By Jesse Adams

Johannesburg - Volkswagen’s first-generation Tiguan was popular. Nearly three million units since 2007 popular. Even in its dying days, when its blobular styling looked considerably outdated next to much more modern rivals, it was selling in respectable numbers. Still, it was in dire need of a revamp.

And what a revamp we got. Like one of those almost too amazing to believe before-and-after adverts for some miracle diet pill, the new Tiguan’s chiselled body is unrecognisable as a successor to the flabby original. Most will agree it looks damn good in its new skin, but are the updates as radical underneath?

The new Tiguan rolls on VW/Audi’s lauded MQB platform (the same as underneath many cars including Golf, A3, TT and Passat) so we expected to be as impressed with ride quality and handling as we have been with cars underpinned by the same chassis. And it didn’t disappoint.

It already has a leg up on some crossover rivals in that it comes with an independent multilink (and not torsion beam) rear suspension. It’s quiet and composed on all but the roughest of surfaces, even with our test car’s optional sports suspension and 19 inch alloys (which come as part of an R18 000 R-Line kit). That said, I would recommend sticking with the standard 17s if you’re planning regular trips on dirt roads.

Ground clearance is generous but in this front-wheel-drive spec you wouldn’t want to venture too far from tarred roads. All-wheel-drive will become available by the end of the year when a 162kW two-litre turbo is introduced, and that model will also come with an optional Offroad Pack with some underbody protection and scuff plates - probably a safer bet for weekend warriors.

Happy marriage

Though more engines will be added to the range later this year and early next, all South African Tiguans are for now powered by either 92 or 110kW 1.4-litre turbopetrol fours. Our test car was the more powerful of the two, paired with a six-speed DSG gearbox. It’s an engine we know well from various Audi and VW models, but ithis was the first time we’d driven it in combination with this particular transmission. All other 110kW 1.4 TSIs come with seven-speed DSG boxes.

For the most part it’s a happy marriage. There’s a trace of turbo lag off the line, but once up and running the dual-clutch gearbox manages to keep the revs right in their sweet spot, and as usual with DSGs up-and-down changes happen almost imperceptibly. Power is perfectly adequate for a vehicle of this size, but prolonged full-throttle use can sometimes result in wheezy response, such as when overtaking. Output seems to wane beyond the 4500rpm mark, and once the tacho’s needle moves beyond this point the engine’s wail doesn’t seem to match acceleration.

We drove it fairly responsibly during our week-long test, on a wide variety of roads, and the Tiguan’s trip computer showed an average petrol consumption lingering just above nine litres per 100km. Not a bad figure, but some way off VW’s 6.1l/100km claim. Cylinder deactivation is a feature included in this model, and a little message reading “two-cylinder mode” did pop up in the instrument cluster regularly.

Easier on the tush

While we can accuse the new interior of being predictable, with use of the same design and material elements as in many other VW products, it has indeed been well thought out. Boot space has increased by 145 litres to a new total of 1655, and the split-rear bench seat slides on rails to cater for either more cargo or legroom depending on the load situation.

The seats themselves are much lighter than before, and new foam bolsters with cleverly woven internal springs make the sitting surfaces easier on the tush, especially over long distances or on rough roads. The front seat backs also get fold-down tray tables which could be handy for en-route kiddie meals, although they do require driver and front passenger to sit at very upright angles if you want to keep things from sliding off into laps.

Gadgetry is plentiful - but you have to pay extra for most of it. It must be said, however, that VW’s done a good job of keeping the cost of extras down, and some items such as radar cruise (R5000), auto parking with camera (R5000), LED headlights (R7500) and a better 6.5-inch touchscreen radio (R4350) would be silly to leave out at their prices.

A vividly coloured digital Active Info instrument cluster can, for the first time in a VW/Audi product, be specced without expensive navigation - a good sign that it could roll out this way into other models soon. At R8000 it’s an absolute must have, as it dramatically elevates the hi-techness of an otherwise bland interior. I’d also spring for the R13 000 Dynaudio sound system, complete with spare wheel-mounted subwoofer. It sounds fantastic.

VERDICT

With the Tiguan, VW took an already successful package and made it all the more desirable. It looks great, drives well, is extremely comfortable and can be specced with loads of useful features.

The base price of a 110kW 1.4TSI Comfortline with DSG is R457 680, and our test car came to R549 530 with options. - Star Motoring

FACTS

Volkswagen Tiguan 110kW 1.4TSI Comfortline DSG

Engine: 1.4-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: Six-speed manual/automatic

Power: 110kW @ 5000-6000rpm

Torque: 250Nm @ 1500-3500rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 9.2 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 200km/h

Price as tested: R549 530

Warranty: Three-year/120 000km

Service/Maintenance plan: Five-year/90 000km

Follow Jesse Adams on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd