The Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan are two of the best mid-sized SUVs you can buy right now. But which model appeals the most in entry-level guise?
Originally published 5-May-2020
For buyers looking to spend $40,000 or higher on a mid-sized SUV, two models would zoom immediately towards the upper end of our recommended list: the new Toyota RAV4 in GXL or Cruiser Hybrid guise, and the latest-generation Volkswagen Tiguan in either 132TSI Comfortline or 162TSI Highline specification.
But do these two SUVs still make convincing cases in base-model form for those who have less than $35,000 in their budget?
We can now find out with the Tiguan 110TSI Trendline after it returned to showrooms late last year since going AWOL for more than a year. It disappeared as a result of industry-wide production complications created by Europe’s new WLTP emissions-testing protocols.
It’s paired here with the Toyota RAV4 GX petrol that props up a comprehensive range of models.
Pricing and specs
The Toyota RAV4 GX petrol starts from just $30,990 courtesy of a six-speed manual option that just one per cent of buyers will opt for. For the vast majority of buyers, then, the more relevant price is the $32,990 (before on-road costs) that brings a CVT auto.
Volkswagen also previously offered its entry Tiguan with a manual ($31,990), though it returns as a DSG-only auto priced again from $34,490 +ORCs. (This helps keep a price distance to the new, smaller T-Roc SUV.)
Until the end of June, VW Australia is offering the 110TSI Trendline for a $35,990 drive-away price that incorporates on-road charges. (An updated Tiguan is due sometime in 2021.) So, for now, it slightly undercuts its rival which lacks a national pricing offer, but is currently asking about $37,000 on the road (final figure may vary by state).
Both sit on 17-inch alloy wheels and share front/rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights seven airbags, key-ignition start, and lane-keeping aid, while in the Tiguan’s favour are tyre-pressure monitoring, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and an auto-steering parking function.
Beyond that, however, the Tiguan must contend with a RAV4 that carries a long features list even in entry-level form.
The RAV4 GX petrol comes with LED headlights and daytime running lights, plus fog lights, which are standard only on the next Tiguan up – the $38,990 110TSI Comfortline.
Whereas the Volkswagen’s standard active-safety technology is limited to autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection and fatigue monitoring, the Toyota gives its owners adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, current-speed-limit notification, auto high-beam, and blind spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring. Its AEB system also adds cyclist detection.
Volkswagen offers a $1600 Driver Assistance Package that brings radar cruise control, blind spot/rear cross-traffic monitoring, electric mirrors with kerb function, and the Traffic Jam Assist semi-autonomous rush-hour driving system.
Integrated navigation isn’t available on the base Tiguan, but standard on the entry RAV4.
Technology and infotainment
The RAV4’s various driver aids undoubtedly make motoring that bit easier, including adaptive cruise and Lane Trace steering-assistant on freeways providing that low-level of semi-autonomous driving tech virtually everyone is comfortable with.
Toyota’s camera-based Road Sign Assist is a technology arguably more helpful in Australia than any other country, reminding the driver of the last speed-limit posting. (As with other similar systems available, they just need to remain conscious of the time of day for school zones.)
The two infotainment displays are 8.0-inch touchscreens, though share little beyond size and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility.
Volkswagen’s screen is integrated harmoniously into the centre of the Tiguan’s dash, looks stylish with its darkened glass, and is slick both in its presentation and functionality.
The Toyota display – plonked high and central on the dash – is less subtle in its positioning and design, and its graphics are neither as sharp nor as contemporary as the VW’s. Yet it’s dead simple to use, offers effective voice control, and isn’t as laggy as previous Toyota systems. And unlike the Tiguan, there is factory route guidance and digital radio.
Both provide smartphone integration, though neither brings wireless smartphone charging (from the GXL upwards for the RAV4, while no Tiguan is available with an inductive tray).
The Volkswagen interior-design template is quite familiar now: neat and orderly, strong ergonomically, and smartly presented. So, bold and adventurous the Tiguan’s cabin isn’t, but there’s a positive perception of quality – enhanced by that sophisticated central touchscreen that wouldn’t make an Audi look downmarket inside.
Tactility doesn’t hit the mark everywhere, though – such as the heating and ventilation dials – and there’s a greater sense of austerity in the base Tiguan, emphasised by its more basic-looking (cloth) seats.
That continues into the back seat, where no armrest is to be found or even a seatback pocket. The Trendline also missed out on the front-seatback fold-down tables found in other Tiguans.
Storage is otherwise excellent – with door cubbies that are among the biggest in the segment, with the front cubbies capable of holding 2-litre drink bottles. The rears are still large and deep, and all have flocked carpeting.
