Good but getting better
THE GOOD
  • Good styling and build quality
  • All-wheel drive
  • Technology integration
THE BAD
  • Engine could use more power
  • Packaging and amenity value
  • Fuel economy

The compact SUV segment has exploded in recent years, with nearly every manufacturer throwing their hats into the ring.

Some even offer a variety of models that range in size and price. Each one offers something a little different, so finding something that best suits your needs can be overwhelming to say the least. The Tiguan is set for another refresh for the 2022 model year but we spent a week with the 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan United to see how it stacks up.

Styling: 8.5/10

The Tiguan benefitted from a redesign in 2018, which was an improvement over the previous generation, in my opinion. The outgoing model appeared cartoonish with questionable proportions, so it was refreshing to see it mature in a manner that looks more aligned with its larger sibling, the Atlas.

The exterior now offers a clean, contemporary design that should age well. It looks sophisticated and decidedly upmarket, featuring elegant lines and creases. The United trim features chrome window surrounds, roof rails, and mirror accents, as well as LED lighting and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, the Tiguan is understated and intelligently laid out. The United trim brings more chrome accents, cloth door inserts, heated front seats (in either cloth or leather), and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector.

Stepping up to the Highline brings 18-inch wheels, leather upholstery, and the ability to tick the R-Line package box. The $1,800 option adds 19-inch wheels with sportier tires, brushed aluminum pedals, a sport steering wheel, and unique R-Line badges.

Safety: 7/10

It’s become far more common to outfit a vehicle with a slew of standard safety amenities now than it was when the Tiguan was redesigned in 2018, but it still features an acceptable amount of active and passive safety equipment, including autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, tire pressure monitoring, side curtain airbags, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

Toyota, on the other hand, has equipped every trim level of the similarly sized RAV4 with the full list of safety equipment, including everything from lane departure warning with steering assist to autonomous braking with pedestrian detection and adaptive cruise control.

Features: 7/10

The Tiguan United features a digital instrument cluster, voice command, ambient lighting, cruise control, heated front seats, an eight-way power driver’s seat (including power lumbar support), power door locks, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone climate control, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, wireless charging, a power tailgate, ignition stop-start functionality, and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

The comparably priced Mazda CX-5 GT gets ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a 10-speaker sound system, and a 187-hp engine with all-wheel drive. Meanwhile, the redesigned Hyundai Tucson offers the same features as this Tiguan – with the exception of a power-adjustable driver’s seat – in its entry-level Essential trim, which also includes forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and a driver attention warning.

The 2022 model year Tiguan adds content to all of its models, so features such as blind-spot monitoring, and autonomous emergency braking are offered even on the cheapest Trendline trim.

User Friendliness: 8.5/10

The 2021 Tiguan makes for an affable driving companion. The digital instrument display is laid out in a manner that doesn’t require scrolling through multiple menus to find what you’re searching for. HVAC and audio controls utilize knobs that can even be used with gloves on, while the menus of the touchscreen infotainment system are easy to navigate.

It’s equally easy to get in and out of both the front and rear seating areas (the optional third row would take a bit more flexibility), and the rear cargo area can be accessed by using the power tailgate. Finding a comfortable driving position is a simple process, as is wirelessly charging your smartphone. Sightlines are excellent with minimal blind-spot areas, and it has a turning radius that allows the driver to navigate narrow parking lots or garages. The back-up camera and proximity sensors also help with parking duties.

Practicality: 8.5/10

The Tiguan in any configuration is an easy vehicle to live with. The United trim provides a respectable amount of content for a reasonable price. There’s 970 mm (38.2 in) of headroom with the sunroof and 1,005 mm (39.6 in) without. It’s got an excellent turning radius and as much ground clearance as most owners would need.

It offers ample cargo capacity and room for five. What makes the Tiguan distinctive in its category, which includes big names like the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape, among others, is that it’s the only one to offer optional third-row seating, which allows it to accommodate seven occupants.

Comfort: 7.5/10

The 2021 Tiguan United is a relatively comfortable vehicle for driver and passengers alike, but it could be improved in a number of ways. It’s quieter and more premium-feeling than the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, and its infotainment is far easier to use than the Mazda CX-5. But only the front seats are heated, and they aren’t ventilated. The steering wheel isn’t heated – a feature that’s increasingly common these days. The eight-way power driver’s seat is comfortable, but passengers don’t get the same treatment. There’s dual-zone climate control up front but no options for the rear passengers. There’s one 12V and two USB-C outlets up front, along with the wireless charging pad, but rear-seat passengers get a single 12V and USB-C outlet.

