Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

Guess what – SUVs are continuing to boom in popularity, and VW’s RAV4-rival is an increasingly big deal for the German brand. The firm was slightly late to the party when the original model arrived in 2007, and sales got off to a relatively slow start – even just five years ago Volkswagen was shifting just 8,000 a year in the UK.

Since then, the Tiguan (and indeed the crossover market as a whole) has got increasingly popular, and 2015 saw the model enjoy its best year for sales – with 21,889 registered in the UK. That means more Tiguans were sold in the outgoing car’s final year on sale than ever before – unusual for any manufacturer, and unprecedented for Volkswagen, says the firm. It’s now the third most popular VW in the UK, behind the Golf and Polo, and sits alongside the Up and Passat as one of the ‘key pillars’ of the Volkswagen portfolio in the UK.

We first saw the new Tiguan in the metal at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show, and have now visited Volkswagen’s homeland for a drive of the SUV. What did we learn?

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

It’s no Land Rover, but the new Volkswagen Tiguan can go off road

No one really buys this kind of SUV to take it off road, but Volkswagen says that three quarters of current Tiguan buyers opt for the 4Motion model – that’s far more than the segment average of around 50%. So there might be case that the Tiguan has to have a degree of off-road ability.

To show this off, VW took us to a pop-up off-road site at a skatepark on the edge of Berlin. It was all a bit edgy and lifestyle, but it gave us a good opportunity to do what very few owners will do – try the Tiguan off road.

OK, we’ll admit – the first gravelly incline we came to resulted in a bit of a #fail. You can’t take quite the same liberties as you can in something like a Land Rover Discovery Sport, meaning it’s sometimes advised to get a little bit of a run up… while the traction control can become more of a hindrance rather than a help when things get a bit tricky.

That’s until you select ‘off-road’ mode in the Tiguan’s 4Motion Active Control system. This tweaks the accelerator, gearbox and steering to make them all more suitable for negotiating challenging obstacles. The Tiguan doesn’t intend to be a serious off roader, but we managed to clear axle twisters and some interesting ascents and descents without any real trouble.

As is now commonplace, power is directed to the Tiguan’s front wheels under normal driving. When it detects the likelihood of a wheel spinning up, 4Motion shifts power to the rear wheels within a fraction of second, via VW’s clever Haldex coupling. It’s interesting to witness this working off road… tackling a slippery ascent, you can feel power shifting to the rear to give you a helping hand. While most owners won’t do this kind of driving, you can imagine it being just as useful in the snow, on a muddy campsite, or when tackling challenging roads with a trailer attached.

Talking of trailers… the 4×4 Tiguan has a towing capacity of 2,500kg. That’s a pretty hefty caravan.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

It’s a bit like a Golf

Remember that advert, ‘like a Golf?’. The Volkswagen Tiguan is very much a bigger, slightly off-roady Golf. That’s because, like most things in the VW Group line-up (but the first time for an SUV), the new Tiguan is based on the adaptable MQB platform.

The interior is as upmarket as you’d expect from VW – a 12.3-inch infotainment screen is the focus of the cabin, while the Tiguan also gets the clever virtual cockpit, first seen on the Audi TT and now being rolled out across the Volkswagen Group range. This replaces conventional dials with a digital screen behind the steering wheel, and can also show a map with sat-nav directions.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

Unique to the Tiguan, the infotainment screen can show an off-road display. This uses cameras located around the car to help you if you’re tackling challenging obstacles – and even view a 3D view of car from above. It’s not particularly new – we’ve seen similar before, for example Nissan’s Around View monitor, but it works well if you do have to tackle tricky obstacles in the Tiguan.

Search hard, and you will find the odd hard plastic that might disappoint if you’ve opted for one of the more expensive Tiguans, but it’s largely an upmarket experience.

The new model is bigger than before – 26mm longer than its predecessor, and VW has concentrated on making it more comfortable for drivers and passengers alike. It sports a new seat design (‘ergoactive’, in Vee-dub lingo), while the rear bench slides back and forth to allow up to 615 litres of luggage space. Fold it, and that increases to 1,655.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

95% of buyers will opt for the diesel – and that’s OK

On the Tiguan’s European launch, we were greeted with a line-up of high-spec, high-power petrol models, finished in this case in Habanero Orange with 20-inch alloys. While these look the part, and it’s tempting to take near-GTI levels of performance in a sensible crossover package, the majority of buyers will opt for one of the sensible 2.0-litre diesels on offer.

We tried it in both 150hp (that’s the silver one in the pictures) and 190hp guises, with four-wheel drive and the DSG automatic gearbox, and a 150hp two-wheel-drive manual.

