Volkswagen broke into the American consciousness in the 1960s with the most iconic small car ever sold in this country, the original Beetle, affectionately known as the Bug.
For the five decades, the German manufacturer has continued cranking out relatively small vehicles, from the Rabbit to the Jetta. Even its largest mass production sedan, the Passat, was smallish for a top-of-the-line car.
But now VW has gone big in the hottest selling vehcile segment — crossover sport utility vehicles. The three-row Atlas released a few months ago has all the bulk and interior room families demand in a large SUV. And the totally redesigned 2018 Tiguan is considerable larger than last year's model — nearly a foot longer, in fact. Although officially classified as a compact, it also offers an available third row of seats, a rarity in that popular segment.
Although engineers can work magic with handling these days, the new Tiguan also drives like a much larger SUV than its predecessor. The ride is cushier though not soft, with the suspension feel much more refined.
I was able to park next to older Tiguans a few times and immediatley noticed the new one is also taller and boxier than the previous generation, with more chisled (but also more generic) exterior lines.
But the interior is where the additonal size is most apparant. It is very roomy for a crossover SUV, especially in the second row of seats. My test model did not have the optional third row, but they are usually best reserved for children.
The dash is also much improved, with a far larger, easy to operate infotainment screen. All controls are laid out with VW's trademark efficiency, meaning they are clearly marked and simply to use.
If there's any tradeoff to the new design, it's the performance, which is not as sporty as the last generation. It has only one engine/transmission combination: a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four cylinder engine that produces 184 horsepower mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. In push button Eco mode, accelaration is leisurely, at best. Normal mode is reasonable for daily driving, but the Sport mode is better, although mileage suffers. The transmission has a manual shift mode, although that seems like overreaching.
The new Tiguan comes in four trim levels — S, SE, SEL and SEL Premium — each with more equipment and a higher prices than those below it. The base S is very well equipped, however, with such standard features as a rearview camera, Bluetooth, and VW's Car-Nert App Connect, which allows select smart phone apps to be viwed on the 6.5-inch touchscreen.
Our test SE model also came with the company's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, which is easily adjusted for different driving conditions — including dry pavement, snow and off-road — by a knob on the center console.
Volkswagen is continuing to sell smallish cars, although they have also also been subtly redesigned in recent years to appeal more to American buyers. But the company is clearing making a serious effort to greatly expand sales of its SUVs in this country with the all-new Atlas and redesigned Tiguan. Both seem to hit their marks, and should find favor with buyers willing to wade through the large number of other, better known models aleady on the market.
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan
Base price: $26,245
Price as tested: $31,480
Style: Compact crossover
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4 with multiple modes (184 hp, 221 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode
EPA fuel economy: 21/27
Length: 185.1 inches
Weight: 3,900 pounds (est.)
Final assembly: Puebla, Mexico