Car review: New VW Tiguan tested in UAE

VW Tiguan UAE

What’s this, then?

It’s the new Tiguan, Volkswagen’s small SUV designed to take on the likes of the Kia Sportage, Ford Escape and, in some respects, the more-expensive Audi Q5 that it shares so many parts with.

Surely it can’t run with the Audis and BMWs of this world? It’s a VW, after all.

Well, we’ll get to that later, but the point is that VW has really gone for a premium feel with the new Tiguan. The old one sold in enormous numbers (almost a fifth of all VW UAE’s 2016 sales were Tiguans), but its exterior styling has felt a little dated for the last few years. And underneath, it was based on the old Golf’s platform and even came with the same basic interior. Some called the Tiguan a Golf Estate on stilts – not high praise when you’re targeting reasonably well-off buyers of small, stylish SUVs.

So what’s so great about the new one?

Let’s start with the way it’s made. Without getting too technical, VW is employing a new chassis manufacturing technique that allows it to create cars of varying sizes based on the same platform – the MQB platform. That allows the company to save money on manufacturing the underpinnings of its various models (because they’re all the same), meaning it can spend money on individualising the feel of each one. Oh, and there’s cash left over to add a little more luxury to the mix, too.

In terms of the stuff you can actually feel and touch, then, the new Tiguan comes with vastly improved styling (it makes the bigger Touareg look old in comparison), and a completely redesigned interior that’s both well put together and supremely comfortable. There’s a range of engines, too, and even the base model comes with plenty of gadgetry.

I bet even the base model is expensive, though.

Actually, you can see where all of that MQB platform stuff pays off, because the new Tiguan is pretty aggressively priced for this segment. It starts at AED 89,700, which gets you daytime running lights, rear LED lights, a central touch display, an eight-speaker sound system and a Bluetooth connectivity package. In terms of the base engine, you’re looking at a 1.4-litre turbocharged unit, producing 150 bhp and fed through a dual-clutch, 6-speed DSG gearbox to the front wheels.

What about the rest of the range?

Moving up the range there are engine choices offering five different power outputs, with the top model being the one we have here. It has a 2.0-litre, turbocharged engine, producing 220 bhp, mated to a 7-speed DSG ‘box powering all four wheels. Naturally, it also comes with many luxuries, such as sumptuous leather seats, a panoramic sunroof, driver assist functions and off-road driving modes. All of that comes at a price, though. AED 156,000, to be exact.

VW Tiguan UAE

Now I see where the Audi comparison comes in.

Well, a similarly specced Audi Q5 will cost you more still. And though I haven’t driven the new Q5, I know its interior is similar to the new A4’s and that its mechanical underpinnings are similar to the new Tiguan’s. It’s an educated guess, but my instinct is that the Audi wouldn’t offer that much more of a satisfying ownership experience relative to the additional cost of its badge.

So it’s an Audi Q5 for VW money? Tell me more.

Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but the VW is certainly comparable on a number of levels. The interior, while a little more plasticky than what you get in current-gen Audis, is a lovely place to spend time in. As mentioned before, the leather seats on this top-of-the-range model are properly good. Supportive and firm where you need them to be, but soft and cossetting enough to stay comfortable over long drives. And while a lot of the fixtures are indeed plastic, they’re well made and solid-feeling. You get the impression that they’d stay welded in place for years and years, no matter how much abuse you subject them to.

The tech onboard is all you’d realistically need. You get adaptive cruise control, a digital instrument display that can be customised as you see fit, a head-up display, and an amazing park-assist system that shows you a top-down view of the car on the centre-console screen, allowing you to see exactly where each corner is when you’re slotting into a space. A similar system wowed me in the BMW 7-Series, and the Audi A4’s is even better. The Tiguan’s is pretty much the same as the Audi’s, so top marks there.

Elsewhere there’s Apple CarPlay if you have an iPhone, and a super-easy Bluetooth connectivity system for streaming music and making calls if you don’t. The touch screen on the centre console is reasonably intuitive, with physical buttons on each side providing access to different car functions and settings.

