For many, including this tester, it’s difficult to fully comprehend the rationale behind turning large, heavy family chariots into high-riding, high-performance Grand Tourers capable of obliterating the laws of physics.
Luxury brands like Audi, Aston Martin, Bentley, Jaguar, Lamborghini, Porsche and even Land Rover with its Range Rover Sport SVR, have been cashing in on the action for years, but when it comes to properly affordable versions under $70,000, there’s precious few to choose from… until now.
Meet the all-new Volkswagen Tiguan R, a properly engineered performance SUV more than capable of tackling high-speed track work with unusual deftness and then driving back home wrapping occupants in Nappa leather seats while listening to your favourite playlist through the 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system.
Up to this point, the flagship Tiguan for Australia in terms of performance has been the 162TSI R-Line, powered by Volkswagen’s tried-and-true 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine packing 162kW and 350Nm sent to all four-wheels through a seven-speed DSG transmission.
It’s not exactly a high-performance tune but it allows the mid-size Tiguan to scoot from standstill to 100km/h in a brisk 7.0 seconds, or within a few tenths of the more powerful Golf GTI hot hatch.
The Tiguan R is different. Volkswagen has dropped the full-fat Golf R engine under the bonnet with 235kW and 400Nm on tap. It’s able to launch from zero to 100km/h in a properly quick 5.1 seconds – but I’m telling you straight up, it feels positively quicker.
Nevertheless, while subtlety is the still Volkswagen’s prescribed formula even for its bonafide R cars, it’s the chrome-tipped quad-exhaust outlets that signals to those behind this is a different kind of Tiguan and one demonstrably quicker than your four-pot Porsche Macan or base 718 Cayman. Just saying.
There are a few are other discrete giveaways pointing towards it’s go-fast intent besides the various R script around the car. It’s got R front and rear bumpers in gloss black and 21-inch ‘Estoril’ alloy wheels. The brakes are one-inch bigger, too, with blue calipers and R insignia that indicate this Tiguan’s athletic talents.
While there are similar ‘blue’ highlights to the Golf R in the Tiguan’s cockpit, it’s the old-school shifter that tells you the fit-out isn’t Volkswagen’s most contemporary layout. However, it still gets the latest MIB3 infotainment system that may or may not drive you mad with the complete absence of knobs and physical buttons. Ok, there’s a single solitary dial to access drive modes as well as the touchscreen.
But, you still get the tasty steering wheel with haptic pads, R mode button and proper paddle-shifters, but you’ll need to settle for Comfort Sport seats instead of the full-blown Sports pews with more supportive bolsters as you get in the Golf R. Not sure why that is, either, given the extra dynamic loads an SUV is required to deal with when driven with proper intent.
There’s only one specification of Tiguan R in Australia and it’s priced from $68,990 before on-road costs, down $1000 from the previously announced price.
Volkswagen has put the premium 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system on the options list – for $1000. The only other option available on the Tiguan R is a panoramic glass sunroof for $2000.
Premium metallic and pearl effect paints, including the hero colour Lapiz Blue (our favourite), are no cost.
As far as the competition goes there simply isn’t any. Volvo has the XC60 B6 R-Design AWD with 246kW and 440Nm but it’s priced from $80,990 before on-roads and not even close in the performance stakes. Mercedes-Benz has the quite excellent AMG GLB35 4Matic from $97,569 plus on-road costs, but even it’s not quite level-pegging in the go-fast department.
Tiguan R highlights:
- IQ.Light Matrix LED headlights
- Dynamic Light Assist
- All-weather light function (illuminates the road in poor weather)
- Premium LED tail lights with dynamic indicators
- Three-zone climate control
- Nappa leather upholstery with blue contrast stitching and R logos
- 21-inch Estoril alloy wheels
- Power-folding side mirrors with memory and kerb function
- 12-way powered front seats with memory and heating
- Heated, three-spoke R leather steering wheel with R button and haptic pads
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- 360-degree camera system
- Auto lights and wipers
- Keyless entry and start
- Welcome light with R projection in front doors
- Illuminated R scuff plates for front doors
- 10.25-inch configurable digital instrument cluster
- 9.2-inch touchscreen infotainment display
- Satellite navigation
- Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Digital Radio DAB+
- Head-up display
- Wireless phone charging
- Ambient lighting with 30 colours
- Adaptive suspension with three settings (Comfort, Sport, Race)
- Premium Metallic/Pearl Effect paint
- Carpet floor mats with blue stitching
- Rear privacy glass
- Tyre pressure monitoring system
- Power tailgate with hands-free opening
- Trailer hitch preparation
The Volkswagen Tiguan wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on tests carried out in 2016. The AEB system was updated in 2017 which added Pedestrian Monitoring to the existing vehicle-to-vehicle function.
