Arguably the biggest problem with the Volkswagen Tiguan since it arrived in Australia in 2008 has been the prohibitively high starting price of the entry-level automatic variant.
Never available below $35K, Volkswagen Australia addressed this issue recently when it introduced a six-speed dual-clutch automatic option for the front-wheel-drive Tiguan 118TSI and slapped a $30,990 sticker on its window.
The Tiguan 118TSI DSG now gives Volkswagen a competitively priced rival to fellow base auto compact SUVs such as the Honda CR-V VTi ($29,790), Mazda CX-5 Maxx ($29,880), Toyota RAV4 GX ($30,990), and Ford Kuga Ambiente ($31,490).
The 118TSI DSG is identically equipped to the existing $28,490 manual version. A leather-trimmed steering wheel and 16-inch alloy wheels are standard, where only the CR-V VTi gets alloys instead of steel wheels, and none get leather on their tiller. Disappointingly, however, reversing sensors are a $1400 option (they're standard on Kuga and RAV4), while a rear-view camera that is standard in CR-V and CX-5 is only available when the $3000 satellite navigation option box is also ticked.
Otherwise, six airbags and electronic stability control also contribute to a five-star safety package, although it's odd that the Golf gets a driver's knee airbag standard and the Tiguan doesn't.
Other convenience features such as auto headlights and wipers and dual-zone climate control are available as part of the $1000 Comfort Package (as fitted to our test car). Neither of those features are standard in Tiguan's base model competitors either.
Like most Volkswagens, however, it’s the things that can’t be written on a spec sheet that impress most about the Tiguan.
The leather-bound steering wheel and gear lever feel superb, while the soft-touch material across the dash and front doors, the silky finish to the hard plastics, the tactility of the buttons and dials, and the satin chrome trim highlights create a premium ambience that’s a class above its competitors.
In the age of colour touchscreens however, the Tiguan 118TSI’s slim monochrome central display (shared with the $17K Polo city car) looks a generation off the pace, and although the eight-speaker audio system sounds good and includes AUX/USB/Bluetooth audio connectivity, the phone pairing system is one of the most unintuitive available.
The cabin is well packaged though, with a decent glovebox and dash and door pockets, comfortable front seats positioned high to provide good forward visibility, and accommodating rear seats with among the most head and legroom in the compact SUV class. Centre-mounted air vents are rare for this class - not available in CX-5, RAV4 and Kuga, standard on CR-V - but they are arguably crucial given the family-carrying role and Australia's warm climate.
The Tiguan’s 395-litre boot isn’t huge (it’s beaten by those of the size-smaller Peugeot 2008 and Mitsubishi ASX), though the 60:40 split bench can slide forward roughly 15cm to add extra length and volume to the cargo section. The backrests can also be folded flat to liberate 1510L for more serious load lugging, and the reasonably low loading lip makes filling it easy.
At the other end sits the long-serving 1.4-litre four-cylinder TSI ‘twincharger’ engine, which produces 118kW of power at 5800rpm and 240Nm of torque at 1500-4000rpm. Under the bonnet is where the Volkswagen really has a leg up on its rivals.
The CR-V VTi, CX-5 Maxx and RAV4 GX all get 2.0-litre non-turbo engines that need around 4000rpm to deliver much less torque, and feel strained as a result. Despite the Tiguan 118TSI weighing 1581kg (156kg more than the equivalent CX-5), its turbo engine delivers consistent mid-range pulling power thanks to that broad peak torque band, and remains refined as it revs freely up to and beyond its 6000rpm redline. Volkswagen's claimed 8.9-second 0-100km/h feels right.
Claimed combined cycle fuel consumption of 7.3 litres per 100km for the Tiguan 118TSI DSG also beats every key rival except the Mazda, which has 40Nm less torque. The trip computer on our test car displayed 8.5L/100km after a stint covering a range of driving conditions.
Volkswagen is gradually phasing the turbocharged and supercharged engine out of its line-up in favour of less complicated turbo-only units, though the 118TSI remains a strong-performing, characterful engine.
Slight lag is noticeable during quick acceleration exploits, however, and the six-speed DSG defaults to high gears in the pursuit of optimum fuel efficiency, and can take some convincing to grab more appropriate ratios. The DSG still doesn't quite have the low-speed smoothness of a regular automatic, but this latest iteration of Volkswagen's pioneering gearbox otherwise works beautifully with the energetic engine.
Selecting the transmission’s ‘Sport’ mode also transforms its shift patterns, downshifting aggressively on hills and under braking and holding gears much more readily than the standard ‘Drive’ setting, though Sport’s consistently higher engine speeds makes it best suited to enthusiastic spurts rather than everyday driving.
Such spurts are welcomed in the Tiguan 118TSI DSG, which proves you don’t have to sacrifice driving enjoyment when handing over your hard-earned for a family SUV. It feels reasonably agile and light on its feet, and unlike many SUVs it’s also largely resistant to roll, remaining flat and feeling planted through quick direction changes.
The moderately weighted steering lacks precision around the straight-ahead position, with a little too much play detracting from the feeling of ultimate stability and control. It’s consistent through corners, however, making it predictable and confidence inspiring.
Refinement is the word for the Volkswagen Tiguan’s ride, which is sophisticated and car-like regardless of the surface. As any good SUV should, it pounds over speed humps without crashing or becoming unsettled, and its suspension absorbs all but the sharpest potholes and road joins with ease.
It’s impressive on country roads too, where coarse and undulating bitumen is flattened with little fuss. Road and wind noise is also well contained on rougher surfaces and at faster highway speeds.
Like all Volkswagens, the Tiguan is covered by capped-price servicing for the first six years/90,000km, completed at 12-month/15,000km intervals, though it’s not the cheapest car in its class to maintain. Servicing the Tiguan for the first three years costs $1403 – almost $500 more than the Kuga and about $400 more than the RAV4.
The Tiguan also comes with a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
In some respects the Volkswagen Tiguan is feeling its age. Its basic media system is outclassed by most of its rivals, and its lack of standard reversing sensors or a rear-view camera is disappointing for an SUV of its size. While it will be ruled out by many families with prams due to its below-average luggage capacity, there will be equally as many families with offspring out of them who will discover its benchmark rear accommodation and place it at the top of their list.
Either way, the introduction of the 118TSI DSG to the Tiguan line-up means the nameplate's strong performance, excellent ride and handling balance and sophisticated interior are available in popular auto form for $5K less than before; great news for buyers at the entry end of the market.