Buyer appetite for sporty SUVs is growing at such a rate that few models exist without a breathed-on range-topper. In the case of the Volkswagen Group, the economies of scale for MQB models make it easy to pluck a more potent powertrain from one car and slot it into another, hence the arrival of a 230hp Tiguan, which arrives with the same variant of 2.0-litre TSI unit once used by the Golf GTI (hence our curiosity). In the Tiguan it drives through Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel drive system and DSG hardware so you've got a 1.7-tonne SUV that can hit 62mph in 6.3 seconds, and, in upmarket R-Line trim, the image to match. Until the full-blown R arrives, this variant is the most sporting Tiguan on sale.
Add the word 'Tech' into the trim designation and the car comes fully kitted - as it should with a starting price of £38,910. Alongside GTI power you get standard-fit DCC adaptive damping and 20-inch alloy wheels, not to mention silver slats on the front grille, thicker bumpers and silver surrounds for the exhaust exits, as well as silver roof rails and black wheel arch surrounds for what could justly be called "the full effect". It's as butch as a bouncer's dog.
Inside, it's all familiar VW Group stuff, albeit with the very latest and plushest kit that includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and digital instrument cluster. The finish is very good, with little in the way of visual drama, but great functionality nonetheless (think high spec Golf and you're 90 per cent of the way there). The electric leather seats are supportive and offer enough adjustment, although it goes without saying that your torso's angle of attack is too upright to feel remotely sporting. The elevated hip point makes getting in and out very convenient; it also places the road at an unreasonable distance from your arse cheeks.
That sets the tone for the Tiguan's character when left in Normal mode. The 2.0-litre unit may ultimately produce the same peak power as a GTI, but Volkswagen has a) swaddled it in a feather duvet made of sound-deadening and b) had its throttle response downgraded from 'stabbed rat' to 'lawn bowls delivery'. The result is very refined and certainly not unpleasant. But anyone hoping for Q-car-style burliness from the get-go will likely feel a bit shortchanged by the Tiguan's determination to prevent you emptying the fuel tank too quickly.
Go for its Sport mode instead and the gearbox keeps the engine spinning at more productive speeds, making the car a bit more eager to pull its socks up. 'Brisk' probably covers it; 'effective' too because you tend to stay in that in-gear, 30-50mph zone that turbocharged motors with lots of slick gear ratios eat for breakfast. But the feeling rarely gets all the way to 'potent' - as it does with the more powerful (and admittedly smaller) Cupra Ateca.
The SEAT-built alternative is the better handling prospect, too. Sure, the Tiguan changes direction adroitly enough and there's admirable grip on offer - but the body hasn't been tied down with anything like Cupra's diligence. Added to which, you can only wind off the stability control so much, which means that any whimsical attempt to find the chassis's mechanical limit is met with pinched brakes before either axle gets to show its true colours.
Not that the R-Line is nudging you in this direction anyway. Plainly the bigger engine is there to get you to decent, fairly undramatic cross-country pace that bit quicker - not unlike the bigger diesel lumps that have presumably fallen out of favour. In fairness, once it's there the Tiguan does rather well. Even with the damping firmed up in Sport the ride is good; you're conscious of a few more road ridges and body roll is noticeably reduced, but there's enough tyre wall around the rims and sympathy in the suspension for the Tiguan to feel relaxed at pace. It's not particularly communicative, although it's easy to place the car on a road and is no more effort to drive at the national limit than a Golf.
It's Volkswagen's much more famous hatchback which comes to mind when you're ticking off all-rounder virtues, too: practical, spacious, good-looking, well-equipped, well-made, able, obliging etc etc. Many if not most of the Tiguan's attributes are not in doubt - but the one we drove was £41,425 with options. For that money, we'd want its on-paper power and performance to be as prominent as any other listable merit. But it's not. Or not often enough at any rate.
In some ways the 230hp engine feels like it did in the original Mk7 GTI, which is to say 'adequate' - or better yet, 'appropriate' for a hatchback of its size and ability. That's the way the (heavier, taller) 230hp Tiguan feels - not fast or slow, merely sufficient for you not to fall into a coma. And like the Golf, it probably makes any other stripe of Tiguan feel as spiritless as a Lighthouse Family song. The good news is that you can also have the bigger motor in middling SEL trim from £36,395, which Volkswagen never let you do with the hatchback. Or you could have a faster, sharper Cupra Ateca from £35,915. Or you could wait for the even more expensive Tiguan R. Or throw out the baby with the bath water and buy a Golf R, which is available from £36,150. Guess which one we recommend...
SPECIFICATION - VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN R-LINE TECH 2.0 TSI 230 4MOTION DSG
Engine: 1,984cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 230@5,000-6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@1,500-4,300rpm
0-62mph: 6.3 seconds
Top speed: 141mph (limited)
Weight: 1,710kg ('in running condition with driver')
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