Nearly a decade ago, I traveled to Windhoek, Namibia, to evaluate a prototype of the first-generation Volkswagen Tiguan. VWs foray into compact crossover country was cute, peppy, and displayed no problem bouncing all over the harsh Namib Desert, much like the springbok antelope that hopped around us like kids on a sugar high. Lightly camouflaged, the mule sported a 1.4-liter, twin-charged (turbocharged and supercharged) inline-four, a six-speed automatic, and a Haldex-based 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.
Namibia sits a (really) far cry away from Sweden, where in the northern town of Arvidsjaur, just below the arctic circle, the winter snow falls heavy, the temperature anchors below freezing, and myriad lakes morph into giant expanses of ice-covered proving grounds. So, pretty much the opposite of Windhoek. Carmakers bring their latest offerings here to test performance, durability, and chassis excellence in some of the coldest and slickest conditions on Earth. And it is why Volkswagen brought me here to sample what could be, if predictions of never-ending SUV growth come true, the brands best-selling model in a few years.
For gen-two Tiguan, it all starts with MQB, the modular platform that underpins multiple front-drive-based VWs and Audis (e.g., Golf, A3, TT). Going MQB allows VW to reduce costs and build the Tiguan in both short- and long-wheelbase versions, the latter destined for North America and China. Thus, the Tiguan will ride on a 109.9-inch wheelbase and measure 185.0 inches long, 72.4 inches wide, and 64.3 inches tall, elevating it to the same league as CR-V (103.1-inch wheelbase, 179.4 by 71.6 by 64.7 inches LxWxH). Power comes from a 2.0 TDI good for 143 horsepower , and thanks to a 7-speed automatic, fuel economy should be good. A fifth-gen Haldex-based 4Motion AWD system, similar to the one in the Golf R, distributes torque to each wheel as needed, and it now comes with a center console-mounted four-mode control knob (Onroad, Snow, Offroad, Offroad Individual).
The interior is typical high quality VW with buttons, controls, steering wheel, and shifter all being nice to operate. The design is understated but classy with the familiar sporty three-spoke steering wheel. The big news is in the features department as it is much better equipped than the earlier Tiguan and gets more than its rivals. There is a 12.3 inch active info display along with a heads-up display. Plus the infotainment system is equipped with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other features include a 3-zone climate control system, powered front seats, rear camera, 8-inch touchscreen (5 inch is standard). There is a lot more space now and that is crucial. Three at the back is no problem plus with the rear bench folded the total luggage space is 1,655 litres.
Given that my testers Continental Conti Viking Contact 6 winter tires only touched snow and ice, I cannot exactly attest to the Tiguans dry-road feel or handling chops except to say that it came across as vault solid, library quiet, and GTI fun when rolling atop frozen water. Further, the latest 4Motion seamlessly provided max traction at each corner, making the snow-packed roads and frozen-lake courses rousing, confidence-inspiring exercises, just turn the dial to Snow and enjoy the harmonious blend of 4Motion, ESC, and yaw.
When the Golf won our 2015 Car of the Year crown, we lauded, among other qualities, its understated elegance and premium construction. It was not flashy or overstyled, but rather subtle in its remarkable surfacing and tight tolerances. The new Tiguan brings that same execution to the compact crossover. Further, it will offer a high level of advanced safety tech to ensure it receives an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, notably, front assist with city emergency braking and pedestrian monitoring, lane assist, and automatic post-collision braking. It even comes with LED headlights and taillights and an active hood that automatically raises (to increase the space between the hood and engine) when the vehicle detects a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist. Baby Q7, anyone?
In the midst of a diesel-emissions scandal, VW needs what the Tiguan is- a breath of fresh air.