Another month, another new SUV. Or so it seems from our commentary box. The second-generation Volkswagen Tiguan was launched last month in Malaysia, and it joins the traditional core of the SUV market, a class dominated by stalwarts such as the Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail and Mazda CX-5. Two of the Japanese trio will be replaced locally soon, which means more new SUVs.

There have been Korean and European outliers before – the Hyundai Tucson/Kia Sportage duo had reasonable success during design-led purple patches, and the Ford Kuga offered a dynamic drive with a non-Asian badge – but the Honda-Nissan-Mazda stranglehold is what a new entrant must attempt to break today. The original Tiguan did not have the stature for it (literally), but VW wasn’t really trying to go mass market in Malaysia then either.

Enter the new Tiguan, which comes on the scene as Volkswagen is in rebuilding mode. Despite the low tide the brand is riding on locally, new handlers Volkswagen Passenger Cars Malaysia (VPCM) has managed to roll out a rather convincing product – the Tiguan is locally assembled and Energy Efficient Vehicle (EEV) certified, with a competitive price. But how does it stack up against the established favourites?

The second-gen Tiguan was unveiled at the 2015 IAA show in Frankfurt, and made its European market debut in April last year. Fast forward a year and it’s here, as a CKD model. The Tiguan is the first Volkswagen SUV to be locally assembled, joining the Polo, Jetta and Passat models in rolling out from DRB-Hicom’s Pekan plant.

At 4,486 mm long and 1,839 mm wide, the new Tiguan is 60 mm longer and 30 mm wider than the original. That combines with a 33 mm lower roofline for much better proportions – the Mk1 looks gawky in comparison.

The enlarged footprint is used efficiently, as the 2,681 mm wheelbase is 77 mm longer than before, which also means that overhangs have been reduced. This also benefits the looks. Larger but lighter, the new Tiguan weighs over 50 kg less than before, VW says. To get your size bearings, the Tiguan is 104 mm shorter than a fourth-gen Honda CR-V, but is 19 mm wider.

The growth in dimensions has yielded 29 mm better rear seat kneeroom, also thanks to redesigned 40:20:40 split folding rear seats with up 180 mm of fore-aft sliding adjustment. Interior length has grown by 26 mm. The old Tiguan’s aircraft-style fold up tray tables with cupholders, mounted on the front seat backs, is a cool carryover feature.

Boot space is up as well, by 145 litres to make 615 litres, or 1,655 litres with the rear seats folded. The load lip is now lower and the front passenger seat can fold flat forwards to accommodate long items. Levers on the walls of the boot drop the rear seats in one motion.

Volkswagen recently rolled out a seven-seat Tiguan Allspace aimed primarily at North America and China, but this is the standard five-seat version and VPCM has no plans to bring the LWB SUV – which is 272 mm longer and has up to 57% more cargo capacity – in.

This bigger car has big shoes to fill. Now, the original Tiguan may not have been a looker, but it was a successful new product for Wolfsburg. They sold over 2.8 million units of it since 2007, and in its last year on sale, the Mk1 was the second best selling compact SUV in Europe.

If so, the new Tiguan is a winner based on looks alone. The above-mentioned improved proportions are presented in a body that trades the curves of old with square edges and sharp lines – the resulting SUV is one that appears significantly more rugged. The image is of a no-nonsense, solid piece of kit; that’s also the air given off by Volkswagen’s new family face, as seen on the handsome Passat B8.

We like this clean new look carried by the Passat and Tiguan, but in the latter’s case, it further helps the Volkswagen stand out in a class of expressive – sometimes busy – Japanese designs. It has its own identity, the Tiguan, and we suspect that this no frills design will age well.

Like what you see so far? I do. But, there’s a caveat. The car you see just above this is the entry-level Comfortline, and it doesn’t look quite like the handsome specimen from the lead shot above, or the Tiguan in brochures. That car is the higher of the two trim levels, aptly named Highline.

The Highline’s 18-inch “Kingston” wheels (235/55 Hankook tyres) don’t look large on the Tiguan, but just nice, which makes the 17-inch “Montana” items (215/65 Falken tyres) on the Comfortline look a tad small. But that’s not what strikes you at first glance – it’s the face.

The LED headlamps and daytime running lights of the Highline prove to be valuable jewellery, along with the extra dotted line of chrome (two vs one) on the grille. The dark, slimmer eyes and the extra strip of chrome underlining them gives the top half of the fascia that sleek mask-like look.

Is the Tiguan Comfortline the only RM150k car in town with halogen reflector headlamps and no LED DRLs? Given how important lights have become of late in the eyes of the consumer, this seemingly small omission could be a deal breaker for some who were drawn in by the low entry price. Upsell. Maybe that’s the strategy.

The rear end is less differentiated, as LED tail lamps and twin exhaust pipes are standard across the board. The roof rails of the Comfortline are in black, while it’s silver on the Highline.

The measured approach of the exterior design is matched by a sober dashboard. In typical VW fashion, there’s not much wow factor to be found in here, but there’s also nothing that offends. The layout is traditional (upper dash resembles the Civic FC’s), and everything is positioned where you’d expect it to be. No additional in-cabin storage ideas over a regular car though; the CR-V is still the king of knick-knacks.

The Highline’s headlining cabin feature is the 12.3-inch Active Info Display digital instrument panel. There are various “skins” for the twin digital dials, but Audi’s Virtual Cockpit looks more attractive and has variable layouts. I actually don’t at all mind the classically VAG cowled analogue dials of the Comfortline, which has a colour multi-info display in the middle, and beats its digital sister in legibility.

I suspect that many won’t miss the digital meters, but the base model’s manual air con (three-zone auto air con for the Highline) and lack of keyless entry and push start might be more jarring – the latter feature is now available in a Perodua Axia, so there’s no excuse for expensive German cars (there are premium brand offenders too) to require key twisting.

