COAL: A Tale of Two Tiguans

Two 2019 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium 4MOTION units

Let’s go back in time, to late 2019. The previous July, I’d bought a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland RWD from Carvana. That was a very pleasant experience, and the car itself was great. By this time, it sat at 71,000 miles, up from 45,000 when I bought it.

However, I really wanted something lighter and more tossable, but still a crossover, and the Jeep was not that. The electro-hydraulic steering that was well-weighted quickly grew to be laborious, and the infotainment system just seemed to get slower and slower. Even having the dealer reset it didn’t help. Finally, the all-black interior started to feel depressing, like a cave. By August of this year, I did the numbers and realized that it wasn’t any hardship to get out of it, and was in fact a great time to do so.

I got a great offer from CarMax to buy the vehicle back, and it would soon be on its way.

On to its replacement. I was going to do a Brendan Saur, process-of-elimination-style article wherein I would test-drive several crossovers, and gradually get up to a finalist and then a winner. But I’m not going to do that, because the story of what happened after I bought the car is a far more interesting one. I will say that the 2019 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited, the Honda CR-V Touring and the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring were my three finalists. But the Mazda was too cramped and had awful dealerships, the Honda was perfect, but too “boring”, and the Toyota lost because of scarcity and high transaction prices.

The winner, then, was the 2019 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium 4MOTION. Not only did it look and feel more expensive than it was, it had an unfair advantage. What was the one car I owned and was absolutely not trying to get rid of? The 2015 Golf SportWagen TDI SEL. Even when I bought that stupid X5, I kept the Golf SportWagen and drove it most of the time. The latest Tiguan, at least from a design and structure standpoint, is basically a more upscale and more practical version of that Golf SportWagen. It felt instantly familiar, and yet it addressed the small number of complaints (mostly tech-related) I had about the wagon.

So I bought one.

2019 Tiguan SEL Premium 4MOTION

The 2019 Tiguan SEL Premium 4MOTION, the day I bought it home


Before I continue, there are a couple of things I’d like to note about the Tiguan. Firstly, it’s a slightly bigger Tiguan than what they sell in other places. In Europe, the UK and Australia, you have the regular Tiguan, and then you have the Tiguan Allspace. The Tiguan Allspace comes with a longer wheelbase, 109.85 inches versus the regular Tiguan’s 105.55. All of that goes to the rear doors, which are noticeably longer than average. The Tiguan Allspace also combines a sliding, reclining and folding second row with a third row, although I question the usefulness of that third row.

2019 Tiguan vs Tiguan Allspace

On the right, the Tiguan. On the left, the Tiguan Allspace. Note the Allspace’s longer doors and reshaped cargo area.


In the US, the Tiguan Allspace is our only Tiguan. So we get the bigger, long-wheelbase one by default. Also, due to some weird EPA regulations, FWD Tiguans in the US need the third row in order to be classified as light trucks, a coveted designation that comes with less-stringent fuel-economy regulations. So, FWD Tiguans here get the third row standard; on AWD ones (which are already light trucks by default), it’s a $500 option.

Back to our story.

I knew I wanted an SEL Premium. The reason for that is that the SEL Premium (and the SEL Premium R-Line) were the only variants that included the full LED headlights. The lesser S, SE, SEL, SEL R-Line and SEL R-Line Black trims came with cheap-looking halogen units with LED daytime running lights that were woefully inadequate. The SEL Premium trim also got full leather with contrast-colored piping (instead of leatherette), power-folding side mirrors, a digital instrument cluster, a surround-view camera, Fender premium audio, and some other niceties.

A quick search revealed that there was one at my local dealer’s lot equipped exactly like I wanted it. The exterior was Platinum Gray Metallic, exactly the same color as my old Golf SportWagen, while the interior was Storm Gray, which is really almost white. I thought it looked upscale as heck. It’s also worth noting that all SEL Premium models, as of 2019, come with 4MOTION, so this one was AWD, too. It had the third-row seat and frameless rearview mirror as extras.

