Volkswagen Tiguan (2021) International Launch Review

VW TiguanFL 10

The facelifted Volkswagen Tiguan family SUV is slowly being rolled out around the globe. Shane O’ Donoghue got his hands on an early turbodiesel derivative...

The Tiguan is not only one of Volkswagen's most successful models – it's also one of the most popular SUVs (of its size) in the world. Hence, for the mid-product-cycle update, the Wolfsburg-based brand hasn’t completely reinvented its family car. There’s a new face to keep things fresh, a subtly enhanced interior (awash with lots of new technology), as well as a raft of new powertrains to choose from. Topping the line-up is the new fire-breathing Tiguan R, which we’ve already sampled; here we get to grips with the rather more sensible 2.0 TDI derivative, albeit clad in a beguiling R-Line package.

What’s new on the Tiguan?

In R-Line trim and with a new grille, the facelifted Tiguan draws inspiration from its Golf 8, Arteon and Touareg siblings.

Most of the aesthetic changes to the Tiguan are found up front. It has a new bonnet, for a start, but the most obvious change is to the grille, which is much wider than before, taking its cue from the VW Arteon and features the restyled VW logo. The stylish new LED headlights, meanwhile, are standard across the range, while IQ.Light is optional. The latter is Volkswagen's version of LED matrix headlights and it makes its debut on the Tiguan. The daytime running light graphic is more distinctive than before, too. All that is complemented by a redesigned bumper that opens up the front end to make the car look wider, somehow. At the back, there’s another new bumper, though the only other notable update is the addition of the TIGUAN name across the tailgate. New wheels and colours round out the changes.

Inside, the age-old Volkswagen fascia setup of three rotary dials for the air conditioning and heating has been replaced by a new touch-sensitive panel, incorporating seat, rear-window and windscreen heating functions, as well as the cabin’s dual-zone temperature control toggles. It looks much more modern and, while we usually prefer physical controls to those of the touch-variety, this configuration is a good halfway house between them. At least it’s a separate interface, unlike the way some of the Volkswagen Group cars are going, in which numerous functions are controlled via a single touchscreen.

A new steering wheel has been fitted to the Tiguan with a flat bottom.

Speaking of which, the Tiguan also gets an updated infotainment unit – it's Volkswagen's MIB3 system, replete with a slicker integration of the display in the fascia's centre. It also supports App-Connect Wireless for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphones, while a 480W, 10-speaker Fender Premium audio system is available. A new steering wheel is also fitted, as are new paddle-shifters. 

Volkswagen has also enhanced the Tiguan's advanced driver assist systems under the umbrella "IQ.Drive" to the point that the Wolfsburg-based brand's family SUV can help the driver considerably up to 210 kph (from a standstill on DSG-equipped derivatives, or from 30 kph on manual versions) using Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Lane Assist and Travel Assist. The ACC is also predictive; it can calculate speed-limit changes plus recognise town boundary signs, junctions and roundabouts and, based on the calculations it makes using all the data at its disposal, adjust the vehicle's speed accordingly. 

What's the Tiguan like to drive?

The 20-inch wheels may look great, but they hamper the ride quality beyond reason.

We’re not expecting night and day differences between the new Tiguan and the old, certainly not in the single turbodiesel format offered for sale in South Africa

As before, the Tiguan offers a great seating position with good visibility in all directions and lots of adjustment to the steering column and driver's seat. The new leather-wrapped wheel feels good – you hardly notice that the tiller's bottom is slightly flattened. Our R-Line test car came equipped with tastefully upgraded seats, too, offering a modicum of side support, but not at the expense of comfort.

A tactile new metallic-finished start button brings the engine to life and although it is audibly a turbodiesel, the 2.0-litre 4-cylinder motor is noticeably quieter than before, and there’s not much vibration through the steering wheel or pedals. The new DSG transmission lever doesn’t look particularly good, but it’s well-damped and tactile to use. It retains the previous system’s layout, where you pull it back against its springing in Drive to select the Sport mode, or you slide it across into the manual gate if you prefer to take manual control of the gear-selection process. It can then be tapped forward and back to change gear, or you can use the little plastic paddles on the back of the steering wheel, of course... These feel more solid than before, incidentally. 

It's not that we expected that many drivers of the turbodiesel derivative would want to change gears for themselves, anyway. The 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission can slip the clutch a little more than we like when pulling away, but otherwise, it’s a great partner to the lazy torque-rich performance of the 2.0-litre TDI motor. If you find it too languid for your needs, the Sport setting livens it up.

The updated infotainment system features wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

If you select the Dynamic drive mode via the Driving Profile Selection system, the Tiguan's software alters the family car's steering assistance and throttle responses accordingly, plus it firms up the reactions of the optional adaptive damping system. We didn’t get to try out the high-end suspension on this particular occasion, but it might be worth investing in, depending on how else you specify your Tiguan.

Our test unit was further equipped with a Sports Pack, which included a variable-ratio steering rack and sports suspension. The latter is a passive system and, in combination with the optional 20-inch Suzuka alloy wheels, it made the Tiguan's ride quality a little too bouncy for our liking, even on relatively smooth roads. We believe that 19-inch rims will be standard on the Tiguan R-Line in South Africa and, as gorgeous as the larger wheels are, we’d suggest it might be more sensible to stick with the smaller items in the name of consistent on-road comfort.

At higher speeds, this fidgety sensation through the chassis dissipates and the Tiguan feels stable, planted and secure. It’s more capable through a sequence of challenging corners than it needs to be, and the damping works brilliantly when travelling quickly, as one would expect of a car designed to pound up and down Germany’s autobahn network on a daily basis. The driving controls are all in tune, too, from the firmness of the brake pedal to the directness of the steering – they straddle the middle ground between too light and too responsive to offer a good blend, ensuring that most drivers will be satisfied. 

Through all this, the Tiguan is wonderfully civilised and quiet... notably so on the move. The turbodiesel engine has plenty of low-down shove and adequate top-end performance as well. 


The Tiguan still remains a quality choice in the family SUV with a more premium feel than competitors.

There are no surprises in the updated Tiguan, which, perhaps, is the entire point of the popular family SUV's update. For Volkswagen, it's all about making incremental improvements to a fundamentally accomplished product. The 2.0 TDI is still the economical choice of the range, for those that value long distances between fill-ups and an easy-going nature. The Tiguan itself is still a high-quality option and now it gets a useful tech upgrade, as well as a stylish makeover. Just be careful how you specify it (it's expected to arrive after June 2021) if you don’t want to detract from its naturally comfortable character.

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