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Volvo V90

2016 Volvo V90 review: luxury estate takes on the Germans

Volvo V90

The year is 1986 and I am seven years old. I’m in the back of our Volvo 240 GL estate as ‘Hip to be Square’, the new hit from Huey Lewis and the News, blasts over the two-speaker radio/cassette. We’re heading to a National Trust garden, the sort of place that, as an adult, I would probably enjoy but at the time I thought deeply uncool. In my eyes, the Volvo is deeply uncool, too. It’s square, but it certainly ain’t hip.

Fast-forward 30 years and I’m in Spain to drive Volvo’s latest estate, the V90. It’s a sleek machine, with a steeply-raked tailgate that prioritises style over luggage space. It has advanced self-driving technology and a luxurious, minimalist interior. And it’s available as a 407hp ‘Twin Engine’ plug-in hybrid. I think the seven-year-old me might consider it cool.

It’s undeniably upmarket, too. After years in the wilderness between mainstream and premium, Volvo is aiming its flagship estate squarely at the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF and Mercedes-Benz E-class. Prices at launch start from £34,555, with a choice of two four-cylinder diesel engines, plus front- or four-wheel drive. Cars arrive in the UK in October 2016, with the T8 hybrid following a few months later.

Volvo V90

A lack of six appeal?

The V90 and S90 saloon use the same SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) platform as the highly-acclaimed XC90 SUV. That means a mixture of aluminium and steel construction, plus double-wishbone front suspension with a composite leaf spring at the rear. Air suspension is a £950 option, fitted to our test car.

The front-drive 190hp D4 reaches 62mph in 8.5sec and returns 62.8mpg with the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox. CO2 emissions of 119g/km equate to free car tax in the first year, then £30 a year thereafter.

Spend an extra £7,000 on the 235hp D5, available with four-wheel drive only, and you’ll hit 62mph in 7.2sec and achieve a (theoretical) 57.6mpg. Emissions creep up to 129g/km, meaning no tax in the showroom, but £110 a year beyond that. We don’t have figures for the 407hp T8 hybrid yet, but expect 0-62mph in less than 5.5sec and (very theoretical) fuel economy of around 140mpg.

You’ll notice the glaring absence of a six-cylinder diesel engine to match rivals. Can Volvo’s turbocharged fours justify a premium price-tag? Time to drive the V90 and find out…

Volvo V90

A car that doesn’t like to hurried

Volvo expects the entry-level D4 engine to account for 70% of sales. Predictably, though, only the gruntier D5 (20% of sales, with the T8 taking the remaining 10%) was available to drive at launch.

Thanks to a compressed-air injection system Volvo calls Powerpulse, turbo lag is virtually non-existent and the D5 provides brisk acceleration and punchy overtaking ability. The engine is all-but inaudible at cruising speeds, but work it hard and there’s no doubt this is a four-cylinder diesel. It lacks the creamy smoothness of, say, a BMW six.

The V90 isn’t billed as a sports estate and, frankly, it isn’t. There’s a fair amount of body-roll when cornering and the auto ’box gets flustered if rushed. Switching to Dynamic mode sharpens up the chassis, but gives the steering an oddly inconsistent feel.

Volvo V90

Cosseted in class-leading comfort

So it’s no BMW to drive, but that’s missing the point. Comfort is the V90’s raison d’etre and where it excels. Volvo seats really are the best in the business, with supple leather, plenty of padding and standard Swedish-spec heaters. They’re like your favourite armchair with a bit more lateral support.

The news is nearly as good for rear-seat passengers. Unlike my parents’ 240, which had two pop-up, rear-facing child seats in the boot, the V90 only has space for five. If you need seven seats, you’ll need to trade-up to the XC90. However, three adults can get comfortable in the back, as long as the middle passenger doesn’t object to having his/her legs splayed either side of the wide transmission tunnel.

Ride comfort isn’t quite so impressive, although our test car was fitted with optional 20-inch alloy wheels (£1,700). Doubtless the standard 18-inchers would be more forgiving.

