The rise of the SUV has had an apocalyptic effect on the motor industry worldwide. Much in the same way as the hatchback redefined family motoring back in the 1970s, the SUV has become the ubiquitous face of the common man’s mode of transport.
It is interesting to take a look at the manner in which the genre has come to take over the hearts and minds of car buyers in recent years; a swift look at the statistics illustrates just how quickly the SUV revolution has taken over sales charts worldwide.
All the major manufacturers now have to have a credible SUV in their line-up and, such is the increasing popularity of these things, it is probably not good enough to have just one of them. You really have to have small, medium, and large versions if you are going to continue to be relevant — and profitable.
This week’s tester is a case in point. The Volkswagen Tiguan came along just as the Nissan Qashqai began its astonishing rise to near world-dominance and, since then, across Europe as well as in Asia and America. It has become a vital element in the VW canon. Now going into its second model generation, it is perhaps even more important to VW now than ever before.
It is significant to note that the Tiguan, behind the Golf and the Polo — and ahead of the Passat — is the third most purchased Volkswagen in the vitally important UK market, where a total of over 2m units are sold annually. The car does not quite have the same significance for VW here in Ireland, but it still the company’s fourth best seller here.
In comparison with similar SUVs on sale here, however, it trails in tenth place in the segment behind the likes of the phenom of the year the Hyundai Tuscon and, in descending order, the Qashqai, the Kia Sportage, the Renault Kadjar, the Toyota RAV4, the Ford Kuga, the Renault Captur, the Dacia Duster, and the Nissan X-Trail.
It may be that Tiguan has not fully topped expectations this year largely because the new model we test this week was coming along and potential customers held off on buying one until this new model arrived. But given what I experienced with the car, I expect that Tiguan will be a lot further up the sales charts next year.
Of course, we know VW is in some turmoil right now because of the emission rigging scandal which has engulfed the giant German car maker. It was in the news again last week after a settlement, in principle, was reached with US dealers.
That agreement was reached following some extraordinary revelations in filings to a San Francisco district court in which lawyers for Volkswagen owners alleged 38 employees of a key ‘tier one’ supplier conspired with the automaker for a decade to develop technology that enabled diesel vehicles to evade pollution-control tests. The supplier has rejected such allegations of conspiracy and, of course, these have yet to be tested in a court hearing.
With all this dragging on through the courts and the company still a long way from re-establishing its good name, VW has had to rely on the erstwhile quality of their products to keep the metal moving off the dealer forecourts. In that regard it has not had much of a problem and the new Tiguan is as good an illustration of the point as you will get.
The look of the new car has changed quite considerably in that it appears to be more squat and broad than the previous version; this is probably because it is true on both counts. The new car is lower, wider, and longer — both in overall length and in wheelbase. This contrives to take away the somewhat tall and gangly look which characterised the original.
Tiguan is also the first SUV to be based on VW’s MQB platform and this has also greatly benefited the torsional rigidity of the chassis, which has a pleasing effect on driving dynamics. It’s not that there was much wrong with the last one, but this version is obviously better.
Overall weight loss is another benefit, while the all-round independent suspension — a feature of the original — remains; and again, this is to the benefit of both the car’s behaviour and the pleasure of driving it.
Inside the Tiguan are all the visual, tactile, and practical reasons why VWs products appeal to such a broad spectrum of buyers — the reason why the Golf is the ‘everyman’ car of the modern era. It is not spectacular or mind-blowingly ingenious, but it pleasingly laid out and terribly effective to live with.
The R-Line version we tried had all manner of tecchie and infotainment stuff which is so necessary in the gadget-obsessed life we now live in, while you also get stuff like park assist, rear camera, and adaptive cruise control, as well as R-Line rear spoiler and 19” alloys.
Space is not an issue and despite the lower roof-line and a slightly higher seating position there is actually more headroom, however the hell they worked that one. For rear seat passengers there’s plenty of leg-room, while the very adaptable 40/20/40 split folding rear seats will appeal to many potential owners, as will the capacious boot.
It is very car-like to drive, which is yet another plus point, and grip levels are impressively tenacious. The ride demonstrated nothing to me with which one could quibble. The tester was a mere front wheel drive machine, but the 4x4 option is there for the hairy-chested outdoor crowd if required.
The engine is a familiar piece of kit used across the VW Group and one has to presume at this stage that all the quoted performance and emission figures are correct: In this instance 150 bhp, 9.3 seconds 0-100km/h, 125 g/km and 4.7 l/100 km (61 mpg). Doubtless VW has learned the error of its previously egregious ways on that front.
So, all is good with the Tiguan. It is indeed an excellent example of the genre and I have no doubt the new car will start to climb the sales charts in due course.
A word of caution, however. Not only is it quite expensive by comparison with some of its many rivals, it is also about to experience further competition from within the VW Group. Skoda (Kodiaq) and Seat (Ateca) both have first time SUVs about to come to market and you can be assured both will be cheaper.
Whether they will be as good remains to be seen, but the mere fact they are about to hit the streets and line up alongside the already numerous contenders facing the Tiguan, might just keep Volkswagen sales personnel awake a bit longer every night.
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