Curbside Review: 2020 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium R-Line – Looming Large Over The Compact Crossover Segment, In More Ways Than One

According to my calculations, 2015 occurred approximately 15 years ago. Obviously my math is slightly off, but given everything that’s happened since then, it really feels like far more than five years have passed since Volkswagen faced a quasi-existential crisis in the American market in regards to its diesel emissions scandal.

The Tiguan is itself responsible for that feeling. It is a high-tech crossover blessed with driving dynamics that are so good they’ll make you forget about the German automaker’s past mistakes.

Talkin’ About Tiguan

Volkswagen introduced the current generation Tiguan in 2017 for the 2018 model year. It sits on the MQB modular architecture, a platform that now underpins every VW sold in America, except for the Passat. The Tiguan is now the best-selling VW product in America, closely followed by the Jetta. It is VW’s top performer globally. In Europe, it is the most popular crossover on the continent.

The long-wheelbase Tiguan, which is the only variant available to Americans, comes in at 185.2 inches long, a length that places it directly between the compact and mid-size crossover segments. But VW priced the crossover to start at just over $25k and to top out at about $40k, putting it right in line with vehicles like the Toyota Rav4 and Nissan Rogue.

A third row seat is standard on front-wheel drive models and optional on models with all-wheel drive. The Tiguan Volkswagen loaned me was an SEL Premium R-Line without the third row seats.


In any configuration, the Tiguan boasts an excellent profile. Volkswagen crafted some strong, angular lines onto the Tiguan without going full boxy. It fits right into the VW lineup while also standing out from the sea of Asian and American utility vehicles that ply the roads right alongside it. There are many reasons why Tiguan sales doubled in 2018 and have remained above 100,000 units per year since, and styling is clearly one of them.

Infotainment and Safety Tech

The Tiguan’s sleek yet understated look carries into the cabin, but it’s the tech that steals the show. Both the 8 inch touchscreen and the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit boast high resolution displays that load quickly and look great.

The 8 inch touchscreen boasts touch-sensitive controls, but unlike other automakers, the company actually made them work well. And the company wisely decided to retain volume and tuning knobs alongside everything else.  There’s enough buttons to initially get users to where they want to go, and more buttons appear on the screen once it senses them get close. Despite my many attempts to stymie the system, it never failed to materialize the additional buttons.

Equally impressive is the system’s fast response time. It can immediately load SiriusXM channels. Infotainment systems from other automakers take several seconds to load each channel’s data, so if a driver is flipping through stations, they need to wait a bit before they can see what’s playing. But in the Tiguan, it’s instantly there. The system is similarly fast with other functions too, like navigation.

In terms of device accommodation, the VW is mostly good, but there are no USB ports in the center console, just two up front. But the system worked flawlessly with my Samsung Galaxy S20+. The wireless charging pad and surrounding area – which is located where my ancient iPod is sitting in the above photo – had enough room for the admittedly large phone.

However, the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit is the real technological juggernaut inside the Tiguan. The high resolution 12.3 inch unit trickled down from Audi several years ago and made their more mainstream counterparts at VW instant standouts for any models equipped with the display. Beyond the quick loading times, the digital cockpit looks fantastic and can be configured in all sorts of different ways. It has no equal in this segment, although the display in the Ford Escape is an acceptable imitator, because it actually lets you know when the headlights are on via a symbol within the display. VW somehow forgot to include that, which is necessary for vehicles equipped with daytime running lights.

The Volkswagen Digital Cockpit’s ace-in-the-hole is its ability to display the map right alongside other pertinent information.

And drivers can also just have the map take over the entire damn screen, which is simply amazing and works wonders when actually navigating somewhere.

An extremely impressive sound system by Fender bolsters the Tiguan’s luxury credibility by quite a bit. Clarity is admirable. This is the type of system that easily allows listeners to determine if a bass guitar player is using their fingers or making use of a pick. The bass comes on strong at low volumes and mid-range and treble sound equally impressive. Volkswagen even included a separate volume adjustment just for the subwoofer.

In terms of  safety tech, the Tiguan has all the modern goodies. But the blind spot monitoring system deserves a specific shout out for its extremely awkward location. Instead of integrating the indicator into the mirror itself, the company stuck it on the housing outside of it.

When driving, I instinctively looked to the mirrors to see there if there were any obstructions on either side of the crossover. At no time during my week with the Tiguan did I get used to looking at the outer housing. And to make matters worse, the indicator/light isn’t terribly bright when illuminated. Hopefully VW corrects the issue in future models.


Overall, the Tiguan’s cabin is pretty nice. The seats, shown here in Saffrano and Black leather, are on the firm side, but they are supportive and comfortable once properly adjusted. Everything else felt good for a vehicle pushing $40k, although the Mazda CX-5 probably boasts more premium materials.