Other cabin differences are fabric versus leather seats, and “Dark Grid” trim on the dashboard and door cards for the Highline, versus “Titanium Silver” in the Comfortline. The silver bits have the appearance of Audi-style brushed metal trim, but the illusion is gone once you touch and tap it. Like the wood trim in the Passat Highline, there’s a gap between Volkswagen and Audi materials, even if they look similar from afar.

The head unit in both variants have the same eight-inch touchscreen size. The Comfortline’s Composition Media unit has Bluetooth, SD card, USB and AUX-in functions, plus eight speakers. The Highline’s Discover Media unit gets all that plus navigation, reverse camera and the optional App Connect software, which allows for smartphone app connection via Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and MirrorLink.

The Tiguan is a car that can slot seamlessly into family life. Helped by the straightforward dashboard layout, ergonomics is faultless, and long-distance comfort is good with a noticeably long seat base that drivers with longer legs will appreciate. The driving position adjustment range is wide, while the relatively slim A pillars provide good all-round visibility.

It’s similarly easy at the back. Like the front chairs, the base of the rear bench is long, offering good support. There’s decent space even for large adults and adequate headroom/legroom, with space under the front seats for feet to tuck into – it’s significantly better than before, but the CR-V and its flat floor is still the rear seat champ. Those ferrying children would find the Tiguan’s fold-up tables useful, whether for a lunch box or the iPad.

Besides school runs, an SUV’s brief is to tackle grocery runs, and the Tiguan delivers in Tesco as well as at Ikea. The 40:20:40 split folding rear seats offer more versatility compared to 60:40, and there are levers on the boot walls to drop them. The resulting flat cargo area and the front passenger seat’s ability to fold forward is invaluable when the need arises. Think curtain rods, bed frames and the like. The Highline’s powered hatch can be closed via the key fob as well.

But how about the mountain run? While shaking my head at you – the car guy who refuses to accept that each car has its purpose in life, and that not all things are meant to be touged – I say not bad.

There’s no surprise in how the Tiguan drives, which is like a modern Volkswagen. And that’s mostly a good thing. The front-wheel drive SUV (4Motion AWD not offered here) is powered by a 1.4 litre TSI engine with 150 PS and 250 Nm of torque available from 1,500 to 3,500 rpm. The single turbo unit (not the old Twincharger) is mated to a six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox. The official claimed fuel consumption is 6.7 litres per 100 km (14.9 km/l) in the European cycle, and 0-100 km/h takes 8.9 seconds.

The TSI-DSG combo is an effective one. Forced induction gives the Tiguan strong in-gear shove and acceleration, although those expecting GTI-like off-the-line response will be disappointed – there’s noticeable lag at low engine speeds before the torque gates open at around 2,000 rpm.

This initial hesitancy was most apparent during full throttle standing starts and isn’t a constant annoyance in regular driving, though. As mentioned, once rolling, getting up to illegal speeds is effortless with a linear build up, and the extra shot of torque that accompanies overtaking kickdown is welcome on B roads. We won’t call it a fast car, but the Tiguan is certainly brisk enough and feels more effortless than 2.0 NA rivals.

The DSG plays the perfect partner here, working flawlessly in speed and perception. Smoothness even, with this six-speed wet clutch unit that’s usually paired with higher-powered engines. I did not realise that steering paddle shifters were standard till I started taking pictures – a good automatic doesn’t need driver intervention. Brake Auto Hold is a useful feature for the jam-filled daily grind.

VPCM has taken the unprecedented step of highlighting “wet-clutch” in marketing materials to swerve away from the less-than-stellar reputation of the seven-speed dry-clutch unit – mentioning “DSG” alone might put off some. Anyway, the Tiguan comes with a five-year manufacturer’s warranty (as opposed to the previous 2+3 arrangement), five-year roadside assistance and 15,000 km service intervals, which means less visits to the dealership.

The Tiguan is very easy to drive fast, with quick enough steering and an impression that it’s smaller than it is as you push on. That sense of agility is allied with good body control, and more importantly for this application – really good ride comfort. The latter includes both a steady high-speed motorway ride and bump absorption on the 18-inch wheels. Of course, this is all relative to the mid-size SUV segment – a GTI it is not.

But it’s not meant to be one, and the Tiguan’s blends a punchy drivetrain, decent agility and comfort expertly for what it is, without being “sporty”. It won’t make you want to take the long road home, but if you happen to encounter a juicy stretch, this family wagon is competent enough to not feel like a fish out of water.

The only gripe for this writer is that wind noise is conspicuous and occurs pretty early at 110 km/h, as if linked to a localised speed limiter. No such thing of course, but it does mar an otherwise refined package.

A mini obstacle course in the media drive programme served up the above-mentioned Japanese trio, and it confirms the Tiguan’s place in the SUV galaxy. The X-Trail is the only seven-seater in the mix and it drove like the big, comfort-oriented SUV it is. The outgoing CR-V is still a great all-rounder. If you don’t need seven seats, the Honda is the best family car of the lot and has surprising verve in 2.4L guise. Conversely, the 2.0L could really do with more grunt.

Keen drivers forced into a family car would be well-served by the Mazda CX-5, which provides the right sensations (literally, from the wheel) and a racy feel. The Tiguan is calmer and more refined than the CX-5; it’s also a better family car and a less selfish option.

There are more dynamic drives, and there are more comfy rides. But the Volkswagen Tiguan does enough of everything, striking the middle ground in this most competitive of segments.

For detailed specs and figures, visit the Volkswagen Tiguan page on CarBase.my


GALLERY: Volkswagen Tiguan 1.4 TSI Highline

GALLERY: Volkswagen Tiguan 1.4 TSI Comfortline