The verdict: With sporty driving characteristics and a premium interior, the 2019 Volkswagen Tiguan isn’t like a lot of other compact SUVs available today — and that’s a good thing.
Versus the competition: In a recent Cars.com comparison test of well-equipped compact SUVs, including segment heavyweights like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, the Volkswagen Tiguan came in first thanks to an unmatched combination of driving refinement, interior luxury and occupant comfort, as well as strong showings in our cargo versatility and child-safety seat evaluations.
The popularity of compact SUVs is booming as shoppers trade their cars for the higher seating position, greater cargo versatility and available all-wheel drive SUVs offer. To get a read on the current state of the market, we tested seven 2019 models — the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan — over the course of a few days. For more details on what we tested and how they finished, check out our 2019 Compact SUV Challenge.
Volkswagen sent us a Tiguan SEL Premium R-Line with all-wheel drive. Its as-tested price of $40,485 — including a $995 destination charge — made it the most expensive SUV in our test. Our comparison focused on higher-end trim levels, but a high price didn’t automatically translate to a strong finish; the second- and third-place Forester and Tucson had two of the lower prices in the group, while the second-most-expensive entrant, the Cherokee, finished sixth.
The Tiguan we drove was packed with features like a panoramic moonroof, leather upholstery, an all-digital instrument panel and a Fender premium stereo, as well as important active-safety features like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. (See how the Tiguan compares with the CR-V Touring, RAV4 Limited and Cherokee Limited here.)
How It Drives
The Tiguan’s driving manners set it apart. With light-effort, responsive steering and crisp handling on suburban streets and interstate highways alike, the Tiguan was the most fun to drive. And thanks to a settled, stable feel on the highway, it was the only one I’d be interested in taking on a long road trip; the others felt too skittish at highway speeds. The Subaru Forester’s engaging driving experience also impressed, but its highway manners fell short of the Tiguan’s.
The Tiguan’s drivetrain makes enough power to avoid feeling sluggish. All trim levels are powered by a 184-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that drives an eight-speed automatic transmission. The Tiguan accelerates up to highway speeds well enough, but high-speed passing power is modest. There’s some gas-pedal lag when accelerating from a standstill, but selecting the automatic transmission’s Sport mode erases it. There’s no persistent engine drone like you get in the Rogue and RAV4. On our mileage drive, the Tiguan’s real-world fuel economy of 26.5 mpg was mid-pack; the RAV4’s 29 mpg was the best.
The Tiguan’s clear handling advantage does come with a downside: an at-times-harsh ride. The significance of that will largely depend on where you live: On decent roads, the Tiguan’s ride quality was no worse than the other SUVs we tested (they all skew firm), but potholed roads revealed a brittle, harsh ride that was less forgiving than the other SUVs we tested — especially the Cherokee, which has a refined ride on even the worst pavement. The Tiguan was the only SUV in our comparison test with 20-inch wheels, and they were fitted with the lowest-profile tires. This wheel-and-tire choice likely contributed to the Tiguan’s handling prowess, but we’d gladly give up some handling capability for better ride quality if that’s what the SUV’s available 17-, 18- and 19-inch wheels offer.
You should expect a lot from a $40,000-plus compact SUV, and our Tiguan SEL Premium’s cabin largely delivered. There was a richness and consistency to the materials that wasn’t present in the other SUVs we tested; even the Tiguan’s hard-plastic trim seemed more upscale. The materials are complemented by luxury-grade features, like an available all-digital instrument cluster screen and details like a steering wheel finished with intricate stitching.
First- and second-row occupants ride in comfort, too: the Tiguan received the highest marks from the judges for its front and rear seats. The front bucket seats have bigger-than-average bolsters on the seat cushion, which you’ll have to clear when getting in and out, but the seats are wide and comfortable. The sliding and reclining second-row bench seat is also very comfortable, with generous legroom for adult passengers in the seat’s rearmost position.
The Tiguan was the only SUV in our comparison test with a third-row seat. A $595 option on all-wheel-drive models (it’s standard with front-wheel drive), the two-passenger third row can carry adults but is designed for children; taller adults who venture back there must endure an uncomfortable, hunched-forward seating position because of the seat’s proximity to the floor and its limited headroom.
Multimedia and Controls
A 6.5-inch touchscreen multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity is standard, but higher trims get an 8-inch touchscreen and SEL trims add built-in navigation. SE and higher trims have three USB ports instead of the single port on the base S.
There are touch-sensitive controls on either side of the larger touchscreen, and you’ll have to be mindful not to brush against them when using the volume and tuning knobs, or you’ll end up in a different part of the system. The touchscreens in the Cherokee and Tucson had slightly better usability overall.
The Tiguan’s cargo score tied the CR-V’s for best in our comparison. While the CR-V’s rating was driven by the SUV’s largest-in-test cargo volume, the Tiguan — which had a bit less cargo space with its third row folded — benefited from features like a sliding second-row seat with a 40/20/40-split backrest, which enhanced its versatility. The Tiguan includes a spot under the cargo floor for storing the cargo cover when it’s not in use.
The Tiguan received the highest rating, good, in all Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crashworthiness tests. It got the top rating, superior, for front crash prevention when equipped with optional Front Assist, which includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection. However, the LED headlights on SEL Premium and higher trims are rated marginal by IIHS, and the SUV’s Latch connectors earned just an acceptable rating (we graded the Tiguan’s Latch connectors higher in our Car Seat Check).
Other optional active-safety features include blind spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, and lane-keeping assist.
How It Won
The overarching theme of our 2019 Compact SUV Challenge was how close the contestants were in many categories, and this sentiment came through in the scoring: The seventh-place Rogue and the second-place Forester were separated by just 94 out of a possible 1,000 points.
The Tiguan, though, separated itself from the pack; it won outright or tied for first in nine categories — three times more than any other SUV in the test — while it tied for worst only once, in our real-world fuel economy test. But even its observed gas mileage was only 2.5 mpg lower than the most-efficient RAV4. It was this well-rounded performance that elevated the Tiguan above the competition and powered its convincing win.
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