2019 Tiguan SEL Premium 4MOTION interior

My 2019 Tiguan’s interior. Swanky, for what it was


Another important fact about the current-generation Tiguan is that there are were versions of the digital instrument cluster, which Volkswagen calls the Virtual Cockpit. The Tiguan was redesigned in 2017, as a 2018 model. All of the 2018-model-year units with the Virtual Cockpit have a nice, big screen that’s contoured to fit the virtual gauges it displays. The early-build 2019s also had that screen. But somewhere in the 2019 model year, VW switched to using a slightly smaller, less aesthetic Virtual Cockpit display with the temperature and fuel level readouts moved to the sides, as sequential LEDs. It’s the Virtual Cockpit introduced on the 2019 Jetta, and it doesn’t look as nice. Fortunately, the Tiguan I was looking at was an earlier-build 2019, and so had the nicer screen.

2019 Tiguan, two instrument cluster types

On the left, the 2018-to-early-2019 cluster On the right, the mid-2019-and-later cluster. Mine had the former, which I preferred.


For this “Dream Tiguan,” the dealer wanted $34,875 against an MSRP of $39,635 (ha!). I called and offered them $34,300 out the door, and they accepted. I called the bank and had a preapproval done, then went to the dealership. This was September 9, 2019.

They had the car all ready to go for me, as far as being clean, gassed up and parked up front. We went for a test drive, and it performed suitably, as a new car should. The salesman showed me a couple of tricks I didn’t uncover in my research of the car. If you tilt the wiper stalk backward when in reverse, the car washes both the rear windscreen and the rear camera, which is nifty. It also had “Easy Open,” a feature I’ve seen on other cars that lets you open the liftgate hands-free by swiping your foot under it with the key fob somewhere on your person.

We went back in to sign papers. When they handed me the odometer disclosure statement, a legal requirement in the state of Oklahoma, I saw that the car had 1,300 miles on it. I hadn’t noticed this when test-driving, because the odometer isn’t visible when the cruise control is on (which it was). The salesman told me that the car had been driven in from another store out of state, and that was the reason for the miles. I decided I was okay with the mileage because it’s very hard to find SEL Premium models without the black interior.

Later that night, I was taking photos of the new Tiguan when I noticed several flaws. There was a hail dent right on the wheel crease on the right fender, another hail dent on the window trim, a paint chip on the liftgate, and the bolt cover for the rear wiper arm was missing. Also, I tried to demonstrate the Easy Open function to Austin, my best friend, and couldn’t get it to work. I looked at the window sticker, and saw that the all-weather floor mats (VW calls these “Monster Mats”) and the cargo-management blocks were missing. Finally, the Tiguan’s window sticker said that the car was originally delivered to that dealership, which meant the salesman who said it was driven in from elsewhere was either misinformed or lied.

These things are important for later on in the story; I promise.

2019 Tiguan fake exhaust tips

One thing I did not like about the Tiguan’s exterior was these insultingly fake set of exhaust tips, one on each side. The actual exhaust was downturned and behind the bumper cover, and only on one side. What was wrong with Volkswagen’s traditional double-exhaust-on-one-side motif? I guess too many people complained about DI soot, causing them to do this.


I drove in with the Tiguan the next day and apprised the dealership of these issues. They quickly found some floor mats and cargo blocks and gave them to me, and told me they’d call me in a few days when their dent guy was in, to repair the dents and fix the paint chip (which was caused by yet a third dent). They had me schedule an appointment about the Easy Open.

I was satisfied…until (a) the dealership didn’t call me back about the dents and (b) the Tiguan began to emit the most godawful rattling you’ve ever heard. It happened at idle, at low speeds, and especially over bumps. It seemed to be coming from somewhere behind the dashboard area. I took it back and the dealership’s service manager immediately agreed to go with me for a short ride around the block. He was thoroughly diligent in his test drive and quickly confirmed the rattling. So they had me wait in the service lounge while they put it on the lift. What they found was that a heat shield was loose–they said–and so put a new clip in it, then handed it back to me. This promptly hushed the rattling. I gently reminded them again about the dents and the paint chip, then went on my way.

And a few days later, the Tiguan’s rattling returned, with a vengeance. Keep in mind, we were about a week into my ownership of the car at this point. More than a little miffed, I took it into the service department again. The advisor said they’d have to take a closer look at it, and asked if I could leave the Tiguan there. I asked if they had any loaners, and they said no, and that they were extremely overbooked. What was I supposed to drive in the meantime? So I said that wouldn’t work, they said they’d call me when they had a loaner available.

