What Car? says...
At What Car? we like to disseminate the facts about cars in a clear fashion, so to explain the difference between the Volkswagen Tiguan R and other models in VW's R performance range, we’re going to turn to the world of boxing.
You see, the Golf R is a featherweight, because it’s light and nimble; the T-Roc R is a middleweight that's still very agile, despite being heavier; and the Tiguan R is a light heavyweight – carrying a bit more beef again, yet able to deliver one hell of a punch.
It uses essentially the same engine as the smaller T-Roc R, but with even higher power and torque outputs: 316bhp and 310lb ft respectively. You also get the same seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, but the Tiguan offers the added benefit of an all-new version of Volkswagen’s 4Motion four-wheel drive system that can vary the power sent to each rear wheel individually, helping the car feel more agile in tight corners.
To ensure you can tell it apart from the regular Volkswagen Tiguan, it wears a more aggressively styled front bumper and features cues that mark it out as a member of the R line-up, including silver door mirror housings and big (21in) alloy wheels.
As for pricing, it sits between smaller sports SUV rivals that include the T-Roc R and Cupra Ateca, and more ‘premium’ alternatives such as the Audi SQ5 and Porsche Macan. That is some serious competition but, on paper at least, the Tiguan R looks like it has the firepower to take on all comers.
Over the next few pages of this VW Tiguan R review, we’ll see how it stacks up when it comes to performance, practicality, quality and fuel economy.
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Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Volkswagen Tiguan R is a car with two very distinct personalities, and a big part of that comes down to the tried and tested 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine under the bonnet. Select Comfort mode from the drive menu (the car defaults to Sport) and the relaxed accelerator response and smooth-shifting automatic gearbox makes the R no harder to live with than a standard Tiguan.
In fact, in some respects it’s more relaxing, due to the fact that the engine is so smooth and pulls strongly from as little as 2000rpm all the way past 5000rpm – the gearbox doesn’t even have to shift up or down that often for you to make rapid progress.
Prod the R button on the steering wheel, though, and the car transforms. The engine note takes on a harder edge, the gearbox fires shifts through with proper gusto and the accelerator response is impressively sharp for a turbocharged car.
Granted, with an official 0-62mph time of 4.9sec, it is a couple of tenths slower than the lighter Cupra Ateca and Volkswagen T-Roc R, but from behind the steering wheel it never feels anything other than satisfyingly rapid – and certainly quicker than an entry-level Porsche Macan. With the optional Akrapovic sports exhaust fitted (a must-have in our book), you’re even treated to pops and crackles when you lift off the accelerator after hard acceleration.
Unsurprisingly, with a heavier kerb weight than the T-Roc R, the Tiguan doesn’t feel quite as nimble in the bends and exhibits a little more body lean. But its firm springs and standard fit adaptive suspension do an impressive job of keeping the car stable through quick direction changes, while the steering is beautifully accurate and nicely weighted.
Overall, though, it feels like the Tiguan R has been designed for perhaps a more grown-up audience than the T-Roc. For example, its version of Volkswagen’s 4Motion four-wheel drive system delivers outstanding traction regardless of conditions, and that’s never a bad thing. But rather than being programmed to let you slide the rear end on the exit of corners, the Tiguan R is always working to propel you out of the corner as quickly as possible. It’s a more clinical and confidence-inspiring approach, but not a thrilling one. In this regard, it’s much like the Audi SQ5.
Speaking of the SQ5, the Tiguan R matches it in striking an impressive balance between body control and ride quality. When the Dynamic Chassis Control (aka the adaptive suspension) is slackened off in Comfort mode, it does a good job of taking the sting out of bumps and potholes in the road, while the Sport and Race modes just fall on the right side of acceptable for a sports SUV.
The interior layout, fit and finish
To match the aggressive exterior design, the interior of the Tiguan R features a flat-bottomed steering wheel, a plethora of ‘R’ emblems and a pair of figure-hugging front sports seats.
Those seats are more heavily bolstered than the set you’ll find in an Audi SQ5 or base model Porsche Macan, and they hold you in place really well during hard cornering. They’re also very comfortable, even on a long journey, and highly adjustable – you can sit nice and low behind the wheel for that ‘racer’ feel, or perched up high if you want better visibility.
Thin windscreen pillars mean you have a great view of the road ahead, too, and while thick rear pillars restrict your view of what's behind, parking sensors and a rear-view camera minimise the problem. In addition, powerful LED headlights make progress at night a stress-free affair.
Less impressively, Volkswagen has done away with most of the buttons in the interior. Even something simple like adjusting the climate control is done via a fiddly and distracting touch-sensitive panel. Aesthetically, it might be a step forward, but from a functionality perspective, it’s a move in the wrong direction.
On top of that, the ‘touch controls’ on the steering wheel (these replace the physical buttons that you get on the regular Tiguan) are frustratingly easy to activate with an inadvertent brush of your thumb.
At least Volkswagen's range-topping 9.2in Discovery Pro infotainment touchscreen is standard, because it's a sharp-looking system that responds quickly to inputs and features wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring. However, it still isn't as easy to operate on the go as the iDrive unit with a physical rotary controller that you get in the BMW X1.
In terms of quality, the materials and fit and finish are decent, with leather, soft plastics and coloured trims abounding, and hard plastics only used low down, where you rarely touch them. It’s certainly a step up from the T-Roc R, but not quite as plush as the Audi SQ5 with its real metal inlays.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Climb into the Tiguan R and you’ll find plenty of room up front for even the tallest of drivers. There are also lots of storage areas dotted around the interior. The front door bins will each hold a pretty big bottle of drink, there’s a centre armrest with space for odds and ends, and a cooled glovebox should prevent chocolatey road-trip treats from melting.
True, if you try to squeeze three adults into the back of the Tiguan, whoever sits in the middle is likely to feel a bit pinched, but leg room won't be an issue unless you’re well over six feet tall. If you’re carrying only a couple of rear passengers, there’s a central armrest with a pair of cupholders to improve comfort further.
The R also comes with 40/20/40 split-folding, sliding and reclining rear seats, and the boot is seriously big by class standards. You'll fit more in it than you would in the boot of the BMW X1 or Porsche Macan, for instance, and there's only a tiny load lip to lift luggage over.
The large tailgate and wide boot opening also make loading easy, while the height-adjustable floor is perfect if you want to separate your food shop from other items of luggage.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The official average fuel economy of 28.3mpg is closer to what you get from the entry-level Macan than the smaller and lighter T-Roc R, though, and some way behind the diesel SQ5's figure of 34.0mpg.
True, servicing costs should be reasonable, but the Tiguan R is unlikely to hold its value as well as premium rivals and, like them, it sits in the top band for company car tax.
More positively, you get a lot of luxuries for your money. The standard equipment includes automatic headlights, rear side privacy glass, three-zone climate control, heated front seats and ambient interior lighting that lets you select from 30 colours.
The Tiguan also scored a full five five stars when it was tested for safety by Euro NCAP in 2016. A more in-depth look at the results shows it is rated higher for keeping adults out of harm than either the BMW X1 or Cupra Ateca, but that the Audi Q5 is better at protecting children sitting in the rear.
The regular Tiguan came 10th out of the 18 models included in the Family SUV category of our 2020 What Car? Reliability Survey, while Volkswagen as a brand finished 20th out of 31 manufacturers in the same survey. VW's standard warranty runs for three years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first.
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