Well, it has finally happened. As Australian new car buyers, we have crossed the streams.
Not to herald the coming of Gozer the Gozerian mind you, but to signify what we’ve seen coming for some time, SUVs now officially outsell passenger cars.
It’s not really a surprise, as almost every hatch, coupe or estate derivative (and even the odd convertible here and there) has a high-riding SUV counterpart. A vehicle which melds decades of engineering experience with the right level of market-desirable packaging.
It’s a formula with proven results, and to accelerate sales even further, manufacturers have turned their attention to the sportier, cult-heroes of yore, to add a bit more zip to the SUV portfolio.
Take our 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan 162 TSI Highline as a perfect example.
It takes the practical shape and functionality of the second-generation Tiguan SUV and throws in 4Motion all-wheel drive and the Golf GTI’s 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Part hot hatch, part sensible wagon.
The question really is, should this have just been called the VW Tiguan GTI?
On the performance front, the Tiggy matches the Golf for straight line speed. Volkswagen claims a 6.5-second run to 100km/h for both cars, the 300kg heavier Tiguan making good use of the all-paw traction to get the power to the ground.
There’s a newer seven-speed DSG transmission in the SUV too (the Golf makes do with a six-speed unit), and with the addition of the $4000 R-Line package, which adds the body styling kit, 20-inch wheels and sports suspension, it looks the part, too.
But the GTI lore is built around a more raw and emotional driving experience and tartan seats. The Tiguan, as well sorted as it is, misses out on both.
Don’t get me wrong though, it is still a nice and sensible place to spend time.
The new Tiguan is 60mm longer and 30mm wider than the car it replaces.
The 615-litre boot (measured with the rear seats as far forward on their rails) can expand through the 40:20:40 split seats to 1655-litres. It is a very usable space, even with the rear row slid backwards, with a false floor, storage cubbies, space saver and some tools.
Plus, there are clever little lugs on the side of the boot walls that hold the floor up while you toil underneath.
You’ve got remote releases for the rear seats, a 12-volt accessory outlet, plus the boot itself is powered. In terms of family-use practicality, all the key questions are answered.
The back seats again offer great room. The added length of the Tiguan sees 76mm extra between the wheels (2681mm) and it is very noticeable.
As well as sliding, the seats recline and both outside places offer ISOFIX points. I spent a bit of time back there, and despite my 6’3” height, had plenty of leg, toe and headroom, even with the little picnic trays on the back of the front seats.
There is digital climate control, another 12-volt outlet plus a centre armrest with cupholders.
You can option in a panoramic sunroof for $2000, but without it, like on our test car, you score a huge roof console with four, count them, FOUR sunglasses holders. Now everyone in the family can look cool!
Up front, heated and powered leather seats are standard and the driving position is pretty spot on. Volkswagen has a good handle on ergonomics but also familiarity, and from behind the wheel, there is no mistaking the fact you are in a VW.
Our car has the optional Driver Assistance package which includes the full-size LCD instrument panel, very much like we have seen with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit.
It’s a great system, offering a choice of information and personalisation, down to what data you see in the centre of each of the dials.
As with the Audi, you can force a large navigation map, but this tends to be a bit distracting and it’s best to use the dials and your selection of driving information data and keep the navigation to the eight-inch touch screen in the middle of the dashboard.
Like we have seen on the Passat and other newer Volkswagen models, the infotainment system works well, even offering predictive overlay interactions and support for Apple Carplay and other mobile device projections. But, because it has so much information, finding what you want when you want, can be a bit of a task.
For example, you can select the car menu from the main buttons, and can then cycle through that screen with one of the rotary dials. But this only offers further information for that screen, to get another part of the ‘Car’ menu data, you have to access a contextual menu to choose another category, and the cycle begins anew!
The rest of the cabin is quite stylish and easy to like, with nice but not overly flashy materials. Yes, it’s a bit drab, as are most Volkswagens, but it is clean and easy to live with.
