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“It looks fantastic,” proclaims the Speaker of the House at first gander of the 2019 Volkswagen Tiguan Wolfsburg. To the best of my recollection, it’s the first time she’s ever displayed any enthusiasm for any SUV, ever.
Put mildly, she despises family haulers – hot hatches, drop-tops and 911s only for my more selective half – if more because of the message portrayed than concept executed and, with crystal clarity, the considerable effort invested into extricating any semblance of Soccer Mum stigma from this mid-sized Vee-Dub has worked a charm.
“You?” she asks. I keep imagining the Wolfsburg powering across Hoth, zipping between the legs of Imperial walkers amidst blaster fire, on a fast course towards a rebel base with a family of Imperial stormtroopers aboard, and judging by her blank reaction it’s a lost reference. Nope, Volkswagen’s stylists have designed an exceedingly handsome SUV here on pure merit. And given the Wolfsburg is largely $6000 worth of feel-good façade applied to the already smart looking ($49,490 list) TSI162 Highline it otherwise shares broader specification with, the new-for-2019 flagship ought to be a stunner.
There’s rationale in that six-kay sting. The Wolfsburg gets R-Line ($2900) and Sound & Vision ($3000) packages as standard that Highline owners would pay extra for and with premium paint – a choice of white, grey or black that normally costs $700 – bundled in. It looks all the part like $6700 worth of value for a six-grand premium, so hardly a large dangling carrot, but there are only 500 units slated for Oz (unless hot demand dictates more volume) so there’s also some exclusivity at play… Maybe.
That $55,490 ticket slots the Tiguan Wolfsburg into an interesting place on the medium-SUV landscape when you consider a range-topping Mazda CX-5 Akera Turbo costs around $49K list, and you can’t into Mercedes-Benz's poverty-pack-spec GLC 200 rear-driver for under $62K. Some despise Volkswagen being described as 'semi-premium', but clearly that’s exactly where this high-end variant is priced and positioned in the marketplace.
Outside, our example’s Oryx White is contrasted by the R-Line design accents in the front and rear fascias finished in gloss black, much like most features from the roof rails to the mirror caps and down to the huge 20-inch ‘Suzuka’ style rims shod with fat 255mm-wide Pirelli Scorpion rubber. It sits a touch high on its suspension, but otherwise it looks great from any viewpoint, with ample jewelry in the details such as the full-LED lighting. It not only looks fast standing still, it’s quite an upmarket appearance.
The cabin is smart and loaded with a blend of luxury, tech and sportiness that undoubtedly appeals to a great many buyers. But it is safe and predictable, looks all the part like a regular Tiguan with the abovementioned options packs fitted, and there’s nothing really uniquely ‘Wolfsburg’ about it other than, well, the odd Wolfsburg badge.
The digital instrumentation is neat and reasonably sharp, the floating/retractable head-up display is novel if a little ad hoc, and you do get the fetching and graphically sharp 9.2-inch Discover Media infotainment system. The latter is a mostly positive affair, with a slick glass screen that’s nice to touch if lacking properly premium electro-impulse haptics.
There’s a ton of connectivity including full smartphone mirroring integration, it has a clear proprietary sat-nav and excellent (if a touch slow) 360-degree camera and guided reversing features. But why, oh why, in a $55K car, isn’t there a digital radio facility? And that whiz-bang 400-watt nine-speaker Dynaudio sounds decent, not great.
The Wolfsburg can’t escape its inherent semi-premium feel. For all the supple seat leather, the five-star hot hatch steering wheel, bright LED reading lights and smart door bin flocking, there’s a bit too much hard plastic in too many conspicuous areas – particularly the door cards – and the whole shebang is minted in terribly conservative grey on grey (with iffy grey patterned trim inserts and grey piping) that tugs against some of the nicer details and imparts a sheen of predictable mediocrity. It’s nice but not terribly special.
There are no surprises in packaging. Spaciousness is decent if middling for the medium-SUV segment. Dimensionally, the cabin is a little narrow in width if offering ample head room, and roomy enough for long-haul comfort for adults in all four outboard seating positions. Of course, if outright space is of highest priority, the longer seven-seat Tiguan Allspace Highline can be had for three grand less than this Wolfsburg. Elsewhere, bootspace is 615 litres expandable to 1655L with the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seating stowed – decent if not class-leading – and you get lots of neat flagship touches like remote seat levers in the cargo area, a cargo net, 12-volt outlet and grocery hooks.
The sportiness pitch is an interesting one. In VolkswagenLand, there’s a significant difference in purpose between ‘R for Race’ of the Golf R cult car and mere ‘R-Line’ window dressing. And from its deeply bucketed seats to the myriad ‘R’ signage inside and out, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Tiguan Wolfsburg might be, with some three-grand pricing differential, some sort of Golf R Wagon substitute with a bigger body and jacked-up stance.
Well, it most certainly isn’t. Not even close.
