Sunday 18 February 2018

The sturdy drive that can handle a rough ride

To the point: The understated Tiguan
emphasises driveability over looks
To the point: The understated Tiguan emphasises driveability over looks
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

I can be an awful grouse on the road sometimes -- blaming everyone else for making perceived small, silly mistakes. But I have discovered the value of a smile. It works wonders. Not just in selfish terms such as other drivers letting me out of side roads and so on but because I find myself calming down where I used to get uptight.

I know I risk a serious ribbing from friends because of this but believe me, a smile goes a mile. And it makes for much safer roads. Don't get me wrong: I still find myself straying into 'glare' territory but not nearly as often.

The Volkswagen Tiguan was neither a sight nor a name that immediately brought a smile to my face.

To be honest, I'd almost forgotten about this sturdy Volkswagen counterpoint to the flock of compact and mid-size crossovers, soft-roaders and so on.

This is different -- and that is both praise and criticism.

Just by way of background . . . they have this enormous SUV called the Touareg, you see. It's monstrous and I, for some reason, absolutely dread it (which explains why it is a huge seller in the US).

Anyway, the Tiguan is nothing like it to look at, or drive, but there are those who have dubbed it the 'baby Touareg' because of its trickle-down technology. But it is nothing like it. For a start it does not have that sort of presence. And for a finish it is a much more mannerly individual.

There are far, far better looking mid-size SUV/crossovers than this, believe me, although I would say in its defence the photographs do it scant justice.

My powerful 140bhp version had four-wheel drive (4MOTION) but I don't want you getting the notion this means a big, chunky muscular wedge of a motor thrashing around the country. It is quite sedate and straightforward. Bland?

Mmmm, maybe that's a tad cruel but understated and ultra straightforward it most certainly is. The likes of the Audi Q3 and the Ford Kuga, in particular, absolutely destroy it on looks. But that all takes a back seat (there is plenty of room there by the way -- and a reasonable boot) when you get in and drive.

That's when the old Volkswagen attributes kick in. Aha! The hint of a smile here. There's a cabin with a lot of room, big, strong sturdy seats, simple layout of switches and dials and an excellent driving position. Only the ventilation switches are so poorly illustrated you'd need a microscope. Shocking oversight in the context of a family motor.

Maddening. It's not like there's a shortage of space. This has more room than all its rivals with the possible exception of the more expensive BMW X3. I sat behind my driver's seat and I had acres of knee room. So you are looking at five adults in reasonable comfort here. Plenty of space for three children across the back, I'm sure of that.

It grew on me, this. It and the odd forced smile put me in right good humour -- and thanks to that lovely lady for letting me out of a tight spot in Donnybrook when I was in the height of a hurry.

They've made a lot of improvements with the Tiguan. They've added equipment, spruced it up, and basically decided to let it do its own talking.

The automatic handbrake and hill-hold functions are excellent and made life a lot easier for those awkward take-offs.

The 2-litre engine pulled easily and quietly. There was a lot of power-n-pep there. Around town the tall, squarish frame was compact enough for the awkward bits of parking that came with the week.

On the open road it was a pleasure, a solid, smooth and surprisingly sprightly driver. Several passengers remarked on how well it went on some of the rougher back roads.

And we went a little off-road. Yes, on a miserable Saturday morning we tickled soft, slippery and betimes boggy surfaces on a relatively sound track but no, we did not plunge into Land Rover Defender territory. That is not what this is about.

The four-wheel element has more to do with the traction and response of the car on the tarmac where, this time of the year, there can be patches of frost and slip. This was as good a drive on a variety of roads as I've had from a motor this year.

I'm not sure what residue of desirability is left for this sort of vehicle. It might be a bit costlier than some rivals. It may not have the 'family' appeal of the Nissan Qashqai, the looks of the Ford Kuga, the price of the Skoda Yeti or the snob value of the Audi or Beemer -- and it is a pity they didn't snazz it up more -- but if you're in the market for a thoroughly sound, roomy, well-equipped motor you need to have a look at this.

It's the sort of car that brings a slow rather than quick smile.

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