It achieved scores of 96 per cent for adult occupant protection, 80 per cent for child occupant protection, 68 per cent for pedestrian protection (pre-update), and 68 per cent for safety assist.
Nevertheless, the Tiguan R is fitted with seven airbags (driver and front passenger, driver’s knee airbag, driver and front passenger side airbags, curtain airbags front and rear), as well as adaptive chassis control, 4Motion Active Control with R Performance Torque Vectoring.
In addition, the Tiguan R features Volkswagen’s IQ.Drive safety suite:
- AEB with pedestrian/cyclist detection
- Adaptive cruise control with stop/go
- Travel Assist (adaptive cruise + adaptive lane guidance)
- Blind-spot assist
- Lane-keep assist
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Parking sensors (front + rear)
- Driver fatigue monitoring
- Emergency Assist (pulls vehicle over if driver is unresponsive)
Appearance-wise it’s not quite as flash as the Golf R but there isn’t not much in it. If anything, I’d rate the Tiguan’s cabin as the more comfortable place to be thanks to more space and the more comfortable seats.
Apart from the slightly smaller infotainment touchscreen in the Tiguan and more intuitive climate controls, it’s practically a mirror image of Golf R, except for a couple of omissions in the R-specific performance menus.
A soft press of the blue-lit R button on the steering wheel allows you to toggle through Comfort and Sport driving modes, but push harder and the system will automatically engage the most aggressive Race mode. Understandably, there’s no Special mode (optimised for the Nürburgring) or Drift mode buttons carried over from Golf R – my guess is you won’t miss either of them.
The driving position is excellent. You’re still perched nice and high thanks to the Tiguan’s elevated ride height, but the driver’s seat positions you deeper into the vehicle for great feel behind the wheel and surprisingly good all-round vision, notwithstanding.
It’s all soft-touch materials at eye level with the hard stuff carefully out of sight, though, you’re not really aware unless you go searching. In any case the hard plastics and metal inlays look and feel semi premium, though not quite as polished as those found in something like an Audi Q5.
There’s the usual stowage options in the cockpit including a space for phones under the centre stack, console bin and cupholders, while the door bins are huge.
There’s no wireless charging but there are three USB-C ports (two front and one rear) and convenient phone holders in the front seatbacks.
Rear-seat leg and headroom is ample for most heights, but you’ve also got additional flexibility with seats that slide, tilt and fold pretty much dead flat.
Boot space is downright cavernous with 615 litres behind the second row, expanding to 1655 litres when folded. Better still, the boot floor is adjustable with two heights under which is a tyre inflation system.
Powering the Tiguan R is the same 2.0-litre EA888 four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine as the latest Golf R, which also carries the code ‘Evo4’ – as in fourth-generation.
It’s the most powerful iteration of this engine to date, developing 235kW of power from 5600rpm and 400Nm of torque between 2000-5600rpm. The Australian-market Golf R Hatch and Tiguan R miss out on the PPF-equipped 420Nm version of the Evo4 powertrain, at least for now, though the Golf R Wagon offers the full-fat tune from launch.
The Evo4 engine actually uses smaller injectors (by 6mm), which allows for finer, more efficient atomisation between 200 and 350bar for increased power. Internal friction has also been reduced thanks to a new combustion chamber design and casting process. There’s less noise at load, too.
The engine is paired with a seven-speed wet-clutch DSG and a torque-vectoring rear-diff that’s able to apportion the appropriate amount of drive between the left and right rear wheels or between front and rear axles collectively.
