The Volkswagen Tiguan has remained a strong contender in the all-important mid-size SUV segment since the launch of the current second-generation model in 2016, and although it isn’t a top 10 seller, its aim has been at occupying a more revered and premium position in the segment.
Although the range was pared back significantly late last year with a number of low-volume variants being culled and petrol-power with all-wheel drive being the only option, the more affordable front-drive 110TSI variants have finally returned for the last part of 2019.
However, there’s another addition to the range to spice things up before the end of the decade – the limited-run 132TSI R-Line Edition variant we’re taking a look at here.
Positioned below the more powerful range-topping 162TSI Highline, which can be optioned-up with an R-Line package, the R-Line Edition builds upon the spec of the middling petrol model with a smattering of goodies to help it look like the most well-rounded variant in the range.
On the outside, it certainly looks the part with a sporty but classy R-Line body kit and 19-inch grey ‘Sebring’ alloy wheels, while on the inside, some very sporty R-branded bucket seats with combination cloth, suedecloth, and leather upholstery, a perfectly-sized flat-bottomed steering wheel nabbed straight from the Golf R, and an all-important black headliner complete the 132TSI’s sporty transformation.
The spec increases don’t just end there, however, as a few items from other options packages are also included as standard in the R-Line Edition, such as the slick digital gauge cluster – VW calls this an ‘active info display’ – from the Sound & Vision Package, along with the full Driver Assistance Package that adds adaptive cruise control, lane assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic jam assist, and emergency assist.
Add this to the standard kit you’d already get such as satellite navigation, smartphone mirroring, keyless entry, push-button start, three-zone climate control, and adaptive LED headlights, and the R-Line Edition definitely looks comprehensive on paper.
Once you’re inside it, the strong equipment levels translate well to reality, with it feeling as kitted-out as the spec sheet would have you believe. It’s a well-presented and fairly high-quality interior – the fit and finish is excellent aside from some very cheap and harsh plastic behind the door pulls – that leaves little to be desired when you start poking around.
Not only is it a very comfortable place to spend time thanks to the very supportive and nicely-trimmed seats – although the front seats are only manually-adjustable, so power adjustment is one clearly glaring omission – but it’s incredibly roomy as well. There’s more than ample headroom and legroom all around, with the rear seats being so amply-sized that there’s enough room for Volkswagen to have attached picnic tables with additional cupholders to the front seat backs, making it feel a bit like flying premium economy back there.
There’s plenty of storage around the cabin with big and carpet-lined door pockets, an air-conditioned glovebox, retractable front cupholders that add even more storage to the centre console, and even a hidden compartment under the front passenger seat.
The boot is massive as well, with a flat loading floor, deep caverns behind the wheel arches, handy levers to fold the rear seats down from in the boot, and a 12V power outlet. The tailgate itself is power-operated, too, adding an extra dash of luxury.
Fitted with the 132TSI powertrain, the R-Line Edition sports a 2.0-litre turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine with – you guessed it – 132kW power, along with 320Nm torque. It’s backed by a seven-speed ‘DSG’ dual-clutch automatic transmission and VW’s 4motion all-wheel drive system.
While the more powerful 162TSI looks attractive and does perform well, the 132TSI is, in my opinion at least, all you’ll ever need. With nearly as much torque on tap as the more powerful version, it pulls strongly and never really leaves you wanting for more in any normal circumstances, although if you plan on driving this thing like a Golf GTI, you’ll find yourself wanting that little bit of extra go when you bury the throttle on the right stretch of road.
And driving it like a GTI is something you actually can feasibly do, surprisingly enough, as the Tiguan’s dynamic abilities truly belie its size. My one previous experience with the Tiguan before driving this one was at a Volkswagen Driver Experience day a few years ago in which I took it through a slalom course and was surprised by how flat it remained through such rapid changes in direction, and this translates well to how it performs on twistier roads. Changing direction with balance and confidence, only the chubbier sidewall of its tyres lets it down on the limit where some understeer is detectable, but to the average driver, you’ll never experience this unless you’re driving like your hair’s on fire.
If there is one small drawback to this sporty handling, it’s that it does mean the Tiguan has a sporty ride – sportier (read: firmer) than most rivals, certainly. It’s certainly not what you’d call uncomfortable as most bumps are ironed out fairly seamlessly, but particularly large hits can be felt more than you might expect from an SUV like this. Given just how much better it handles than most rivals, however, it’s a very small price to pay as far as I see it.
What is unquestionably smooth, however, is the calibration of the drivetrain. From the well-tuned throttle response to the relative lack of turbo lag and smooth and predictable power-band of the engine, VW really has this thing dialled in, while the DSG is an absolute winner of a transmission.
With Volkswagen having been the first company to fit a dual-clutch auto to a production car with the Mk4 Golf R32, you’d expect them to have got their Direct Shift Gearbox properly dialled in by now, and that they have indeed. Not only are its gear changes shockingly smooth and predictable when left to its own devices, but when engaging the paddles on the back of the steering wheel, its upshifts are truly lightning fast. Sure, the downshifts aren’t quite as direct as you’d perhaps like them to be at times, but those precise upshifts are what it’s all about.
So it’s got the premium look and the interior to match, and it’s incredibly refined and dynamic to drive, and although it offers great value-for-money, it is at the pointier end of the segment at $46,990 before on-road costs (Volkswagen’s website indicates a drive-away figure of $49,990).
While right up there with the absolutely excellent higher-spec’d versions of the Mazda CX-5, one of my absolute favourites in the class, the Tiguan R-Line Edition makes a very strong case for itself, particularly against the lesser naturally aspirated versions of its Japanese rival.
For those wanting something that stands out in one of the most popular but one of the dreariest segments of the market, this sporty Tig’ is the perfect candidate for the job.
2019 Volkswagen Tiguan 132TSI R-Line Edition List Price: $46,990
- Performance - 8/108/10
- Ride & Handling - 8/108/10
- Tech & Features - 8/108/10
- Practicality - 9/109/10
- Value for Money - 8.5/108.5/10
Pros: Roomy and clever interior, DSG shift speed and refinement, handles far better than you’d expect, well-priced for what it is
Cons: Ride is on the firmer side by SUV standards, likes a drink, some cheap cabin materials
In a nutshell: It’s no surprise why the Tiguan remains a popular and well-regarded contender in the mid-size SUV segment.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Volkswagen Australia for a week with a full tank of petrol. All additional fuel expenses were paid for by the author. Additionally, our friends at MPF Detailing gave it a complimentary Express Detail for us prior to our photoshoot.