First drive: 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0T Wolfsburg Edition

Sometimes “good” just isn’t quite good enough.

The Tiguan has always ran mid-pack in this hotly contested segment, but with a new model coming next year, Volkswagen seems content to add a few trim packages to the mix for 2017 and call it a day.

With small SUVs back in the public’s favor the battle for customers returning to the fray is a heated one, and automakers who would be willing to rest on their laurels are likely to find their foothold in the segment slip away with little warning. In this particular corner of the market, there are so many worthy contenders available that it’s no longer enough to simply offer a solid product – it has to be outstanding.

That isn’t to say that the 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan is inherently lacking in some way. But with the current model on its way out the door as 2018 ushers in an all-new iteration of the Tiguan, Volkswagen’s strategy seems to be one of staying the course for the most part, changing up the trim level features and equipping the company’s well-regarded MIB II infotainment system as standard on all Tiguan models this year.

Is it enough to make the current Tiguan stand out in a crowded segment that’s essentially free of bad options? I hopped behind the wheel of this new-for-2017 Wolfsburg Edition model and took to the lush woodlands outside of Seattle, Washington to investigate further.

Bringing back some “sport” to small sport-utility

Small SUVs have traditionally been more about versatility and the benefits of a high sitting position than they are about outright capability, but that doesn’t mean they have to be devoid of any fun.

The Tiguan’s turbocharged 2.0-liter, four cylinder motor generates 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque, and mated to its six-speed automatic gearbox and optional 4Motion all-wheel drive, it has enough guts to keep the pace brisk without feeling strained to do so. While it’s unlikely to win an overabundance of stop light drag races, it gives the Tiguan lively driving manners that carry throughout the rest of the vehicle.

In similar fashion (and one that’s indicative of nearly all VWs currently on sale), the Tiguan’s handling is responsive and relatively taut, encouraging a more involved driving experience than many of its contemporaries, while still staying a safe distance away from any semblance of harshness in its ride quality.

This Wolfsburg Edition tester replaces the R-Line trim level in the Tiguan lineup for 2017, and brings with it a standard panoramic sunroof, along with unique 17-inch “Novara” wheels and some chrome trim to go with the requisite badging.

From a size perspective, the Tiguan makes an admirable effort to tie the incongruous attributes of vast cargo space, ample seating, and a small vehicle footprint together, with seating for five adults and 23.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up, or 56.1 with them down.

The Tiguan’s turbocharged 2.0-liter, four cylinder motor has enough guts to keep the pace brisk without feeling strained to do so.

An available trailer hitch can be specified Tiguan as well, allowing for up to 2,200 pounds of gear to be brought in tow, while the roof rails can all manner of outdoor gear like kayaks and bike racks.

From a technology standpoint the Tiguan currently lacks the latest active safety assistance features found elsewhere in the Volkswagen lineup, which means near-ubiquitous options like blind spot warning simply aren’t in the cards until next year. But VW’s MIB II infotainment system is some indirect consolation, as it’s standard on all Tiguan trim levels and its upgraded hardware and revamped interface – which features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Mirrorlink functionality, along with a host of additional features through Volkswagen’s App-Connect system – continues to be one of the stronger offerings in the industry.

Behind the wheel

While VW is quick to point out that the Tiguan has some legitimate considerations for off-road use, like short front overhang that allows for a 28-degree approach angle, the reality of things is that – like the vast majority of SUVs in service today – most Tiguans will spend the nearly all of their lives on paved roads.

But with the four cylinder generating peak torque at just 1,700 rpm, it’s here where the Tiguan’s favorable attributes make their strongest case. While the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters are essentially a novelty here, as the six-speed automatic lacks any of the sense of urgency found in Volkswagen’s DSG gearbox, the stability of all-wheel drive and the well-balanced suspension tuning makes driving the Tiguan with a sense of verve less of a chore that it might appear at first glance.

2017 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0T Wolfsburg Edition First Drive
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

Adding to this notion is Volkswagen’s variable-weight, electronically assisted steering, which provides effortless resistance at parking lot speeds but firms up for a sportier feel (and less necessity for bump-induced corrections) at higher speeds, while the Tiguan’s 12.3-inch ventilated discs up front (with solid 11.3-inch rotors in the rear) provide confident and consistent braking ability.

But like its lagging feature set, the Tiguan’s aesthetics are telling of the company’s strategy to maximize profit from this outgoing model before putting it out to pasture. Both the cabin and the exterior are starting to show their age as the rest of the VW portfolio falls into line with the more streamlined look of models like the current Golf and Passat, a move that the Tiguan itself will make next year.

What’s next

While the current Tiguan model still has its charms, it’s hard for it not to be overshadowed by its forthcoming replacement. Already roaming the streets of Europe, the 2018 Tiguan will offer more cargo and passenger space, an eight-speed automatic transmission, an extensively revised interior and an all-new exterior, along with an even sportier chassis tuning due to a small reduction in weight.

It’s also safe to expect that many of active safety features that the current Tiguan lacks will make their way into the 2018 on some level, while upscale elements like LED headlights and tail lights will be standard.

Volkswagen’s lengthy product development cycle is partially to blame for the 2017’s shortcomings, and it appears its upcoming replacement will address many of these issues – including its relatively high price in comparison to many of the Tiguan’s competitors.

For those that aren’t willing to wait, the 2017 Tiguan is by no means a dud of a vehicle. But with less than a year to go before its successor becomes available here in the U.S., patient buyers may find themselves rewarded for their trouble.

Highs

  • Sporty handling
  • MIB II infotainment system

Lows

  • High price tag
  • Lacks VW’s active safety features
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