Performance is surprisingly rapid, with Tiguan R going from standstill to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds using the easy-to-engage launch control. I’m betting it’s quicker than the numbers might suggest based on my time with the car, too.
Volkswagen claim 8.8L/100km on the combined cycle using premium 98 RON fuel, with the fuel tank rated at 58 litres. Our best result was 11.8L/100km – but we’re happy with that given the fun we had in the Tiguan R.
Braked towing capacity for the Tiguan R is rated at 2200kg with a maximum downball weight of 200kg.
I’m very likely the odd man out here but apart from the track session, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Tiguan R – more so than the new Golf R.
That might seem positively mad given I’ve been a huge fan of hot hatches like the Golf GTI, Civic Type R, Megane R.S., i30 N and i20 N, and the now retired Ford Focus RS – all of them well and truly driven on the edge thanks to the glorious levels of driver feedback they delivered.
That’s the thing with the Tiguan R, you can really hustle it along in Race mode, especially in the tighter stuff. It’s a genuinely satisfying experience thanks to its precise steering feel on turn-in and a rigid front end that seems to shun the very thought of understeer.
Mind, there’s a lot going on in the backend to ensure the Tiguan R always has a truckload of grip regardless of the conditions. The new R Performance Torque Vectoring system, in combination with VW’s proven 4Motion all-wheel drive system, allows you to get plenty of power down in an utterly seamless manner.
You’ve also got other systems such as the e-diff locks and adaptive chassis control working in concert with the all-wheel drive system that makes the Tiguan R feel unusually agile and light on its feet.
All of this is synced with the car’s Vehicle Dynamics Manager (VDM) along with continuous monitoring of your drive mode, steering angle, throttle input, roll angle and speed to determine the precise level of drive apportioned to each wheel. And, it all works faultlessly in the background.
It’s highly unlikely that any Tiguan R owner would ever willingly attend a track day. I even questioned the validity of such an exercise when I saw them lined up in pit lane ready for an all-out assault on the North Circuit of Sydney Motorsport Park.
The fact is, you can push the Tiguan R as hard as you would a Golf R and it just gets on with it. Better still, you can use the Tiguan’s higher ride height to punish the curbs you’d normally avoid in the Golf, thanks to a more supple suspension system than you might imagine.
It comes down to that Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) and supplementary aluminium subframe for extra front-end stiffness than allows the damper settings to be more forgiving. Even in Race mode around town riding on standard 21-inch wheels, there’s enough compliance built into the suspension to isolate you from the worst of it.
No issues with the brakes on track either, even after multiple four-to-five-lap stints during which they were properly punished – you could smell the heat that was coming off the discs. In fact, the front brakes are one-inch larger than you’ll find on the 162TSI Tiguan and use higher friction pads for fade-free stopping power.
There is, however, the issue of exhaust note (or lack of) that needs to be addressed. There’s fake noise piped into the cabin that gets louder as you switch from Comfort to Sport to Race. I tended to drive in Race more often than not because of the louder downshift blips and and the more visceral environment it created. I tried the ‘Pure’ mode and its not for me.
Volkswagen offers a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty across its entire passenger vehicle range, including the Tiguan R.
Also included is one year of roadside assistance, which gets extended by a year each time you service your car with a participating Volkswagen dealer for up to 10 years from the original new car warranty start date.
Service intervals are 12 months or 15,000 kilometres – whichever comes first.
Volkswagen offers a three-year service plan for the Tiguan R costing $1650, while the five-year plan is $3100.
The new Volkswagen Tiguan R is a properly quick and affordable SUV that’s going to both surprise and excite anyone that gets behind the wheel a. It also does the SUV thing just fine, too.
It’s better than good, in fact, it’s bloody excellent. Not just for its pace out of the blocks, or its precision and agility in the corners, but for its genuine comfort on crappy roads while riding on 21-inch alloys in Race mode. That’s quite an accomplishment.
There’s not much I don’t like about the Tiguan R save for the fake engine noise and all-digital cockpit.
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MORE: Everything Volkswagen Tiguan