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As the current family favourite in Australia, medium SUVs represent the second-biggest slice of the local new car market – hot on the heels of more affordable (and often fleet-favoured) small cars.

The choice of available models is broad with 19 mainstream models to pick from, but in this instance we’ve chosen a pair of haulers that can not only live up to the demands of active family life, but do so with a semi-premium Euro twist.

Although the comparison may not be an obvious one at first glance, this pairing of Renault Koleos and Volkswagen Tiguan fits the bill, although for a somewhat less than obvious reason.

The versions represented here, Koleos Initiale and Tiguan 162TSI Sportline, may not be a perfect match on features or specification, but they do collide on price. Whereas the Renault is its respective range-topper, the Volkswagen isn’t, but it makes up for that with a more powerful engine.


Pricing and specs

Price is what locks these two together in competition, with the Koleos Initiale priced from $45,490 before on-road costs and the Tiguan 162TSI starting at $45,990 plus on-roads.

Look a little closer, though, and you’ll find the fully loaded Koleos can’t be optioned with anything additional, whereas the Tiguan Sportline can, including metallic paint for $700 and a panoramic sunroof for $2000, both of which were equipped on the car tested here.

That brings the Tiguan up to $48,690 compared to the Renault, which includes both of the Volkswagen’s options as part of its standard equipment list.

Both do share standard features like proximity key with push-button start, LED headlights, autonomous emergency braking, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, rear air vents and heated front seats.

Details start to differ with infotainment systems – Renault uses a larger 8.7-inch portrait display, Volkswagen a smaller 8.0-inch landscape screen. The Koleos, however, is laggy and unintuitive to use with complex and poorly laid out menus. Meanwhile, the Volkswagen uses a much simpler menu structure and is far more responsive to touch inputs.

Renault also wraps seating surfaces in leather and offers front seat ventilation and electric adjustment for driver and front passenger. Volkswagen uses a combination of cloth and microfibre seat trim and requires you to adjust the seats yourself.

You’ll also roll on 19-inch alloys and 225/55 R19 tyres with the Koleos or larger 20-inch alloy wheels shod in 235/45 R20 rubber on the Tiguan, but to help alleviate any potential harsh ride issues, the Sportline includes adaptive dampers, while the Initiale features more conventional fixed dampers.

Drivers also glean vital vehicle info in different ways, with Renault making use of a TFT instrument display with a choice of available screen layouts, while Volkswagen retains traditional dials for the Sportline, despite offering a TFT display as an option in higher-grade versions.

On the safety front, the Tiguan carries a five-star ANCAP rating stemming from a test under 2016 protocols, while the Koleos has not been tested.

Checking off safety features, as well as autonomous emergency braking, both cars come with electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes, tyre pressure monitoring, and front seatbelt pretensioners. On the airbag front, the Koleos counts a total of six (front, side, curtain), while the Tiguan adds a driver’s knee bag to bring the total to seven.

Model Renault Koleos
Volkswagen Tiguan
Variant Initiale 162TSI Sportline
Price $45,490 $45,990
Premium paint Std $700
Screen 8.7-inch 8.0-inch
Sat-nav Std Std
Apple CarPlay / Android Auto Std Std
Camera Rear Rear
USB points 4 3
Speakers 12 8

Model Renault Koleos
Volkswagen Tiguan
Variant Initiale 162TSI Sportline
Headlights LED LED
Proximity key Std Std
Seats Leather, heated, ventilated Cloth, heated
Sunroof Std Opt
AEB Std Std
RCTA No Std
Adaptive cruise No Std
Blind spot monitoring Std Std

Interior

The interior of cars like these is often the ‘make or break’ factor for new car purchasers. How comfy is it inside, how versatile, how roomy? For buyers with young families looking to eke out every ounce of practicality, these things matter.

There’s a clear difference between these two inside. Both are roomy, both are comfortable, but only one goes above and beyond the usual details you might expect of a family SUV.

As a shining example of how an interior should be configured, Volkswagen goes down a detailed path with extra little touches like a rear seat that can be slid fore and aft, along with a tilt-adjustable backrest.

You’ll also find a three-zone climate-control system with face-level air vents for rear seat passengers to set their own comfort level, USB and 12V outlets to charge devices on the go, and tray tables built into the rear of the front seats.

Above and in all sets: Koleos top, Tiguan bottom

The seats themselves can be folded from within the boot for added convenience, while inside the boot there are tie-down points, side storage trays, a dual-height boot floor and bag hooks, all accessed via a powered tailgate.

By comparison, the Koleos looks to come up a little short. The rear seats don’t tilt or slide – they can be folded, of course, but there’s no release within the boot.

Rear seat passengers do have access to face-level ventilation plus 12V and USB power outlets, but there’s no third climate zone for the rear, no tray tables and no auto up-down windows in the rear (whereas the Volkswagen has them on all four doors).