Volvo V90

The boot could be bigger, though

Say what you like about the old 240 (and trust me, I did), its set-square design meant it had a huge boot. When I eventually went to university, we crammed my entire worldly goods in there.

The V90 is slipperier, more curvaceous, more aerodynamic and undoubtedly more stylish. But valuable boot space has been sacrificed for that sloping rear end, meaning it isn’t quite the wardrobe-swallowing wagon you might expect.

Volvo quotes boot capacity as 723 litres with the rear seats in place, or 1,526 litres with them folded flat. That compares to 560 and 1,670 litres in the BMW 5 Series Touring, or 695 and 1,950 litres in the (soon-to-be-replaced) Mercedes-Benz E-Class estate. And the much cheaper Skoda Superb estate offers 660 and 1,950 litres.

Volvo V90

High-tech and high quality

A premium car in 2016 needs to be stuffed with tech, and here the V90 doesn’t disappoint. It inherits a large portrait-oriented touchscreen from the XC90, which keeps the number of buttons on the centre console to a stylish minimum.

Anyone who has used a smartphone will have no problems swiping and scrolling their way around the Sensus operating system, which has clear graphics and intuitive sub-menus. Sat nav is standard and an in-built app allows you to stream music from Spotify. Phone connectivity options include the excellent Apple CarPlay, which replicates your iPhone screen in the car. The rival Android Auto system is promised soon.

On balance, we still find Audi’s MMI media system easier to use particularly on the move, where its separate rotary controller helps you stay focused on the road. Volvo is genuinely up there with Audi for interior quality, though. From open-pore wood on the doors and dashboard to the knurled metal trim on the starter switch, the V90 is decisively more Habitat than Ikea..

Volvo V90

It can drive itself… sort of

Volvo has a proud history of safety firsts, from three-point seatbelts in 1959 to side airbags in 1994. The V90 hadn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP at the time of writing, but we’d be very surprised if it doesn’t match the five-star score of its platform-share sibling, the XC90.

Among the arsenal of active safety systems is Pilot Assist, which allows semi-autonomous driving on motorways at up to 80mph. In practice, that means the car will regulate its speed, accelerating and braking as necessary and nudging the steering to keep you within the white lines. It works well, provided the road doesn’t become too twisty. You need to keep one hand on the wheel, though – the dream of having a snooze while the car commutes for you is still a long way off.

A world-first for the new V90 and S90 is large animal detection for the City Safety automatic braking system. We didn’t get opportunity to test it on the Costa del Sol, but if you met a moose in Sweden, we’ve no doubt it would prove very useful…

Volvo V90

Volvo V90: Early verdict

This is Volvo doing what it has traditionally done best: large, comfortable estate cars well suited to family life. Taking the kids and dog to a National Trust garden? Easy. Driving across France with a boot full of camping gear and a pair of mountain bikes on the roof? Pas de probleme. It makes you wonder why anyone would need a larger and less efficient SUV.

The V90 doesn’t raise the bar for luxury cars. The BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF are both more rewarding to drive, and the Mercedes-Benz E-class is still a more accomplished all-rounder. But the Volvo feels sufficiently different to stand out from its established rivals, appealing on an emotional level as well as a practical one. It’s a properly premium car and maybe – just maybe – a cool one, too.

Volvo V90

2016 Volvo V90

For:

Very comfortable

Spacious and practical

Stylish – both inside and out

Lots of safety equipment

Against:

Diesels are a little uncouth

Handling won’t satisfy keen drivers

2016 Volvo V90 D5 AWD Inscription: Specification

Price: £44,055

Engine: 2.0-litre turbo diesel

Gearbox: eight-speed automatic

Power: 235hp

Torque: 354lb ft

0-62mph: 7.2 seconds

Top speed: 145mph

Fuel economy: 57.6mpg

CO2 emissions: 129g/km

Volvo V90

2017 Volvo V90 review: luxury wagon takes on the Germans

Volvo V90 2017The year is 1986 and I am seven years old. I’m in the back of our Volvo 240 GL wagon as ‘Hip to be Square’, the new hit from Huey Lewis and the News, blasts over the two-speaker radio/cassette. We’re heading to an historic garden, the sort of place that, as an adult, I would probably enjoy but at the time I thought deeply uncool. In my eyes, the Volvo is deeply uncool, too. It’s square, but it certainly ain’t hip.

