It’s no secret that Volkswagen’s lineup has lost its competitive edge in the United States over the past several years. The drama around the strategy in North America got so intense the Volkswagen chairman Ferdinand K. Piëch was actually ousted after challenging CEO Martin Winterkorn for his seat. Though the automaker is now the world’s largest (having unseated Toyota for the honor), North America remains a tough nut to crack.
This is largely due to Volkswagen’s resistance to overhauling some of its key models. After giving the Golf it’s due diligence with the MK7 generation and the launch of the successful Golf Sportwagen, Volkswagen has turned to what is arguably its most important model — the Tiguan. Left to age less than gracefully since 2009, the Tiguan is back in force with a new family that will be making their first appearances at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
Volkswagen’s underexposure in the crossover SUV segment is a serious malady in America, where the little utes are quickly gaining sales ground on the stalwart favorite midsize sedan. Companies are investing heavily in their small SUV platforms, and for good reason — they sell like crazy. Volkswagen’s reluctance to keep pace with the Tiguan over the last six years has cost it dearly as Ford, GM, Toyota, Honda, and others pour money into new iterations of the Escape, the Equinox, RAV4, and CR-V.
But hold-outs will soon be rewarded. In time for the Frankfurt Motor Show, Volkswagen has revealed the new Tiguan and its family. If you were a fan of VW’s CrossBlue concept, you’re in luck — the new Tiguan borrows generously from the model paraded around the show circuit.
This is the ‘base’ model. Volkswagen is reviving the R-Line model as well, and adding a new GTE concept, but more on those later. Notably, Volkswagen has only revealed pictures of the European-spec cars as of yet, but don’t expect it to look drastically different when it makes its way across the Atlantic.
The Tiguan has been squared away, and now sports a more mature, refined look around the exterior. Its lines are nicely understated and the exterior components (fog lights, LEDs, grille) are all well-integrated. Overall, the new Tiguan is clean, conservative, and thoroughly modern, a hallmark of Volkswagen design.
It’s 110 pounds less than the model it replaces, despite being 2.4 inches longer, 1.2 inches wider, 1.3 inches lower. It now uses VW’s MQB platform, a modular setup that underpins several other cars in the Volkswagen stable. Renowned for its versatility, the MQB platform now allows VW to experiment with multiple powertrains and setups (for example, the Golf, Golf TDI, and e-Golf all ride on the MQB).
There are four gasoline and four diesel options available to European buyers, though it’s nearly assured that we’ll have far slimmer pickings in North American kit. A TDI option is a very real possibility, as well as one or two gasoline engines. Volkswagen’s 4Motion is also available.
The R-Line model will also likely make its way Stateside, with a more potent powerplant under the hood. But it’s the GTE concept that is the most compelling — if it were to reach production, it would have the potential to turn the crossover SUV on its head.
In its current form, the Tiguan R-Line doesn’t pack additional horses over the base model, but it brings a bunch of go-fast bits that at least look the part. It includes the R-Line body kit and 19-inch rims, but you’d have to be pretty familiar with VW’s offerings to discern between the two. The new model makes sure that everyone knows that it’s sport-inspired. It looks like a bigger, stockier, more utilitarian GTI. And that’s a great thing.
There’s little indication that the R-Line will have a performance advantage over the base Tiguan, but it does open up numerous possibilities as far as options go. “The R-Line packages can be ordered as either a total package of exterior and interior features or an alternative exterior package,” VW said. “On the exterior, the R-Line features Sebring 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels or optional 20-inch Suzuka alloys. Previously, Tiguans could only have rims up to 19 inches in diameter.”
“The interior features R-Line seats (cloth and microfiber seat upholstery, optional Vienna leather upholstery), [aluminum] door sill guards with the R-Line logo that can be optionally illuminated, decorative stitching in Crystal Grey, special trim accents, stainless steel pedal caps and footrest, black headliner and a leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel with the R-Line logo.”
The GTE Concept
Though the Tiguan and Tiguan R-Line are coming to Frankfurt in production guise, the GTE model remains a concept — albeit a very desirable, and suspiciously assembly-line-ready looking one. The GTE is a plug-in hybrid — not a full blown EV like the e-Golf. It uses VW’s 1.4 liter TSI engine (which is ubiquitous outside of the U.S.) and an electric motor, for a system output of 215 horsepower. There’s a 13 kWh lithium-ion battery that’s good for 31 miles on electric power alone, but that’s not the most impressive part.
The party trick (and from what we can tell, the defining component that makes this a concept and not a production-ready vehicle) is a cluster of roof-mounted solar cells that, in the right circumstances, can add over 620 miles of electric range to the Tiguan. While it may not find much action in, say, Seattle, imagine how popular that’d be in a place like California.
The GTE is the kind of forward-thinking design that the crossover segment needs. Toyota’s bringing a hybrid RAV4 to market soon, and it won’t be long before others follow suit. By upping the ante and adding near-self-sustaining plug-in capability, combined with SUV practicality and sporty looks, Volkswagen could have the ingredients for a cannonball-like splash in a segment that will see some serious changes over the next five or so years.
Moreover, Volkswagen might find itself competing with a so-far unseen rival: Tesla’s Model 3, which will reportedly take both sedan and crossover forms. If it sports a 200-plus mile electric range and keeps its costs below $40,000, Volkswagen’s Tiguan will find itself at a great disadvantage without some EV-inspired help. Coupled with other competition in the wings (Chevy Bolt, Kia Soul EV), Here’s to hoping the GTE will pan out.