There are some clever touches too, like the washer jet for the reverse camera that activates when you clean the rear window. Plus I was a big fan of the spin-out cupholders that adapt to suit the size of beverage you have with you.
Everything is there, and everything works well, but it just doesn’t have much character. There are no cheery splashes of vibrant colour, let along any gingham, houndstooth, corduroy or tartan elements.
This is clan Wolfsburg, not clan Macleod.
That doesn’t mean the Tiguan 162 can’t be fun though.
Around town, the 162kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo is easy and willing enough to make zipping about in traffic an easy task.
The DSG calibration is improved over the older six-speed, and while it still has the typical elastic response at slow speeds, and hesitation when making a quick reverse park, it works well and for the most part, just quietly goes about its business.
Get out on the open road and let the Tiguan stretch its legs a bit, and there are big grins to be had.
Peak power, like the Golf, comes on high in the rev range, at 6200rpm. But the 350Nm torque band starts from just 1500rpm, giving the little four-cylinder a real punch-on-demand nature.
Select the sports driving mode, and the Tiguan will hold gears long enough to enjoy the powerband, offering a nice little pop on higher rev up-shifts.
It packs on speed well, and when the road gets a bit twistier, can hold it almost as well as a hot hatch.
This is where the DSG makes the most sense. It’s very fast to change and doesn’t feel as though it has too many ratios to choose from.
The 4Motion AWD system runs a front-bias and will apply as much as 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels when it needs to. Throw it in to a tight bend, and the XDL front differential will brake the inside wheel to help the Tiguan pivot through the corner.
Push just hard enough and you can feel the back end coming around, in sort of a mild oversteer balancing act.
Push too hard though and the Tiguan, on its Pirelli Scorpion tyres, will push understeer. A warning that perhaps you are taking this sports SUV thing a bit far, and should probably settle down a bit.
Even here though, the Tiguan feels poised and controllable. The sports suspension, which gets mildly firmer thanks to electro-mechanically adaptive dampers, can be a little stiff around town, especially on the big wheels, but manages a spirited run really well.
It isn’t as fast or nimble as a Golf GTI, despite that 0-100km/h sprint claim. The 300kg weight penalty and higher stance more apparent (especially to your camera man) when pushing through some tight left-right bends.
But for what it is, a family wagon, it's still jolly good fun.
We saw fuel consumption in the mid to high 9L/100km range on a combined cycle, and as high as 14L/100km on a particularly sporty run.
This is higher than Volkswagen’s claim of 8.1L/100km, and while we saw the car dip into the 7L/100km range while touring, expect to see something around 9-10 in real life.
And it is real life where the Tiguan 162 will feature the most. School runs, shopping centres, office car parks and the like, are all places the ‘hot’ Tiggy is really quite at home.
That driver assistance package comes in handy here, too. The proximity parking sensors detect when you’ve got something (or someone) too close to the side of the car as well as the front and rear. And the surround camera is up there with some of the best in the business.
It’s the type of equipment this car really should have, and so makes the pack a little more required than optional, which along with the R-Line pack, make this car a $60k proposition.
That’s pushing the friendship if you think of this as a hot version of a $31,990 base model, but start to imagine this not so much as a Tiguan GTI, but as the starting point of a Tiguan R.
It’s not that big a stretch. The car as featured, with both ‘compulsory’ option packs and premium paint (ours is Tungsten Silver, one of seven options) comes in at $54,190. That’s just $300 less than a Golf R with a DSG transmission.
Sure, the Tiguan is some 44kW out of the power race, but both run an AWD chassis, and the leather seats and more luxury oriented approach is much more R than a tartan clad boy-racer GTI.
It isn’t the fastest hot-hatch-SUV on the block, the Ford Escape Titanium pips it for power at 178kW, but the 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan 162 TSI is a really solid jack of all trades result of making a sporty SUV.
Perhaps VW should turn up the power dial, and drop the silly name, and just go with a Tiguan R. In our SUV-above-everything market, it would be a sure-fire winner!
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.