The lesser-powered 150hp 2.0-litre will be adequate for most, hitting 62mph in 9.3 seconds, while the 190hp version is preferable for Autobahn storming. Our test route close to Berlin took us on a section of the derestricted Autobahn where the Tiguan swiftly yet undramatically accelerated safely up to speeds that would be in licence-losing territory in the UK. Even at these speeds, the Tiguan felt composed and wasn’t out of it depths hustling with the Germans in their V6 diesels in the outside lane.

Around 40% of buyers will opt for the seven-speed auto ’box in the UK, reckons Volkswagen. It’s one of the best automatic gearboxes on the market, taking next to no time to find the right gear, and really adds to the premium feel that the Tiguan exudes. The six-speed manual is equally slick – with a short throw and light clutch.

On twistier roads than the Autobahn, the Tiguan is safe and predictable if bordering on dull. While that might be a criticism if we were driving a hot Golf, the Tiguan isn’t meant to be an exciting steer. The steering is heavy enough to provide reassurance, but it can be made lighter around town by pressing a button.

What really impresses about the Tiguan is its Germanic levels of refinement. Very little engine noise makes its way into the cabin, and there is no noticeable vibration through the steering wheel and pedals.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

The Tiguan has some really funky angles – and that means it’s good on fuel

A man called Klaus Bischoff and his team are responsible for the Tiguan’s design. You can look at the pictures and decide whether it works for you, but to us, it looks pretty spot on. Much sharper than its predecessor, the new model sits 30mm lower yet is 30mm wider, meaning it’s got (cliche clang) an aggressive stance.

It adopts a similar grille to that features on the new Passat, meaning it sports VW’s new family face (‘like a razor blade’, one Twitter user commented when we posted a pic).

Naturally, the manufacturer has concentrated on using weight-saving measures to make it lighter than its predecessor – despite its bulkier dimensions. In some models it weighs as much as 53kg less than before, while the Tiguan’s aggressive profile makes it fairly slippery – boasting a Cd figure of 0.32. That’s a 13% improvement over the old model’s 0.37.

The result is fuel economy ranging from 58.9mpg in the 2.0-litre 150hp turbodiesel with two-wheel drive, to 38.2mpg for the 180hp 2.0-litre TSI petrol. CO2 emissions officially start at 125g/km, resulting in £110 a year road tax.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

It’s more expensive than the SEAT Ateca and that could be an issue

Initially the Volkswagen Tiguan will start at a lofty £25,530 in the UK, but VW is promising an entry-level model (a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol) in the near future, set to start at £22,480. While that isn’t outrageous for a car with more than a hint of premium, it could face some tough competition from within VW Group.

The SEAT Ateca made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show, and is set to go on sale in May with prices starting at £17,990. Sure, we’re used to how things work at VW Group, and people don’t generally mind paying that little more for a VW with a slightly more upmarket feel (but not premium enough to tread on Audi’s toes). But the Ateca could potentially be very similar to the Tiguan, sharing the same MQB platform and engines – and might even offer a bit of pizzazz that the Tiguan lacks.

And then there’s the likes of the ever-popular Nissan Qashqai (£18,545) and Ford Kuga (19,995) – both of which sell in huge numbers and are cheaper than the Tiguan. OK, the Volkswagen starts to sound more competitive when you compared its price tag with Japanese rivals such as the Honda CR-V (£22,775), Mazda CX-5 (£23,195), Toyota RAV4 (£23,695), but it doesn’t scream ‘bargain’ in a very tough sector.

Unlocked: 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan driven on road (and off it)

2016 Volkswagen Tiguan: early verdict

We’re looking forward to giving the Volkswagen Tiguan a more thorough test on UK roads, but first impressions are favourable. To an extent, the new Tiguan is exactly as we’ve come to expect from Volkswagen. The interior will feel familiar to anyone used to VW interiors – meaning high levels of quality and comfort, while the levels of refinement are impressive.

The Volkswagen Tiguan won’t give a traditional off-roader a hard time if you feel the desire to take it on a green lane exploration of a weekend, but the 4Motion’s clever 4×4 technology will provide reassurance if you have to tackle snowy or muddy conditions.

The big ‘but’ is the price. At £22,500 for the entry-level model, while you can comfortably spend more than £30,000, you have to justify it over rivals from within VW Group and elsewhere. Based on the Tiguan’s refinement and upmarket feel, that should be pretty easy to do – but we’ll be interested to see how the SEAT Ateca compares.

Looks great
Quality interior
Good engines

A teensy bit dull
Just how good will the SEAT Ateca be?

2016 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI 150: specification

Price (from): £25,530
Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel
Gearbox: 6-speed manual, 7-speed auto
Power: 150hp
Torque: 251lb ft
0-62mph: 9.3 seconds
Top speed: 129mph
Fuel economy: 58.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 146g/km

Web editor at MotoringResearch.com. Drives a 1983 Austin Metro. Tweet me @MR_AndrewBrady.
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