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2018 Volkswagen Tiguan: First Drive Review

As car critics, it’s our job to find the problems with new vehicles and point them out to you, but sometimes an automaker just gets it right. Such is the case with the all-new 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan. It’s not flawless — we’ve yet to find the vehicle that is — but from the front bumper to the rear, there’s a lot to like about the redesigned Tiguan.

 New Tiguan Grows a Third Row

We’ll go through the new Tiguan front-to-back, but let’s start with an overall picture. This is only the second iteration of Volkswagen’s compact SUV, the first having been introduced in 2009. But those who were expecting more of the same will be surprised: VW has stretched the Tiguan by nearly a foot, making it one of the longest SUVs in the compact segment and one of the few to offer a third-row seat (albeit not a very big one). With its new front end and longer, more squared-off shape, the Tiguan looks much like a baby version of VW’s other new-for-2018 SUV, the full-size Atlas.

So let’s start at the beginning: The Tiguan is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that develops a strong 184 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. The engine is now backed by an 8-speed automatic transmission, which improves acceleration as well as fuel economy. EPA estimates are 22 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway for the front-wheel-drive version, and 21 mpg city/27 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive.

 No-nonsense Interior

Let’s close the hood and pop in behind the wheel. If you’ve driven a Volkswagen in the last decade or so, the Tiguan’s dashboard will look instantly familiar; if you’ve never driven a Volkswagen, give it three minutes or so and you’ll feel right at home. Volkswagen specializes in straightforward interiors with clear, easy-to-read gauges (or, in the case of the top-of-the-line SEL Premium model, an LCD video screen that shows an image of clear, easy-to-read gauges), simple stereo and climate controls and a lack of visual tomfoolery. Some VW cabins feel a bit Spartan to us, but we think the Tiguan has just enough adornment to give it an upscale look while retaining a distraction-free environment.

We sampled two Tiguans, the volume-selling SE model and the range-topping SEL Premium. The SEL Premium has real leather on the seats, while the SE is upholstered in a hard-wearing fake leather. We found the seats to be comfortable and supportive, and the big windows and good-size mirrors provide great all-around visibility. We were surprised at the lack of a power-adjustable passenger seat for the SEL Premium; after all, this is a car that stickers for nearly 40 grand. We blame VW’s constant struggle to differentiate themselves from their posh corporate cousin, Audi. See the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan models for sale near you

Good Passenger Space, but Can You Get in and out?

Moving back to the second row, the Tiguan offers a supportive seat with a long bottom cushion that provides plenty of thigh support. Unfortunately, it can also make getting in and out difficult: If there’s a car parked so close that the door can’t be opened very far, the long seat-bottom cushion gets in the way of easy entry and exit. And that’s bound to happen, because the Tiguan’s rear doors are very long. This is a feature we normally like, but in the case of the Tiguan, it makes getting the doors open in a crowded parking lot difficult.

Once in, though, the back seat offers plenty of comfort. It’s adjustable fore-and-aft to open up extra room for the third row; with the seat all the way back, legroom is more than adequate, though the Tiguan doesn’t feel as roomy as some of its rivals.

 Small Third Row, but Great Configuration Options

The third-row seat (optional on front-wheel-drive Tiguans and a $500 option on all-wheel-drive versions) is best suited for small children; your 5-foot-6-inch author tried sitting back there and is still feeling the pain. We can’t fault the Tiguan for that: It’s clearly intended for use in a pinch, when Tommy’s dad gets a flat tire on the way to soccer practice and you suddenly find you have an extra kid to haul. That said, Volkswagen has thoughtfully provided small shelves next to the seat for kids’ electronic odds and ends. They’ve also fitted a storage compartment under the trunk floor to store the roller-style cargo cover when the third row seat is in use. Very handy!

With the third row in place, the Tiguan still offers 12 cu ft. of trunk space, enough for a couple of gym bags or a few sacks of groceries. Folding the third row seat opens up 33 cu ft. of cargo room, and with all seats folded the Tiguan offers 65.7 cu ft. of storage. Compare these numbers to the Tiguan’s rivals, and it’s right in the middle of the pack, a bit of a surprise considering the Tiguan’s size. For comparison, the Nissan Rogue, another 3-row compact, offers 32 cu ft. behind the second row and 70 with all seats folded, while the class champ, the 2-row Honda CR-V, has 39.2 cu ft. of storage space behind the back seat and 75.8 with the rear seat folded.

That said, Volkswagen does make it easy to reconfigure the Tiguan: The third-row seat splits and folds using latches atop the seatbacks, while the second-row seats can be dropped with a lever in the cargo area. All of these latches and levers are within easy reach, which means you can change the Tiguan from a 7-seater to a 2-seater (or a 3-, 4-, 5- or 6-seater) while standing behind the cargo area. Very cool.

 Drives Like an Outsize Golf

We’ve gone through the Tiguan front to back, so now it’s time to drive it. The Tiguan is built on the same platform as Volkswagen’s trim Golf hatchback, and it drives a lot like a Golf — and we mean that as a compliment. There’s plenty of power from the turbocharged engine, though the 8-speed transmission sometimes hunts around to find the right gear. The steering is tight and communicative, and the ride, while firm, is comfortable. Handling is outstanding — the Tiguan is lively and engaging, and it grips beautifully in the corners. Overall, it’s a lovely SUV to drive. Considering how many SUVs in this segment are absolute snoozers, it’s nice to have a choice that engages the senses.

 Unprecedented Warranty Coverage

One concern that some buyers have about Volkswagen is build quality, and given the German brand’s reputation, there’s good reason to be suspicious. Volkswagen’s quality has been steadily improving over the past few years, and they are standing by their new SUVs with an unprecedented 72-month/72,000-mile warranty, twice as much coverage as most of its competitors get. That’s not just powertrain protection, like Hyundai and Kia’s 100,000-mile warranty; it’s a bumper-to-bumper warranty on the whole vehicle, excluding wear parts. Equally remarkable is the fact that the warranty is fully transferable when the car is sold, which not only gives peace of mind to second owners but improves resale values for first owners. A long warranty doesn’t instantly improve build quality, but it does insulate owners from surprise repair costs.

Pricing for the new Tiguan starts at $26,245, with the all-wheel-drive SEL Premium model listing for $38,550. Volkswagen has limited their option availability, tying feature availability to trim level, as Honda does; the highest list price for a Tiguan is $39,945. That makes the Tiguan a bit more expensive than other SUVs in its class, especially in higher trim levels, which is what we expect from Volkswagen. The chief advantage the Tiguan has over its competitors is its exellent driving dynamics. The Mazda CX-5 is equally engaging to drive, but it lacks a third-row seat and doesn’t have nearly as much cargo capacity as the Tiguan.

 An SUV That Engages the Senses

Obviously, we’re rather fond of the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan. The one big drawback we see are those big doors — and if you frequent malls or shopping centers with stall parking, that’s something you should think about, as back-seat access could be problematic. (We recommend stopping by a crowded lot as part of your test drive.) Other than that, the Tiguan is a lovely vehicle — spacious, flexible, reasonably fuel efficient and very good to drive. If you’re looking for an SUV that will engage your senses, we recommend giving the Tiguan a test drive.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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