The clever mid-section of the centre console can act as either a good-size storage area for a smartphone or other items, or press buttons to flick out adjustable cupholder grabs. A ratchet-style console-cubby lid allows the armrest angle to be adjusted.
There’s a tray ahead of the gear lever, in proximity of USB, AUX and 12-volt ports. No wireless smartphone charging, though, which is not available on any Tiguan model. Another, pull-out small storage compartment is found on the driver’s side of the dash.
There’s a rugged chunkiness to the RAV4’s overall cabin design, and this goes down into the details such as the large, rubber climate dials. Everything also feels as solidly put together as in the Tiguan, with upper sections of the dash finished in soft materials and lower areas hard/durable plastics.
The lower half of the GX’s cabin is a bit heavy on the grey, so the lighter-coloured headlining and windscreen pillars are welcome. The lack of a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever are also obvious base-model cues.
Front-cabin storage options are on the money in the RAV4, too. The door cubbies aren’t quite as large as the VW’s, but they’re still sizeable – ready to take big drinks bottles and other items.
There’s a handy dash shelf for both driver and front passenger (wider for the latter), an overhead sunnies holder, a medium-sized console cubby with 12V port, dual cupholders, and a large tray ahead of the gear lever for smartphones. There’s another 12V socket here plus a USB port, though wireless charging is standard only on GLX, Cruise and Edge versions. That USB port is the only one in the entire GX, whereas other models feature five in total.
Rear storage is better in the Toyota, which brings a (wide) centre armrest with two cupholders, one seatback pouch, and the door pockets are effective bottle holders. There’s another 12V socket at the rear of the centre console along with vents (like the Tiguan, though three-zone climate control is standard on the VW only from the next model up).
Not all mid-sized SUVs are equal when it comes to interior space, and the RAV4 and Tiguan are among a group set that offers some of the most generous passenger room and load capacity.
There’s ample knee and head space in both models, even for those of above-average height, and both benches provide excellent comfort in the outboard seats, including recline adjustment.
The Tiguan’s bench can slide forwards/backwards to switch between prioritising boot space or leg room. Both rear benches are equipped with outboard ISOFIX child seat anchorages.
If more than five seats would help, then a longer Tiguan Allspace model offers a five-plus-two set-up with two 'occasional' third-row seats – suitable for kids/teens old enough to use a standard seatbelt. Toyota’s option is the next-size-up seven-seat Kluger.
The RAV4 and Tiguan are among only a few mid-sized SUVs offering boot capacity in excess of 500L – and even exceeding 600L in the case of the Volkswagen. So, while most boots in the class might be described as adequate or decent, families are almost spoilt for space here.
The Tiguan’s 615-litre boot makes it bigger than the RAV4’s 580L on paper, though that's with the sliding bench at its front-most position. In the real world the Toyota’s boot is the most flexible by virtue of being able to fit even more stuff based on our luggage testing. It also has a retractable cargo cover, whereas the Tiguan has a shelf. (Just note the Toyota’s capacity shrinks to 542L if you opt for the $300 full-size spare wheel upgrade.)
If you need to fit child seats in both outboard rear seats, however, the Tiguan becomes tempting for its 40-20-40 dividing rear seats – which allows the centre section to still be folded down to accommodate longer items.
The RAV4’s rear seats are split 60-40. Like the Tiguan’s, they flatten all but perfectly horizontally.
Both boots feature a light and side storage areas, with the Tiguan adding a 12-volt socket, two extra tie-downs (six in total) and bag hooks.
Electrically operated boot access would be welcome on the Tiguan as its tailgate is fairly heavy when trying to pull it down. The RAV4’s tailgate is noticeably easier to close.
Although the RAV4 GX Hybrid is highly tempting – and our best recommendation – for its blend of performance and fuel economy, the GX 2.0-litre petrol may still be worth a look for buyers who wouldn't mind saving $2500.
Power and torque of 127kW and 203Nm are modest, so it's helpful that the GX petrol is the lightest in the RAV4 range (1515kg manual/1550kg auto).
While almost irrelevant, the six-speed manual is surprisingly good to use, with the gear lever moving accurately enough between the gates. It also makes the 2.0-litre feel quite lively, though the virtually non-existent clutch biting point makes it very hard to make smooth getaways in first gear. Less experienced drivers may even stall the vehicle.
The engine isn't quite as sprightly initially when paired with the CVT, though response improves as you build up speed. Flatten the throttle and the RAV4 GX can provide a good burst of acceleration when necessary, and it doesn’t sound as disagreeable as some CVT-equipped vehicles that can emit a loud, monotonous drone.
If more assertive acceleration is important to you, however, you will need the petrol-electric GX Hybrid.