Fast-forward 30 years and I’m in Spain to drive Volvo’s latest wagon, the V90. It’s a sleek machine, with a steeply-raked tailgate that prioritises style over luggage space. It has advanced self-driving technology and a luxurious, minimalist interior. And it’s available as a 407-horsepower ‘Twin Engine’ plug-in hybrid. I think the seven-year-old me might consider it cool.

It’s undeniably upmarket, too. After years in the wilderness between mainstream and premium, Volvo is aiming its flagship wagon squarely at the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. At the European preview launch it was presented with a choice of two four-cylinder diesel engines, plus front- or four-wheel drive. Cars arrive in the United States in 2017, by which time the T8 hybrid will be available: also expect a T6 version of Volvo’s 2.0-litre four-banger gasoline turbo.

A lack of six appeal?

Volvo V90 2017

The V90 and S90 saloon use the same SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) platform as the highly-acclaimed XC90 SUV. That means a mixture of aluminum and steel construction, plus double-wishbone front suspension with a composite leaf spring at the rear. Air suspension is an option fitted to our test car.

The front-drive 190-horsepower D4 reaches 62mph in 8.5sec and returns impressive European-spec mileage with the standard eight-speed automatic gearbox. CO2 emissions are so low, the United Kingdom considers this big wagon road tax free. 

Spend an extra £$10,000 on the 235h-horsepower D5, available with four-wheel drive only, and you’ll hit 62mph in 7.2sec and achieve. Emissions creep up a little but not dramatically so. We don’t have figures for the 407-horsepower T8 hybrid yet, but expect 0-62mph in less than 5.5sec and ultra-high but ultra-theoretical mileage which will plummet if you don’t plug it in…

You’ll notice the glaring absence of a six-cylinder diesel engine to match rivals. Can Volvo’s turbocharged fours justify a premium price-tag? Time to drive the V90 and find out…

A car that doesn’t like to hurried

Volvo V90 2017

Volvo expects the entry-level D4 engine to account for 70% of sales in Europe. Predictably, though, only the gruntier D5 was available to drive at launch. There were no T8s.

Thanks to a compressed-air injection system Volvo calls Powerpulse, turbo lag is virtually non-existent and the D5 provides brisk acceleration and punchy overtaking ability. The engine is all-but inaudible at cruising speeds, but work it hard and there’s no doubt this is a four-cylinder diesel. It lacks the creamy smoothness of, say, a BMW six.

The V90 isn’t billed as a sports estate and, frankly, it isn’t. There’s a fair amount of body-roll when cornering and the auto ’box gets flustered if rushed. Switching to Dynamic mode sharpens up the chassis, but gives the steering an oddly inconsistent feel.

Cosseted in class-leading comfort

Volvo V90 2017

So it’s no BMW to drive, but that’s missing the point. Comfort is the V90’s raison d’etre and where it excels. Volvo seats really are the best in the business, with supple leather, plenty of padding and standard Swedish-spec heaters. They’re like your favourite armchair with a bit more lateral support.

The news is nearly as good for rear-seat passengers. Unlike my parents’ 240, which had two pop-up, rear-facing child seats in the boot, the V90 only has space for five. If you need seven seats, you’ll need to trade-up to the XC90. However, three adults can get comfortable in the back, as long as the middle passenger doesn’t object to having his/her legs splayed either side of the wide transmission tunnel.

Ride comfort isn’t quite so impressive, although our test car was fitted with optional 20-inch alloy wheels. Doubtless the standard 18-inchers would be more forgiving.

The boot could be bigger, though

Volvo V90 2017

Say what you like about the old 240 (and trust me, I did), its set-square design meant it had a huge boot. When I eventually went to university, we crammed my entire worldly goods in there.

The V90 is slipperier, more curvaceous, more aerodynamic and undoubtedly more stylish. But valuable boot space has been sacrificed for that sloping rear end, meaning it isn’t quite the wardrobe-swallowing wagon you might expect.