Then I thought about it. I’d done business with their store before, this was my third brand-new Volkswagen and fourth overall, and I’d just bought a brand-new car from them with all sorts of issues. They could do something, as far as a loaner went. But since they were reluctant to do so once I called and explained that, I opened a ticket with Volkswagen Corporate.

Fast forward past several days of enduring the Tiguan’s rattling, when I walked in and straight up asked them what was going on with the loaner. They’d said they were in touch with VW Corporate, but my advisor with VW Corporate said they’d been ignoring her. But, a loaner miraculously became available once I went in, that day. Fancy that! They said as soon as the other customer dropped it off, they’d get it cleaned and ready to go, probably by that afternoon. True to their word, for once, they did call me at about 3:00 PM and I traded them my car for a 2018 Tiguan S (which is the base model) in the same color as my car. It wasn’t at all nice, but it wasn’t worth complaining about. At least then, they could take a proper look at my Tiguan. I also reminded them that they were supposed to fix the dents, the paint chip and the Easy Open function.

Base-model Tiguan

Compared to my loaded-up Tiguan, the interior of the base-model S was a real let-down.


Almost a week went by with no updates from the dealership, so I gave them a ring and asked how things were going. This was a Wednesday, I remember it well. The service manager said they hadn’t diagnosed the source of the rattle, nor had they figured out why the Easy Open module was bad. They said that both they and the VW Corporate technicians were scratching their head, but they didn’t know.

Well, who the heck was supposed to know, if not they? Penn and Teller?

After getting off the phone with the dealership, I called my advisor at VW Corporate and told her I’d like to begin a campaign with the company to buy the vehicle back or replace it with an identical one, as a goodwill gesture. The fact that they couldn’t diagnose the rattle or the Easy Open in all that time meant something was seriously wrong with the car. And as a multiple-time customer, I shouldn’t have had to put up with a brand-new car that was problematic. She said that she understood and that it was about a 15-day review process to make that determination after they determined the cause of the damage, but that a buyback or replacement was absolutely possible under the circumstances. She just couldn’t guarantee it yet.

Here’s where it gets good, y’all.

I was up late that night, when I got the idea to plug the car into CarFax. I’m not sure where the idea came from, but all of these issues started to sound like accident damage, to me. So I ran the CarFax, and guess what?

That Tiguan, the one that I’d bought brand-new, had accident damage reported that January. Rear accident damage.

2019 Tiguan CarFax report

The CarFax report in question. Pretty damning evidence, really.


This explained everything! It explained why the Easy Open sensor wasn’t working. It explained the rattle. And it explained the missing bolt cover. Those jerks at that dealership had sold me a car they knew was damaged. And then lied to me about not knowing what the source of these problems was. Moreover, this damage was probably significant if it had shown up on a CarFax report. Perhaps it was wrecked while someone was test-driving it, and a police report was filed. If it had been light damage, they would have been able to hide it, and likely would have done so.

I was angry. They had the nerve to fleece me? Did they know who they were dealing with? That Wednesday, at 11:30 PM, I had myself a little adult temper tantrum; I admit it. I broke some stuff, slammed some doors, forgot what time it was and called Austin, yelling.

But by the morning, I had cooled down to the point of at least thinking sensibly. I walked back into the dealership and told them to put my car back together immediately and turn it back over to me. Well, I might have said “put my f***ing Tiguan back together and give it back”…I don’t remember. The service manager tried to cool me down and pry for details, but I told him he didn’t need to worry about it. When he pressed for details even further, I fended him off with, “At this point, I’ve been advised by my lawyer not to say anything further.”

The reason, folks, that I wanted the car back was that I left the purchase paperwork in the glovebox. Dealerships in Oklahoma can sell pre-damaged cars, even new ones, but if they know about the damage and it’s above a certain monetary threshold, they are legally required to provide a damage disclosure statement. The dealership obviously knew about the damage, since it had happened while the Tiguan was new, and in their charge, and they had obviously done repairs on it…and they had not provided such a disclosure. I didn’t want them figuring out I knew about the damage and trying to slip a disclosure into the paperwork or trying to cover anything up, so I went and got the car back.