If you’ve spent seat time in a variety of the popular mainstream mid-sized SUVs, you’ll know this segment is dominated by annoyingly underpowered and under-delivering drivetrains, and the Tiguan’s high-spec ‘162TSI’ turbo 2.0-litre four, at 162kW and 350Nm, is certainly one of the lustier and more energetic offerings out there. Despite being tied to a portly 1700kg-plus package, there’s punch and poke if you dial up Sport drive mode and, academically, its 0–100km/h claim of 6.5 seconds is hardly hanging about.
But the Wolfsburg SUV lacks the fizz and bite of a 180kW Golf GTI, let alone a 213kW ‘certified R’ hatch or wagon, despite appearing to share similar seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and 4Motion all-wheel-drive credentials with the latter. This version could well be the old (162kW) GTI engine – as we’ve reported in the past – but an engine alone shoehorned into a much different package and driveline does not a plus-sized hot hatch make.
In Sport mode, there are enough herbs in the undertow to satisfy keener drivers and perhaps just enough outright pace to match the SUV’s sporty appearance. But it does suffer from an urgent transmission and touchy throttle calibration that, while handy during brisk country road jaunts, is simply too aggressive around town to be useful for anything other than attempting to burn other traffic off at the lights.
Normal mode is no less frustrating for anything other than leisurely driving, because the initial throttle take-up is too dull and a torque spike in the engine’s mid-range makes smooth driving a concentrated chore. You’re almost always ‘tapping’ the transmission controller to Sport to boost the SUV off the mark, then knocking it back to Normal once you’re on a roll, which does become second nature during any trip around town. Thus driven, urban consumption tends to sit around the mid-11s even if you’re in no hurry to get anywhere, which isn’t too far off its 10-litre neat urban fuel consumption claim (8.1L combined).
These are long-running symptoms of the brand’s small-turbo-engine-and-dual-clutch-gearbox providence that suffers some Volkswagens (and Audis for that matter) more than others, and something the company should’ve gotten on top of given how long it's commercialised this powertrain combination.
Drivability-wise, it’s either too lazy or too sharp and in need of an in-between mode or, as so often cures such ills, the dual-clutch could be ditched in favour of a proper conventional automatic. Without a hill-holding function, it’ll also ‘creep’ when parallel parking on an incline/decline as the clutch packs take a moment to take up slack while shifting between drive and reverse.
Elsewhere, the on-road experience is more cooperative and less frustrating, though the Wolfsburg doesn’t really present any shiny benchmarks in the comfort or sportiness stakes other than, perhaps, heady outright cornering grip from those broad 255mm Pirellis.
The Wolfsburg sits on passive dampers – no adaptive hardware, even at this pricepoint – and, in terms of ride quality, the suspension tune itself is quite decent, controlling compression and rebound with discipline, if suffering from a slight amount of noise from the front end over speed bumps. But there’s a lot of mass in those 20-inch wheels that the suspension gets frustrated by in vertical movement, with some noticeable fidgeting across bumps at low speeds.
That said, the general ride and handling balance is quite decent. There’s more body control and crispness to the driving experience than a great many medium SUVs at any pricing tier, though it is a finer commuter than it is a corner carver. Otherwise clean and linear steering suffers from an inherent lack of genuine feedback, and once you push through the surly mechanical grip, the fundamental handling errs towards safe predictability than sweetness and joy.
Beyond the chassis’s usual Normal/Sport/Eco/Individual on-road drive mode suite, the all-wheel-drive system’s so-called Active Control smarts offer Snow and two different (one automatic, one variable) off-road calibrations. Though we didn’t test its beaten-path credentials, any terrain more ambitious than a well-graded track or slippery tarmac en route to the snow fields might be a little too ambitious for an SUV with such modest ground clearance wearing fat, low-profile road rubber.
Ownership-wise, the Tiguan comes with a decent five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, with one year of complimentary 24-hour roadside assistance. Servicing intervals are 12 months/15,000km ranging between $416 and (gulp) $1096 per interval, averaging out to a considerable $623.20 per year outlay for the first five years of ownership. Some consolation is that the 162TSI engine will happily run on 95RON rather than the more expensive 98 stuff.
It’s easy to warm to the Tiguan Wolfsburg on appearances alone. It’s certainly not lacking for fruit and there’s some rationale, albeit not from an emotional standpoint, that its mid-fifties sticker is about right on the money. But being handsome and fully laden is very different to feeling genuinely ‘special’ and having the kind of X-factor ‘special editions’ deserve.
More effort in making its cabin feel more inimitable and different – a unique colour scheme, perhaps – or more polish in the powertrain for a more flexibly well-rounded and more characterful driving experience, might’ve more convincingly justified the ‘Wolfsburg’ hoopla. Or perhaps keener pricing might’ve made what comes very much across as a Highline with options packs seem properly enticing. But as it stands, the flagship Tiguan is merely quite likeable and not really as properly desirable as it should be.