Further back, while the Koleos also features a powered tailgate, it lacks the same deep side storage locators and dual-layer boot floor as the Tiguan. The boot floor is also higher, with a load lip that will take some extra lifting to overcome, and there’s only one bag hook too, which isn’t as easy to access.

In a side-by-side load-up, you’ll find the 458L boot of the Koleos able to deal with most day-to-day items. The Volkswagen is a little more crafty in its description of boot volume claiming 615L, but only with the rear seat pushed to its front-most position. Actual dimensions between the two are much, much closer with the Tiguan’s rear bench slid back.

Up front, there’s no shortage of available space. The driver of the Koleos can get set in place with the convenience of a powered seat, but the addition of ventilated front seats in the Initiale will mean the most to Aussie buyers in hot climates.

In the rear, extra adjustability gives the Tiguan an edge, though the rear seat of the Koleos is no bad place to perch. Growing teens will have plenty of room to stretch out without complaint, and both rear seats are appropriately proportioned to carry full-framed adults.

As for interior ambience, there’s no shortage of high-quality plastics and soft touch surfaces in the Tiguan, but with leather trim and LED ambient lighting, the Koleos feels more luxe.

Unfortunately, with its optional panoramic roof, the Sportline only gets a partial blockout sunblind, which won’t provide much comfort in the heat of summer. The Koleos at least uses an opaque blind that is far more useful.

Volkswagen edges out Renault when it comes to smaller storage details. There are additional small storage options around the cabin like a dash-top bin and a driver’s side glovebox. Both feature a handy slot in the the centre stack and a lidded centre console cupholder bay.

If you’re a door-storer, Volkswagen pulls ahead again with larger bins in all four doors, including a felted liner that helps keep rattle and clank from bottles and loose items to a minimum.

Model Renault Koleos
Volkswagen Tiguan
Variant Initiale 162TSI Sportline
Length 4672mm 4486mm
Width 2063mm 1839mm
Height 1678mm 1658mm
Wheelbase 2705mm 2681mm
Cargo space 458L/1690L 615L/1655L
Weight 1608kg kerb 1637kg tare
Towing capacity, braked 2000kg 2500kg
Towing capacity, unbraked 750kg 750kg

Drivetrain

If the interiors of the Koleos and Tiguan draw a line between the two, the broadly different powertrains create two distinct solutions.

While both engines are petrol-powered four-cylinders, and both cars get their power to the ground via all-wheel-drive systems, that’s almost where the similarities end.

Despite wearing Renault badges, the Koleos’s engineering comes via alliance partner, Nissan, meaning the same engine and transmission as you’ll find in a Nissan X-Trail. Though it may not be glamorous, it is at least proven.

As a result, you get a 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine that produces 126kW at 6000rpm and 226Nm at 4400rpm, fuelled by 91-octane (regular) petrol and delivered via a CVT automatic.

In the Volkswagen camp, the Tiguan uses a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder that is both more powerful with 162kW at 6200rpm, but also produces far more torque with 350Nm available from as low as 1500rpm up to 4400rpm. The downside, though, is that the Tiguan suggests premium unleaded, accepting only 95 as a minimum.

Volkswagen’s dual-clutch (or DSG) automatic is the sole transmission available with the 162TSI engine, and the Tiguan’s all-wheel-drive system is supplemented by a drive-mode dial that incorporates tailored off-road modes, though it isn’t a full low-range 4×4 system.

The different drivetrain approaches give the Renault a slightly softer feel. Acceleration isn’t as eager, and with the slurring of continuously adjusting transmission ratios rather than actual gear changes, the transmission is as smooth as you’ll find, though never fully alert or responsive.

Conversely, the Tiguan (and its extra torque) feels much more lively. After a moment of initial hesitation from standstill, the Tiguan clearly feels more powerful and the DSG auto is well calibrated with smooth, ultra-fast gear changes.

Officially, the Koleos accelerates from 0–100km/h in 9.8 seconds compared to a much more spritely 6.5 seconds for the Tiguan. The Tiguan also has a more authoritative mid-range for rolling acceleration, which makes overtaking a less nerve-wracking affair.

Disappointingly, neither of this pair was able to deliver the kind of slow-speed smoothness that mostly urban, family-focussed cars arguably should. In the Tiguan’s case, the car jolts into forward or reverse motion, making it difficult to place accurately when parking, while the Koleos doesn’t respond to light pedal pressure very well, before eventually surging off the line – far from ideal in tight parking spaces.

Crawling through slower traffic is another Tiguan strong suit, where constant throttle pressure results in a corresponding constant speed. Try the same in the Koleos, however, and the automatic will try to account for small changes in gradient, or tiny adjustments in throttle, by altering the transmission ratio constantly.

