also, when Comfort mode is selected, the transmission tends to be slow to downshift at times lending to a slightly sluggish feel overall, surely a result of the quest for better fuel economy.
The other nit has to do with the terrain/drive mode selector. The console-mounted rotary dial gives fast and easy access to the terrain modes — Snow, On-Road, Off-Road and Off-Road Custom. Accessing the drive modes requires pressing the centre of the controller, which then brings up Eco, Normal, Sport, and Custom modes on the infotainment screen. It then requires more button taps to select each of drive modes. To me, the setup is backward — the ability to flip quickly between Normal and Sport driving modes is far more useful than picking one of the off-road functions, given few will likely ever exercise this option.
On road, the Tiguan isn’t fastest in the segment, taking 8.1 seconds to run to 100 km/h. The good news is it still feels remarkably sporty, the key being the early entry of torque — with all 221 lb-ft turning up at 1,600 rpm, the mid-range is strong and passing a slower vehicle is simple.
Another plus is the Tiguan’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, which uses an electro-hydraulic coupling to send power where it’s needed at the right time. Under normal driving conditions, it sends 90 per cent of the power to the front wheels and 10 to the rear. However, as it’s constantly monitoring for the first signs of slippage, it redirects the power quickly to the wheels with the best grip. During our test, it dispensed with wheelspin quickly, greatly adding to the sense of security on some slippery and snowy roads.
The Tiguan also balances ride comfort and body control nicely. The compliant nature of the suspension soaks up most road irregularities in stride without allowing the body to lean over when pushed into a corner. Likewise, the steering is nicely weighted and both easy to swing from lock-to-lock in a tight parking area, and delivers lots of on-centre feel and the needed feedback when the road begins to twist. As such, the Tiguan is a clean and tidy drive.
Much of the ability and balance goes to VW’s MQB platform; it’s stiff and shared with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3, both of which are noted for their precise driving style. The Tiguan is no different as it feels more car-like than most crossovers. True, it’s not as overtly sporty as a Mazda CX-5, but it sure beats most other contenders in this regard, which makes it fun without being too focused.
The second-generation Volkswagen Tiguan is comfortable, has lots of space without feeling bloated, and it’s up to the cut-and-thrust of a twisty road. For a family that needs occasional third-row seating, the Tiguan is one of the few — and certainly smarter — choices.