No matter how revered an old car model was, an automaker must offer the latest designs to remain popular. The beloved 1950s-1970s Volkswagen Beetle put VW on the map here, but offered little performance or practicality. While the Beetle operated in an auto world that’s vanished, the 2014 Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line is right in step with the times.
The handsome Tiguan is contemporary partly because many Americans have tired of bulky SUVs and opted for carlike crossover vehicles such as the Tiguan, which won’t be changed much for 2015. It’s a tall hatchback based on Volkswagen’s popular, sporty Golf GTI auto and is sized for this country with an overall length of 174.5 inches.
The Tiguan comes in a variety of models with either front- or all-wheel drive. I drove the new ultrasporty R-Line version with front-drive. It has an aggressive appearance package and interior enhancements, besides a sport suspension and 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels on lower-profile all-season tires.
Exterior enhancements include body colored side skirts with chrome trim, wheelarch extensions, special rear spoiler, Bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, an R-Line grille badge and dual exhaust outlets.
It takes a little extra effort to enter the Tiguan, but occupants sit moderately high inside the quiet, upscale interior. There are a “metallic-finish” dashboard and door trim, sporty racer-style flat-bottom, adjustable multi-function steering wheel, stainless-steel R-Line scuff plates, aluminum sport pedals and a black headliner.
However, the R-Line has the same engine as other Tiguan models.
My test Tiguan R-Line’s retail price sticker said $36,535, without a $865 destination charge. It had a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature via paddles, metallic paint and leather interior — all at no extra charge.
The Tiguan R-Line is a solidly built, fun-to-drive German vehicle that has lots of passenger and cargo space and comes with a bunch of safety, durability, comfort and convenience features.
There’s a panoramic power sunroof, dual-zone climate control, supportive heated/power leather front seats, navigation system with an easily used color-touch screen, cruise control, premium audio system, keyless access, pushbutton start, power windows that lower all the way and split/folding rear seats.
Safety items included electronic stabilization control, anti-lock disc brakes at all wheels, rearview camera, air bags and power/foldable heatable outside mirrors.
If it had a BMW or Mercedes badge, few would question the Tiguan R-Line’s price. But, alas for VW, the automaker still isn’t as highly regarded here as in Europe, although it’s working on that with new models for America to get significantly increased volumes.
Power shoots from VW’s venerable turbocharged/intercooled 2-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. My test Tiguan’s city and highway performance was sparkling, thanks partly to the responsive automatic transmission.
A six-speed manual transmission also is offered and goes with the R-Line’s sporting nature, but I’d suggest the smooth, responsive automatic, especially in urban areas.
This is no traditional body-on-frame SUV, so towing capacity is 2,200 pounds
The Tiguan provides decent, but hardly head-turning, estimated fuel economy. It gets 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on highways with the manual and 21 and 26 with the automatic. There’s a 16.8-gallon fuel tank, and premium fuel is recommended.
The Tiguan’s steering is light, although not overly so, but it can be almost too quick on freeways if a driver lets his attention wander–he can easily partly end up in an adjoining lane.
This 102.5-inch wheelbase crossover is agile, thanks partially to its sport suspension and wide tires. It does well during quick moves in city traffic and on tricky decreasing radius curves at high speeds. I’d guess that the all-wheel drive version would have even sportier handling, although it’s heavier than the front-drive model.
The ride was generally supple, but large bumps could be felt. And the Tiguan became a bit jittery on brick roads. However, the ride always stayed well-controlled. Braking was quick and sure, but the brakes worked almost too abruptly when I hit the pedal too firmly.
An easily read digital speedometer backs up the regular speedometer, which can be hard to quickly read in bright sunlight. The fuel and temperature gauges are small. There are lots of small dashboard controls, but they’re clearly marked.
The covered console storage bin doesn’t hold much, although there’s a roomy glovebox and large front-door storage pockets. Front cupholders are set low at the front of the console, but are easy to reach–at least if you’ve got long arms.
There’s good space up front, and the backseat is pleasantly roomy, although its center is too stiff for comfort on anything but short drives. It’s best left to the fold-down center armrest that contains dual cupholders. Rear door openings are rather narrow.
The fairly large cargo area has a wide but rather high floor. Split rear seatbacks fold forward to significantly increase cargo room, but then don’t sit entirely flat.
Those who check the engine oil level will find that the hood has a prop rod, instead of more convenient hydraulic struts.
In all, the Tiguan R-Line is worth a good look by those who want a sporty, practical vehicle that has flair and is at home in the city or on the open road.
Pros: Sporty. Roomy. Quick. Generally supple. Available all-wheel drive.
Cons: Narrow rear door openings. High cargo floor. So-so fuel economy.
Bottom Line: European driving kicks combined with practicality.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.