Volkswagen only serves up turbocharged engines these days (as it has for some time). And it means it can offer stronger performance than the RAV4 petrol even with a smaller, 1.4-litre engine.
Power may be down, at 110kW, but the Tiguan’s trump card is its 250Nm – with this maximum torque produced in a part of the rev range (1500–3500rpm) that will be used most of the time. The engine’s smoothness and quietness are as easy to appreciate as its ability to get the Tiguan shifting at a respectable clip for a base model.
With no manual offered this time around, it’s a ‘DSG’ dual-clutch auto or nothing – and it’s a transmission that continues to have its ups and downs, beyond actual gear changes!
It’s certainly not a great transmission for steep hills or driveways. The Tiguan will roll back, for example, if you try to take off on a hill – even with a hill hold function designed to keep it in place, though not always able to do so.
Gearbox response can also be hesitant for quick acceleration from standstill or when trying to jump into a traffic gap – and mixed with some slight turbo lag down low, it can lead to wheelspin and a flare of revs as you try to prompt more urgency with an extra push of the accelerator pedal.
The six-speed DSG can also be jerky when trying to slowly manoeuvre the Tiguan into a parking space. You can get used to these quirks, though it would be worth experiencing the DSG before committing to a Tiguan.
Once the Tiguan is on the move, it’s a great auto – shifting smoothly, seamlessly and rapidly. It’s quick to shift down a gear when necessary, too.
On the road
When it comes to seeing what’s around you, both SUVs provide excellent vision beyond their elevated rides.
The Tiguan and RAV4 also prove you don’t have to forgo seat comfort when choosing a base model. In both cases, the cushions are comfortably yielding without being overly soft, and sufficiently long despite the absence of extenders. The VW’s seats provide slightly better support.
The Tiguan feels bigger on the road than its predecessor – only natural considering the significant but much needed jump in physical size – though it’s still compact, with a footprint that’s less than 4.5m long and just over 1.8m wide.
While the RAV4 is (and looks) slightly bulkier, it’s hardly a giant at 4.6m long (and fractionally wider), and few owners should fret about driving down narrow roads with cars parked on both sides.
The last-generation RAV4 was laudable for space, but was towards the bottom of the pile for driving manners. What a transformation we have with the new model, then.
Sitting on one of Toyota’s New Generation Architectures, which has done equal wonders for the likes of the Corolla, C-HR and Camry, the RAV4 rolls along with hugely impressive comfort – distancing occupants from even the lumpiest or ugliest road surface.
With engine, wind and tyre noise commendably contained, Toyota’s mid-sized SUV makes for highly pleasant motoring regardless of journey length. Light and linear steering is a boon both around town and on a country road.
The Tiguan’s steering is somehow even lighter, and initially you might wonder whether there’s actually any connection at all with the front wheels. Yet, you get accustomed to it and soon learn to trust that the VW will go where you point it.
There’s certainly no lack of reassurance when it comes to roadholding, with the Tiguan sharing its predecessor’s enthusiasm for winding scenic routes. The Tiguan’s suspension can be jittery, though, and it struggles to absorb bigger bumps and potholes despite the Trendline’s chubby 65-profile rubber.
Both brands back their vehicles with five-year warranties, but there’s a huge difference between dealership maintenance costs.
Servicing the Tiguan 110TSI Trendline over a four-year period (if driving less than 15,000km per year) will cost $2488 in total – with an eye-watering $1214 charge for the third service.
For the same timeframe, the RAV4 GX petrol costs just $860 – or $215 per visit.
The base Tiguan has official fuel consumption of 7.1 litres per 100km compared with 6.5L/100km for the RAV4 GX petrol.
Another factor when considering running costs: VW’s engine needs to run on premium unleaded, whereas the Toyota’s is happy with regular unleaded.
The current Volkswagen Tiguan is a far more practical SUV than the original, while retaining many of that model’s positive driving attributes. Its interior is also appealing from design and technology perspectives.
It’s an SUV that impresses more in higher-grade variants, however. The entry-level Tiguan is missing some kit that should be standard at its pricepoint, while comparatively high running costs aren’t ideal for families on a budget.
We also can’t help but feel the Tiguan would also benefit from a regular automatic gearbox rather than the quirky dual-clutch system.
If you don’t mind a bit of a lengthy wait, hybrid versions of the Toyota RAV4 are the best mid-sized mainstream SUV you can buy right now. Yet, the standard petrol variant is still an effective performer, and you’ll also save $2500 over the petrol-electric GX to compensate for higher fuel usage during the initial years of ownership.
Regardless of drivetrain, the latest RAV4 is a terrific all-rounder that combines comfortable motoring with excellent practicality, good equipment levels, and cheap servicing. And it doesn’t disappoint, even in its most basic form.