Then, I called the advisor at VW Corporate. I got her voicemail, but when she rang back, she was very shocked when I told her they sold me a car they knew was damaged. Once she picked her jaw up off the floor, she said that since it was a case of the dealer selling me a damaged car, VW Corporate could not themselves buy it back. Moreover, since it’s an independent franchise, VW Corporate could not force the dealer to buy the car back. But she said she’d do everything in her power to convince them to do so. Fair enough, I thought. I also reminded her that the dealer had scammed VW itself, too. VW was paying them warranty money to fix an issue that they (the dealership) had either caused or already knew about.

2019 Tiguan being driven

Austin’s husband, Jonathan, taking my Tiguan for a spin…before it went in for “warranty” work.


Ten seconds after I got off of the call with VW Corporate, I got a call from the dealership’s general manager. He said that he’d heard what happened, and that they’d screwed up. He explained that the car in question, my Tiguan, was originally his wife’s demo. Hence the miles that were on it. According to the GM’s story, she was driving it in November of 2018, and had a freshly-bought Thanksgiving turkey in the front seat. At a stoplight, some sorority girl in a Mercedes-Benz rear-ended his wife. It shattered the rear windscreen, damaged the liftgate, ruined the rear bumper…and threw the turkey into the windshield. Then he said that the dealership didn’t even get around to filing a claim on the girl’s insurance and fixing it until January (which, remember, is when the damage was reported to the CarFax), and that once they did, it was mistakenly put on the lot without a disclosure, as a new, undamaged vehicle. The GM said he didn’t know it had been placed on the lot without a disclosure, or that it had been sold, and that they would do everything in their power to make it right…up to and including unwinding the sale.

I wasn’t–and still am not–sure whether or not this story was true. Either way, I was pleased not to have to get into a drawn out media/legal battle. As the GM was talking, I made sure to go ahead and record him with my phone (Oklahoma is a one-party state), in case he reneged on his story and commitment later on.

The arrangement we came up with was that they would refund me my down payment–which was substantial–and then ship in a replacement Tiguan in Silk Blue with the same Storm Grey interior, and the same extras mine had (rubber floor mats, third-row seat, frameless rearview mirror). They found one in Chicago, and asked if they could drive instead of ship it back to Edmond. The person driving it was, ironically, the GM’s wife…the same person who got rear-ended in the first car.

The replacement, in its resplendent blue, arrived on October 9, exactly a month after I bought the first one, and I took delivery of it that night.

Meet Tiguan No. 2.

2019 Tiguan SEL Premium 4MOTION in Silk Blue Metallic

This one was Silk Blue Metallic, which was my first choice. But there was none to be had in that color and the trim I wanted. Hence the dealership having to get this one from Chicago, 600 miles away.


Initially, I liked the Tiguan quite a bit. It had similar controls to my Mk.7-based Golf SportWagen, but with more modern infotainment. I also liked the light gray, a welcome departure to the Grand Cherokee’s cave-like all-black interior. Just like old times, right?


Where my SportWagen had a peppy turbodiesel engine and a willing dual-clutch transmission, the Tiguan’s “Budack- cycle” 2.0T gasoline engine and dimwitted 8-speed automatic were party-poopers. The Tiguan had what I considered to be serious turbo lag, enough that left turns against oncoming traffic had to be done carefully, and the 184 horsepower felt pretty meager. And for that, it delivered all of 24 MPG on a good day, no better than the much heavier and more-powerful Grand Cherokee.

Mostly because of that, it didn’t replicate the magic of my SportWagen. Perhaps it was unfair of me to ever ask that of it, and it seems the Tiguan has provided plenty of people with good service and been a boon for Volkswagen (my across-the-cul-de-sac neighbor recently bought a refreshed 2022 model). But for me, it just felt like a watered-down appliance. A crisply tailored appliance, to be sure, but an appliance. Perhaps I should have scoured the internet for one of the final Golf Alltracks, in loaded-up SEL guise.

2019 Tiguan covered in snow

The Tiguan, smothered in snow, right before I sold it.


And so, I sold the Tiguan in February 2020, with just $8,000 miles on it. As the SEL Premium trim was so rare, I got a cross-town Volkswagen dealer to pay me $35,000 for it—more than I’d paid for even the first one—and the positive equity I had was very useful in helping to defray the costs of buying my first home.

After that, I replaced the Tiguan with something quite different.