As a result, it’s almost impossible to hold the Koleos at a constant speed – an effect that’s amplified at lower speeds. It’s a good thing then that both cars come with a speed limiter and cruise control, with the Tiguan also picking up adaptive cruise as standard.

Model Renault Koleos
Volkswagen Tiguan
Variant Initiale 162TSI Sportline
Engine 2.5-litre petrol
2.0-litre turbo petrol
Outputs 126kW/226Nm 162kW/350Nm
Fuel consumption 8.3L/100km 8.1L/100km
Fuel type 91RON 95RON
Transmission CVT 7-speed DSG
Drive AWD AWD

Ride and handling

French cars have something of a reputation for being softer and smoother than those from Germany, which often tend to ride more firmly. Though the Koleos isn’t strictly French (of course, Renault is, but the Koleos is produced in South Korea and based on Japanese underpinnings), it maintains that tradition.

Mainstream medium SUVs aren’t ever going to deliver driving thrills, nor should they, so it’s good to see that Renault has opted for the comfort route on the Koleos’s suspension.

Over bump-strewn city streets and patchy highway repairs, the Koleos remains calm and comfortable. There’s a little rocking through the cabin on small-to mid hits, but nothing untoward.

You will notice the trade-off at the first set of sweeping bends, where the Koleos is less eager to indulge in corners, leaning more and requiring a slower, more measured approach.

The Volkswagen, on the other hand, feels firmer in every situation. The ride certainly isn’t rough, but each bump and dip encountered by the Tiguan is followed more closely with the effect felt in the cabin as more jostling and a slightly busier ride.

Volkswagen also includes adaptive chassis control, which allows the dampers to be switched to a slightly firmer setting for sporty driving. The difference between normal and sport modes isn’t huge, and the system’s adaptive functionality allows it to make changes based on driving data as it goes.

Those who venture beyond purely urban environments can rest safely in the knowledge the Renault carries a full-size spare, compared to the Tiguan and its limited-range space-saver.

For owners who might still enjoy a more upbeat weekend drive, the Tiguan gets the tick of approval with tidy handling and more involved steering. It’s far from outright sporty in the way it drives, but is quicker to respond and feels tighter in its control.

Coupled with the engine’s more accessible performance, the Tiguan helps drivers feel more like they’re behind the wheel of a wagon rather than a traditional SUV. The more ponderous Koleos is definitely more closely aligned to traditional SUV attributes.


Ownership costs

Starting with warranty, the Tiguan carries a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, whereas the Koleos offers the extra protection of a five-year/unlimited-kilometre factory warranty.

Service costs divide the pair even further. Both offer capped-price servicing as a means of offering clarity on future ownership costs.

The Koleos requires three $349 services over the first three years, plus an air and pollen filter at an extra cost of $52 and $36 respectively for a total cost of $1135.

Volkswagen’s services are all-inclusive, but costs are higher at $426, $622, and $664 for the first three visits, bringing the three-year total to $1712.

Volkswagen sets intervals at 12 months or 15,000km, whereas the Koleos can go 12 months or up to 30,000km between service centre visits.

On the fuel consumption front, the two are much closer together when it comes to official claims. Volkswagen claims 8.1L/100km and Renault is only a fraction off the pace at 8.3L/100km.

To put those claims to the test, we devised a short 53km test route – part freeway, part grinding stop-start – and drove the two back-to-back with slightly surprising results. The Koleos settled on 7.7L/100km, but the Tiguan drank 8.4L/100km despite also being equipped with an idle-stop system to save fuel when stationary.


VERDICT

On versatility and flexibility alone, the Tiguan 162TSI Sportline wins this battle. Everything from sliding rear seats to extra dash storage and more user-friendly boot come together to make the Volkswagen a perfect fit for active growing families.

The added cost of ownership tarnishes that shine a little, though as neither of these is exactly cut-price transport in the first place, it’s fair to assume many families will have the means to cover the difference.

While the Koleos is the softer, plusher, and more premium-looking of the pair (certainly an attractive set of attributes in themselves), the Tiguan pips it by being a better all-rounder.

Although the Tiguan Sportline may fall slightly short on standard equipment, it’s more than possible to live without any of those missing items. Leather trim and ventilated seats are certainly nice luxuries to have, but three-zone climate and rear tray tables are sure to have more useful applications for Aussie families.

The more responsive driving dynamics and performance, much easier to use infotainment system, and cleverly configured interior mean Volkswagen understands the multitude of ways families might want to interact with their car, and has created a medium SUV to meet those needs.

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Want more? Listen to the full discussion below and catch more of the CarAdvice podcast here.



RENAULT KOLEOS BREAKDOWN

2018 Renault Koleos v Volkswagen Tiguan comparison
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VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN BREAKDOWN

2018 Renault Koleos v Volkswagen Tiguan comparison
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