Volvo quotes boot capacity as 723 liters with the rear seats in place, or 1,526 liters with them folded flat. That compares to 560 and 1,670 liters in the BMW 5 Series Touring, or 695 and 1,950 liters in the (soon-to-be-replaced) Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon. 

High-tech and high quality

Volvo V90 2017

A premium car in 2016 needs to be stuffed with tech, and here the V90 doesn’t disappoint. It inherits a large portrait-oriented touchscreen from the XC90, which keeps the number of buttons on the centre console to a stylish minimum.

Anyone who has used a smartphone will have no problems swiping and scrolling their way around the Sensus operating system, which has clear graphics and intuitive sub-menus. Sat nav is standard and an in-built app allows you to stream music from Spotify. Phone connectivity options include the excellent Apple CarPlay, which replicates your iPhone screen in the car. The rival Android Auto system is promised soon.

On balance, we still find Audi’s MMI media system easier to use particularly on the move, where its separate rotary controller helps you stay focused on the road. Volvo is genuinely up there with Audi for interior quality, though. From open-pore wood on the doors and dashboard to the knurled metal trim on the starter switch, the V90 is decisively more Habitat than Ikea..

It can drive itself… sort of

Volvo V90 2017

Volvo has a proud history of safety firsts, from three-point seatbelts in 1959 to side airbags in 1994. The V90 hadn’t been crash-tested by Euro NCAP at the time of writing, but we’d be very surprised if it doesn’t match the five-star score of its platform-share sibling, the XC90.

Among the arsenal of active safety systems is Pilot Assist, which allows semi-autonomous driving on motorways at up to 80mph. In practice, that means the car will regulate its speed, accelerating and braking as necessary and nudging the steering to keep you within the white lines. It works well, provided the road doesn’t become too twisty. You need to keep one hand on the wheel, though – the dream of having a snooze while the car commutes for you is still a long way off.

A world-first for the new V90 and S90 is large animal detection for the City Safety automatic braking system. We didn’t get opportunity to test it on the Costa del Sol, but if you met a moose in Sweden, we’ve no doubt it would prove very useful…

Volvo V90: Early verdict

Volvo V90 2017

This is Volvo doing what it has traditionally done best: large, comfortable wagons well suited to family life. Taking the kids and dog to a National Trust garden? Easy. Driving across France with a boot full of camping gear and a pair of mountain bikes on the roof? Pas de probleme. It makes you wonder why anyone would need a larger and less efficient SUV.

The V90 doesn’t raise the bar for luxury cars. The BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF are both more rewarding to drive, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is still a more accomplished all-rounder. But the Volvo feels sufficiently different to stand out from its established rivals, appealing on an emotional level as well as a practical one. It’s a properly premium car and maybe – just maybe – a cool one, too.

2016 Volvo V90

For:

Very comfortable

Spacious and practical

Stylish – both inside and out

Lots of safety equipment

Against:

Diesels are a little uncouth

Handling won’t satisfy keen drivers

Will a four-pot gas engine cut it alongside rivals’ sixes?

BMW M2

2016 BMW M2 review: best M-car since the E46 M3?

BMW M2For a new car, the M2 comes steeped in history. It’s the follow-up to the much-loved 1 Series M Coupe of 2011, but BMW also draws comparisons with the original 1986 E30 M3 and 1973 2002 Turbo. An illustrious bloodline, then.

The smallest fully-fledged M-car looks like a pumped-up M235i, but much of its hardware comes from the larger M3 and M4. A 3.0-litre straight-six turbo petrol engine sends 370hp to the rear wheels via a manual or DCT dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

You want stats? Try 0-62mph in 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 155mph. Official fuel economy is 33.2mpg, while CO2 emissions of 199g/km mean £265 annual car tax (VED). Figures for the DCT version are 4.3 seconds, 35.8mpg, 185g/km and £230 respectively. M2 prices start at £44,070 – around £13,000 less than the M4 coupe.

