There’s a good chance you might be familiar with the R-Line badge because Volkswagen has been gluing it to the back of its cars for a few years now. Like the sporty Audi S line and Seat FR line, it’s a trim that offers racier looks inside and out.
While you can opt for some fairly powerful engines, it is entirely possible to make something that’s all mouth and no trousers - at least to a point. Take this Tiguan R-Line, for instance. Even though you can’t get the least powerful 1.6-litre TDI diesel engine or the 1.4-litre TSI petrol with R-Line trim, but it is possible to combine it with the popular, modestly powerful 148bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel – the engine in our test car. Ordinarily, this would come with two-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox, but here it's fitted with VW's optional 4motion four-wheel drive and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
If you want a bit more poke there is also a 187bhp version of the 2.0-litre TDI diesel, or a 2.0-litre TSI petrol with 178bhp, both of which come with an automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive as standard.
What is the 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line 2.0 TDI like to drive?
While this may be the first time we’ve tried an R-Line Tiguan, what sits under the bonnet is very familiar to us. As in other applications, the 2.0 TDI engine offers performance that is adequate – it’ll easily pull up to motorway speeds - but overtaking on a single carriageway requires some room, especially if the car is fully loaded.
However, in normal use the motor's refinement impresses. At idle, diesel clatter and vibrations are kept to a minimum, and the engine is barely audible at cruising speeds. It does get coarser towards the top of the rev-range, but that’s to be expected.
The seven-speed automatic gearbox changes through its gears smoothly, with little interruption in acceleration. Our only complaint is that it can be hesitant if you suddenly give it a large dose of throttle, especially from a standstill or from lower speeds. There's a drive-mode selector that you can switch to Sport, which sharpens its reactions, but in this mode it holds on to gears longer than is ideal.
With the four-wheel drive being a part-time system, power is only sent to the rear wheels when they need it, so fuel consumption isn’t adversely affected too much. You don’t notice the system shuffling the power around, and on slippery surfaces it gives good traction if, for example, you're accelerating quickly out of a side turning. Yet for most circumstances, the cheaper two-wheel-drive models are fine, so we'd be tempted to save cash and stick with one of these instead.
R-Line models get big 20in wheels as standard along with sports suspension. We were expecting these to play havoc with the Tiguan’s ride quality, but, to its credit, it deals with potholes and other sharp-edged bumps surprisingly well. That said, you do feel more of the road’s surface undulations through your seat, so if you want the best ride the less sporty trims, with smaller wheels and squishier suspension, remain the preferred option.
The stiffer suspension and bigger tyres do mean the Tiguan resists body lean well. It has loads of grip, and remains balanced and predictable even if you enter a corner a bit quickly. The steering is well weighted and precise, but don’t expect too much sensation through the steering wheel to tell you what the front tyres are doing. Ultimately, it’s competent, but not as much fun to drive as the cheaper Seat Ateca.
VW should be commended for the safety kit it includes. All models get lane assist and automatic emergency city braking. The latter is especially handy for avoiding low-speed accidents, and potentially reducing the severity of collisions at higher speeds as well.
What is the 2016 Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line 2.0 TDI like inside?
Step inside, and you’ll notice plenty of R-Line touches. The seats gain R-Line logos and different fabric and there’s a sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel plus stainless steel pedals and aluminium trim. There's even a 12.3in all-digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel in place of the conventional analogue dials.
You can use this digital display to choose between traditional-looking dials with an info screen in the middle, or a much larger info display for the sat-nav, phone, music or trip computer. It is easy to use and is able to show a vast amount of information very clearly.
Apart from a few other niceties such as heated seats and extended LED lighting, the R-Line’s interior is much the same as any other model in the range. That’s no bad thing as you get a rear bench that reclines and slides to prioritise passenger comfort or load space, a big boot and plenty of head and leg room.
It’s not all good, however. There may be plenty of soft-touch plastic on the dash and on top of the front doors, but there’s a lot of hard plastic, too. VW might get away with this on cheaper models, but it starts to grate when you’re spending more than £35,000. Premium rivals, such as the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, offer higher-quality interiors.
Should I buy one?
The Volkswagen Tiguan remains one of our favourite small SUVs thanks to a blend of practicality, comfort and a decent, if slightly uninspiring, driving experience. Even so, we find it tricky to recommend this R-Line version due to its high list price and slightly less family-friendly ride.
If you do fancy a Tiguan, we’d suggest looking at the much cheaper SE Nav model. It may not look quite as distinctive, but it’s much better value and offers enough equipment for most people's needs. We’d also recommend looking at the Seat Ateca, which is effectively the same car underneath. It is even better value, more fun to drive, and almost matches the Tiguan's generous interior space and practicality.
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Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line 2.0 TDI 4Motion 150 DSG
Engine size 2.0-litre, diesel
Price from £35,125
Torque 251lb ft
Top speed 125mph
Fuel economy (official combined) 49.6mpg
CO2/BIK band 149g/km/29%