Suspension is compliant and road noise is minimal, aside from when the throttle is applied with vigour and the engine lets you know it’s being overworked.

Power: 7/10

The 2021 Tiguan features modes for winter driving or poor road surfaces. Its turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine is good for 184 hp at 4,360 rpm and 221 lb-ft of torque at as low as 1,600 rpm, giving it decent acceleration off the line, merging onto the highway, or when pulling out to pass. The stop-start function performs well and can easily be overridden with a button on the centre console. The Tiguan is able to tow 680 kg (1,500 lb), so you’re limited to towing items such as a (very) small camping trailer or personal watercraft.

Likely its closest competitor, the Mazda CX-5, offers a 2.5L four-cylinder engine making 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque, while an available turbocharged 2.5L engine making 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque certainly outguns the naturally aspirated models (at a cost, of course).

Driving Feel: 8/10

The 2021 Tiguan is a smooth, relatively quiet, and enjoyable vehicle to drive. It doesn’t set your heart aflutter when you step on the throttle, but it does have a bit of pep in its step within the context of the segment, particularly when you shift your own gears in manual mode, at which point engine noise does present itself quite a bit. The eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly.

Very little road noise is transmitted into the cabin even at highway speeds, and it handles bumps and potholes without upsetting the chassis too much. Its suspension provides a supple ride which doesn’t wallow too much in the turns but also doesn’t make it handle like a sports car either. Braking performance is perfectly in line with the vehicle’s acceleration and handling. Speed-sensitive power steering makes it feel more nimble and light at slow speeds, but offers stability at reaching a higher velocity.

Fuel Economy: 7/10

The official fuel economy numbers for the 2021 Tiguan with all-wheel drive are 11.0 L/100 km in the city and 8.6 on the highway for a combined rating of 9.9. While I managed to get as low as 7.5 L/100 km on some days that included highway driving with a light right foot, my average observed fuel economy over the course of the week was 8.9 L/100km.

The all-wheel-drive Mazda CX-5 equipped with the naturally aspirated engine is rated at 10.2 / 8.2 / 9.3 L/100 km city / highway / combined, but improves slightly when equipped with cylinder deactivation. Similarly, the all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 is rated at 9.4 / 7.1 / 8.4 but drops to 8.8 / 7.1 / 8.0 when equipped with stop-start technology. The Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape are also offered as all-wheel drive hybrids, which dramatically improve fuel efficiency.

Value: 7.5/10

Regardless of trim, the Tiguan offers a feeling of entry-level luxury at a price point that’s within close proximity to common mainstream models. Entry to the Tiguan family starts with the Trendline variant offered at a very attractive starting price of $31,745 including a non-negotiable freight charge of $1,950. At the other end of the spectrum is the Highline version that starts at only $42,145. Our tester resided between these two, with an as-tested price of $39,095 before taxes.

Each variant gets the same engine and eight-speed transmission. All-wheel drive is available as an option on the Trendline but standard on the others. Competitive entries from Kia, Mazda, Ford, Honda, and Toyota may be priced lower or even offer more content, but they fail to measure up when it comes to the premium feel of the Tiguan. The all-new 2022 Hyundai Tucson (yes, seriously) has made significant improvements to design and quality at an attractive price point, with a bold new design and the option of a hybrid model, so that may be worth looking into as well.

The Verdict

The compact SUV segment is jam-packed with options, including some stiff competition from mainstays like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, and Mazda CX-5. The 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan offers sophisticated styling, as well as intuitive infotainment and controls for an overall premium feeling driving experience. The Tiguan also has the added bonus of the option to add third-row seating. Depending on your packaging preferences and purchase timeline, you may want to wait for the refreshed 2022 version, which updates several of the minimal shortcomings experienced by the outgoing model.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan United
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $37,145
Peak Horsepower 184 hp @ 4,360 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 221 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm   Destination Fee $1,950
Fuel Economy 11.0 / 8.6 / 9.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $39,195
Cargo Space 1,064 / 1,860 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
None