BMW M2A traditional performance car

This is ‘a car for purists’, says BMW – hence the traditional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive format. Yet the M2 is that rare thing: a car with no direct rivals.

BMW usually squares up to fellow Germans, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. But its competitors at this price-point – the RS3 Sportback and A45 AMG – are four-wheel-drive hot hatchbacks, not rear-driven coupes. The three cars are comparable when it comes to price and performance; all cost around £40k and hit 62mph in less than 4.5 seconds. But there the similarities end.

In fact, the M2 is conceptually closer to another fast German: the Porsche Cayman. Porsche’s compact coupe is a benchmark for driving dynamics and one of our favourite cars full-stop. However, it gives away two seats to the more practical BMW – and in new ‘718 Cayman’ guise, two engine cylinders as well.

BMW M2Subtle styling tweaks make a big impact

Like a hormone-pumped Bavarian bodybuilder, the M2 looks almost as wide as it is long. Bulging wings (80mm wider at the rear) are stretched over 19-inch alloys, giving the car a squat, purposeful stance.

At the front, a square-jawed bumper houses enlarged ducts that divert air into the wheelarches and along the sides of the car. There’s a splash of chrome on the front grille, plus the obligatory blue, red and purple ‘M2’ badge.  Moving rearwards, you’ll find shapely side skirts, a steel roof (the M3’s is carbonfibre) and a small boot spoiler. Four shotgun exhausts confirm – if there was any doubt – that this is no bodykitted 220d.

Although relatively subtle, the body mods reduce drag by 5% and high-speed lift by 35% versus the 2 Series Coupe. They also give the M2 the visual clout to match its no-punches-pulled performance. The mouth to match its trousers, if you will.

BMW M2It makes an M235i seem slow

Spec your M2 with a six-speed manual gearbox and – with some deft cog-swapping – you’ll hit 62mph in 4.5 seconds. That’s 0.5 seconds swifter than an M235i and just 0.2 seconds behind the manual M4. Splash out £2,500 on the seven-speed DCT semi-automatic gearbox and that figure is cut to just 4.3 seconds.

A top speed of 155mph is fast enough for most, but BMW also offers a optional Driver’s Package, which removes the speed limiter, increasing the VMax to 168mph. If you regularly commute on the Autobahn at 3am, it’s a must-have.

I suppose you’ll be wanting a Nurburgring lap time, too? The M2 circumnavigates Germany’s most notorious racetrack in seven minutes and 58 seconds, a modest 12 seconds behind big-brother M3. As we’ll discover, it’s the way this car goes around corners that makes it genuinely special.

BMW M2The M2 is a car you’d just drive for the hell of it

Or should I say the heaven of it? Screaming up Spanish mountain switchbacks, feeling the tyres squirm and tail twitch as we exit each hairpin, is an experience I will remember for a long time. Yes, it has a turbocharger (doesn’t everything these days?), but this is a pure, undiluted M-car – and all the better for it.

Key to the M2’s impressive agility is near-perfect 51% front, 49% rear weight distribution. Its electric power steering is light around town, but gets heavier as speed increases, offering plenty of feedback through a chunky M-badged wheel. The slick manual gearbox blips the throttle automatically for smoother downchanges (tell friends it’s your expert heel-and-toe technique), while the DCT ’box is excellent, too – certainly one of the quickest and most intuitive automatics available.

Even on the road, you can explore the limits of the M2 in relative safety. For a chassis with a short wheelbase and 370hp at the rear tyres, it’s remarkably benign. It turns in with eager immediacy, and you can adjust your cornering line using the throttle without undue fear of the car biting back.

The engine is hushed at low revs, but builds to a classy straight-six roar as the needle surges towards 7,000rpm. There’s ample mid-range grunt for overtaking and, unlike some turbocharged engines, it doesn’t run out of puff near the redline.

BMW M2It needs handling with care in the wet, though

Part-way through our test-drive of the M2, the heavens open and the smoothly-surfaced roads suddenly feel like they’re coated in Teflon. You know what they say about the rain in Spain…

In these conditions, the M2 needs handling with care. A tail-happy car at the best of times, it’s very drifty indeed on damp Tarmac. Only a Toyota GT86 feels so eager to go sideways – and that has 170 fewer horses. Thankfully, unless you neck a Brave Pill and select Sport Plus mode, the DSC stability control does a sterling job of keeping you on-track. It allows a small degree of slip, but the safety net is certainly there.

