Review: 2019 Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line
This isn't an R. It's an R-Line. Are they leveraging the fast one's reputation to help sell appearance packages?
THE PROS & CONS
- What's Good: Sharper styling, interior space
- What's Bad: Loud, sluggish, floaty ride
A friend who knows cars a lot better the average person picked up a Tiguan R-Line a few weeks ago. He saw the R badge and got excited. Because Volkswagen’s R badge has gone on some very impressive fast hot hatches over the years, and this looked more aggressive than a standard Tiguan from the outside. So he waited. More than an hour of driving. For traffic to clear and for the highway to open up so that he could exercise whatever was lurking behind that R-badged grille.
But this isn’t an R. It’s an R-Line. Which means that instead of something like the Golf R’s 292 hp turbo-four, there’s only the standard Tiguan engine. I can only picture his deflation when he realized what the badge really meant after waiting so long to mash the loud pedal. So what does the package add to the Tiguan, and does his disappointment make this small crossover one?
When Volkswagen redesigned the Tiguan for 2018, they went big. Really big. It’s bigger in every dimension on paper, and visually towers over the first-generation. This one’s big enough that I’ll admit I walked around to the back to check the badge and make sure I hadn’t been given an Atlas by mistake. Of course, a quick look at the (optional) third row in this Tiguan and it leaves little doubt that no, this is not an Atlas. Like most of this size class, it’s a third row that makes me wonder why they bothered, although talking to friends with kids it sounds like these jump seats get more of a workout than you might expect. Usually helping out in mini-emergencies, and so for those purposes they’re likely perfect. Adding some needed space for smaller humans but eating up a reasonable 130 L of the 1,064 L rear cargo area of the five-seater. Sure that’s about 10 percent, but you can make it up with a rooftop cargo box (and VW just happens to offer one that holds 460L). You can also slide the spacious second row fore and aft to let you juggle space between passengers.
What does the R-Line get you? Well, it doesn’t get you a revised engine. The Tiguan comes with just one engine option, a 2.0L turbo-four. With just 184 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque, even the eight-speeds in the automatic can’t help make this crossover feel quick. Forget fully loaded, even with just one passenger this is a CUV on the slow side. Not helped by the eight-speed auto that’s slow to kick down and often second-guesses itself on which gear it really wanted in the first place. The start-stop system helps save fuel, but it engages with a jolt, and even when it didn’t activate, pulling away from a stop was always touchy. Either sharp initial throttle response or slack in the torque converter meant a head snap each time.
Where that four delivers is fuel economy. The 4Motion all-wheel drive Tiguan is rated for 11.1 L/100 km city, 8.1 highway. My mixed driving saw an impressive 8.3 per the onboard computer. Not quite tops in class, but definitely better than average.
It also doesn’t get you the Volkswagen digital cockpit. The 12.3-inch screen as instrument cluster already comes with the Highline trim you need in order to step up to R-line. The customizable display lets you pick and choose which gauges you want to see, lets you put the nav front and center, and – this is a well-needed feature across the industry these days – gives you a screen that tells you roughly when the adaptive cruise control is going to slow down for the car in front. It’s not as fancy as the version Audi uses, but that’s because this isn’t wearing anything like a Q5’s price tag.
The package does get you those split-five-spoke wheels in a 19-inch size. They’re some good looking wheels and help give this crossover some needed presence. As do the new bumpers that come with the package. While the standard Tiguan’s front bumper is a bit dull, the R-line’s comes with more gloss black trim, a larger front lip, a whole lot less chrome, and more aggressive faux-vents around the fog light housing. The changes to the rear are much less obvious than the front, especially on this green tester, but the piece under the chrome strip is now body colour instead of dull grey, and the tailpipe surround is gloss black. The cladding at the bottom of the doors is now body-colour too.
Changes to the interior are more subtle. A black headliner, R-badge door sills, and an R-badge for the already flat-bottom steering wheel.
It’s still the same odd triangular steering wheel VW uses on other Tiguans. While your hands might differ, mine never get along with the triangular profile of the wheel (yes, the wheel itself is still mostly round) so I ended up holding it strangely. Which might not be a big deal, since like the wheel itself, the steering feel here isn’t the best. The new Tiguan isn’t buttoned down like you’d expect from a taller Golf. Instead it’s vague, with loads of power assist.
That feel translates to the ride. Over pavement dips and bumps, the Tiguan wallows and floats. Those impacts send sharp noises into the cabin, which is already confronting you with the harsh growls and rattles of the engine and wind noise that’ll have you speaking up to be heard by your passengers. Especially those in the third row. On the plus side, though, you probably won’t be able to hear their fighting on long drives.
What you will be able to hear is the Fender audio system. It’s loud and clear, even over the road noise. And it’s controlled by VW’s 8.0-inch infotainment screen that quickly and smoothly lets you operate vehicle controls. And the context-friendly gesture-controlled bar on the bottom of the screen that pops up when you wave a hand does a great job of boosting what you can see on-screen while avoiding you scrolling through menus for a function. The navigation system’s map is looking a bit dated and isn’t as intuitive as the rest of the system, but most people are probably using a map app on their phone anyway. Which this allows thanks to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.
The interior itself is in line with the styling of the rest of VW’s lineup. It’s enough to make you wonder if they just use one design and then scale the CAD drawings to fit. If they do, that’s just fine, because it’s stylish in simplicity and it’s well laid-out. Until you reach out to the plastics, which look cheaper than the style would suggest. The seats are more heavily bolstered than you’d expect in a small crossover, which means they hold you in place well. They’re also heated, though not ventilated. One of VW’s rare ergonomic faux-pas is in the operation of these seats, though. Tap the driver’s heat button and it also turns on the heated wheel. So if you want one without the other, you need to tap the button near the climate control system and then move to the touchscreen to turn off the one you don’t want. It’s frustrating for an operation which is normally just two separate buttons.
If you, like my friend, were looking for a quicker seven-person picker-upper, then yes, you’ll be disappointed by the R-badges on this one. If, instead, you were looking for a massive compact crossover – yes, we’re aware of that dissonance – that took away some of the segment’s obligatory quasi-rugged cladding and instead added a more sporting bit of styling and paint, then this is probably just the ticket. And if you really want a Tiguan R, then the Volkswagen Group would be happy to point you (and your chequebook) to the nearest Audi store for a Q5. Are they leveraging the fast one’s reputation to help sell appearance packages? Maybe. But if they are, they’re not the first and they certainly won’t be the last brand to do it.
2019 Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line
BODY STYLE: 4-door, 7-seat compact crossover
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, All-wheel drive
ENGINE: 2.0L turbocharged I4 (Power: 184 hp @ 4,400 rpm; Torque: 221 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm)
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular Gasoline in L/100 km) 11.1 city, 8.1 highway
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 8.3 L/100 km (mixed driving)
CARGO CAPACITY: 340 litres behind third row, 934 behind second row, 1,860 with all folded
PRICE: $41,535 (base); $45,225 (as-tested, includes $1,645 delivery charge)