That said, the ergonomics aren’t perfect. If you’re presented with a long menu, you’re best off scrolling through it with the physical wheel underneath the screen because scrolling via touch is near-impossible – the screen will simply click on whatever you make contact with and take you to the next menu, no matter how lightly you brush it. This would be fine, but the scrolling wheel is in an awkward place on the centre console, meaning using it is tricky while driving. I’m nit-picking here, but it’s an annoyance.

VW Tiguan UAE

And what’s the drive like?

This ‘sport’ model may be fitted with the 220 bhp engine, and it may have a sport mode with a manual gear-shifting option, but the Tiguan isn’t a car that begs to be thrashed. In fact, it’d rather you drove sensibly. The 0-100 km/h dash takes 6.5 seconds, but it never actually feels that quick, even in sport mode – the silky 7-speed gearbox preferring to shift up earlier rather than letting the turbocharger get into its stride. Top speed is 220 km/h, but in a car like this, you’re unlikely to ever go above 130 km/h, so that’s largely irrelevant.

If you happen across a twisty road, you may be tempted to stick the car into sport and have a little fun. Unfortunately, you’ll be disappointed. The throttle response remains muted, meaning you have to mash your right foot into the floor to get at all of the power. But a bigger problem is the lack of feel through the electric steering system. Sport mode adds a little weight, but you never feel much connection to the road through the wheel. The car handles, for sure – it’ll grip like no-one’s business and point in whichever direction you want it to, but it’s not engaging. It feels more like the car is running on train tracks and you’re just along for the ride.

It’s no good, then?

I didn’t say that. Forget about the sport stuff, and you have a car that’s incredibly well suited to making day-to-day driving a relaxing and enjoyable experience. The suspension is plush, and that light steering, while rubbish for engagement, is perfect for motorway cruising and manoeuvring through car parks. This is without mentioning the depth of refinement this car exudes. The engine is quiet as anything, and nothing rattles at high speeds. Indeed, get up to motorway cruising speed, and all you’ll notice is a little wind noise whipping at the windscreen. For 99% of Tiguan buyers, I’d say this stuff is more important than driving excitement.

What about practicality?

The back seats offer a decent amount of leg room – we stuck a couple of tall-ish men in the back for a couple of journeys and heard no complaints. Everything is keyless, so you can just have the fob in your pocket or bag, get in and go. And the boot comes with a sensor underneath the rear bumper, so if your hands are full of shopping, you simply need to wave your foot under the sensor and the door will open for you. It’s a simple system that we’ve seen on plenty of cars before, but you can’t deny its effectiveness.

VW Tiguan UAE

It won’t go off-road, though, will it?

Well, this model is four-wheel-drive, and there are off-road driving modes that you can flick the car into, but I doubt these features will help you scale Big Red. There’s decent ground clearance, so tackling a gravel track through a wadi shouldn’t be too difficult, but apart from that, I’d keep this thing on the road – most buyers will do just that anyway.

So what’s the verdict?

It’s a good car, extremely fit for purpose. Bigger, better looking and more luxurious than its predecessor, the new Tiguan makes up for its lack of driving thrills with its refinement and relaxed personality. Living with the car for a few days, I grew pretty attached to it, happy every time I climbed in that I was in for a pleasant half-hour’s motoring. I’m not sure that feeling would diminish much over the course of a three-year ownership cycle. The whole package is just so well rounded for a car in this class.

All of that said, I’m not convinced you’d need the full-fat, top-of-the-range model we had on test. The toys are fabulous and the engine is good, but with so many of the basics covered by the entry-level model, you’ve got to look at that as something of a bargain. Either way, if you’re looking for a small SUV, the new Tiguan is certainly worth a test drive.


Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged
Gearbox: 7-speed DSG
Power: 220 bhp
0-100 km/h: 6.5 s
Top speed: 220 km/h
Price (starting): AED 89,700
Price (as tested): AED 156,000
Dealers: Al Naboodah Automobiles (Dubai and Northern Emirates), Ali & Sons Motors (Abu Dhabi and Al Ain)

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