Traction is perhaps more of an issue. The Active M Differential juggles torque between the rear tyres, giving impressive traction out of corners in the dry. In the wet, though, the M2 struggles to put all its power down. You need a delicate right foot to keep the wheels from spinning.

BMW M2As performance cars go, the M2 is pretty practical

Sadly, few people apart from car journalists regularly drive on deserted mountain roads. They’re more likely to lap the M25 than the Nurburgring. So what’s the M2 like in this ‘real world’ I keep hearing about?

Well, it’s more practical than most driver-focused cars, with comfortable front seats, a sculpted rear bench that accommodates two adults (at a squeeze) and a 390-litre boot (about the same as a VW Golf). BMW’s Professional Navigation package is standard, along with leather trim and super-bright xenon headlights. Shame the 2 Series interior doesn’t feel worthy of a £40k+ car.

The ride is on the firm side of comfortable, and the exhaust is too noisy in Sport mode on the motorway. Official fuel economy in the low-to-mid 30s won’t win any plaudits from Greenpeace either, but is what about you’d expect for a car with this level of go. We saw closer to 20mpg on our ‘spirited’ test-drive, though…

BMW M2
It has a ‘smoky burnout’ mode

If that all sounds a bit sensible, don’t worry; the M2’s ‘smoky burnout’ function is evidence that Germans really do have a sense of humour. Available on M2s with the DCT auto gearbox, it allows for full-bore, tyre-shredding getaways. If you so feel the need.

On cars with a manual ‘box, you can replicate this effect by dumping the clutch, of course. And the retro six-speeder would certainly be our choice. It adds an extra layer of involvement, and saves you £2,500 for your trouble. A quarter of customers have chosen a manual so far – much higher than in the M3 and M4. And BMW expects that figure to rise to 40% over time.

The M2 is well-equipped, particularly for a BMW. So your other big choice is colour. There are four shades available: Long Beach Blue, Alpine White, Black Sapphire and Mineral Grey. For us (and around 50% of M2 buyers), it has to be the blue – it looked stunning in the Spanish sunshine.

BMW M2It’s a future classic

After several disappointments, the latest M3 and M4 among them, M GmbH has come up trumps. The new M2 is fantastic – a car dominated by its superb chassis, such as we haven’t seen since the 2000 (E46) M3. Finally, a BMW that feels worth of the old ‘ultimate driving machine’ tagline.

Enthusiasts are already queueing up, chequebooks in hand, so you’ll probably wait until 2017 if you order now. However, BMW plans a generous production run of 15,000 cars (with 1,900 allocated for the UK). That’s good news if you want one, although less so in terms of the car’s long-term value.

Let’s go back where we started by talking about the M2’s predecessor: the 1 Series M Coupe. With only 6,000 built, prices are higher now than when the car was new in 2011. The 15,000-strong M2 is unlikely to appreciate quite so readily, but hold on long enough and it’s a dead-cert future classic.

So, that’s the M2. Would I choose one over an RS3 or A45 AMG? Oh yes. Is it the best M-car you can buy? No question.

BMW M2BMW M2: Early verdict

For:

Very quick indeed

Superb rear-wheel-drive handling

More practical than a Cayman

Against:

Tricky on wet roads

Interior doesn’t feel special

Limited investment potential

2016 BMW M2: Specification

Price: £44,070

Engine: 3.0-litre turbo pterol

Gearbox: six-speed manual, seven-speed DCT semi-automatic

Power: 370hp

Torque: 343lb ft (369lb ft with overboost)

0-62mph: 4.5 seconds (4.3 DCT)

Top speed: 155mph

Fuel economy: 33.2mpg (35.8 DCT)

CO2 emissions: 199g/km (185 DCT)

 

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

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.

For:
Looks great
Quality interior
Good engines

Against:
Expensive
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