As for interior space, the Tiguan’s larger dimensions allow for additional room in the second row and the cargo area, but front row seating felt dimensionally similar to compact crossovers like the Toyota Rav4 and Ford Escape. And buyers interested in the Tiguan for its third row might want to look elsewhere, because based on how VW packaged this two-row Tiguan, getting to the back of the crossover requires very small humans to climb over the second row seats. There simply isn’t enough room in the Tiguan for the seats to slide far enough forward for easy third row access.

Then again, VW may configure three-row variants differently.

Driving Experience

It’s extremely easy to forget the poor placement of the blind spot indicators when driving the Tiguan, because the overall experience is excellent. VW engineered a very firm but far from punishing ride. Tiguan occupants are not isolated from road imperfections, but the crossover completely neutralizes them and remains unfazed over poor quality pavement.

The suspension and chassis also work together to make the Tiguan a willing participant when thrown around curves at higher-than advised speeds. Crossover skeptics would be well-advised to take one of these for a test drive before declaring that passenger cars are inherently superior. I highly doubt the Tiguan gives up much of anything in handling prowess when bench-marked against the Jetta and Golf, which also employ the MQB architecture.

Fortunately, the powertrain can mostly cash the checks written by the suspension, even if it isn’t that smooth. Every Tiguan comes standard with VW’s 2.0L turbocharged I-4, good for 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque and paired to the company’s eight-speed automatic transmission. At low speeds, this powertrain is not very refined. The Tiguan seems engineered to limit throttle input from a stop. Paired with some turbo lag, it makes for jumpy and inconsistent starts.

This is the same phenomenon I’ve experienced in papa Snitkoff’s 2016 Volkswagen Passat, which has a 1.8L turbocharged I-4. Despite owning the car for almost three years, he still has trouble executing consistently smooth take-offs. VW clearly wants owners to stay out of the boost as much as possible, but the result is less than satisfying. Driving in sport mode partially solves this problem, but it is not a cure-all solution. Additionally, the Tiguan mimics the older Passat by emitting completely uninspiring engine noises when accelerating.

The start-stop system also makes the Tiguan jump forward in certain situations. When accelerating from a stop to merge with a 55 mph road, a situation that is somewhat common in the NYC area, the Tiguan will surge forward once the engine comes back to life. It feels far too abrupt. Fortunately, there is a button to disable the system right next to the shifter.

The Tiguan’s roughness when accelerating is blunted by the fact that Volkswagen pretty much eliminated all engine vibrations from reaching the cabin, so it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

And despite everything previously written about the powertrain, there are some absolutely excellent sweet spots with this engine. While starts can be jumpy, there is adequate power to quickly get moving. Roughly speaking, the 30-65 mph zone is where the 2.0L absolutely excels. It is very hard to keep the Tiguan at or below legal speed limits in that range. And once the VW shrugs off its fuel economy mindset, the eight-speed snaps right through the gears. Unfortunately, the engine loses quite a bit of steam above 65 mph, and it can take a bit of time for it to get back up to speed when going up a hill. But it is a delight to drive around town.

Steering the Tiguan is a mixed bag. The system, which has variable assistance, boasts a quick steering ratio. But everything else is quite numb. There is virtually no progressive feedback in a turn, and it does not translate road feel into driver’s hands.

Competitive Evaluation

The Tiguan comes packed with some baked-in issues but ultimately elevates the compact crossover segment with its superlative tech and impressive handling. It is an excellent choice for buyers, depending on what details they deem important and where their budget takes them.

The SEL trim, which comes standard with the Volkswagen Digital Cockpit and 8 inch touchscreen, starts at $32,545. At that price, it bumps up against well-equipped hybrid crossovers like the Toyota Rav4 and Ford Escape, which boast far more refined powertrains at low speeds. Their 19 inch alloy wheels also translate less road noise into their respective cabins, which the VW’s 20 inch tires could not accomplish.

Oddly enough, I think the Tiguan is most compelling from its roughly $26,000 base price to about $33,000 for the aforementioned SEL trim, and then again at around $39,000, which is right where my fully equipped 2020 SEL Premium R-Line resides. Top-spec Tiguans boast the triple threat of the 8 inch touchscreen, Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, and Fender Premium Audio System. Those three features alone likely make it the only option for buyers looking for a crossover at the forefront of modern vehicular infotainment.


This is a crossover that can absolutely seduce a certain subset of buyers, depending on their preferences and priorities. A decent amount of them have already accepted the compromises of the powertrain in their quest to drive something that looks and operates a bit differently than the best sellers from Japan. And the additional passenger and cargo space are no doubt some very tasty icing on the very attractive cake.

If this is one of the last gasoline-powered vehicles VW will ever produce, the company will have gone out on a high note, even if it doesn’t deliver a completely superlative driving experience in all situations.