That the VW Tiguan R exists is no surprise. And without wishing to deter you from the next few hundred words, there aren't any big surprises in how it drives, either. Indeed, the only thing that could be called bewildering about the Tiguan R is that it didn't happen sooner. Its maker has quite the history in quirky performance cars - think Beetle RSI, Passat W8, Touareg R50 - and the Tiguan has been around since 2008. Fast SUVs have been around much longer.
Still, better late than never, and the Tiguan is nothing if not well-prepared. Anyone with a passing interest in fast VWs could probably guess the spec, and given its proven effectiveness in the latest Golf R there surely won't be too many grumbles. The 2.0-litre EA888evo4 unit makes 320hp and 310lb ft, matching the Golf exactly, power reaching the road through a standard seven-speed DSG, all-wheel drive and R-Performance Torque Vectoring rear axle. The latter is an interesting addition, promising "noticeably more agile handling" according to VW. With a claimed kerbweight of 1,746kg - or just about 200kg more than a Golf - the Tiguan R will need all possible help on the agility front.
The interior is an intriguing mismatch of SUV and hot hatch. Which most cars of this ilk are, of course. The jazzily upholstered sports seats always place the driver quite high (or maybe that's the point), the drive mode selector sits in the same dial that also controls the off-road settings and influence from the new Golf sits a tad awkwardly with the old cabin architecture the Tiguan still uses. It's very far from a bad interior - because it's a lot like a Mk7 Golf - but some slickness has been lost in attempts to spruce it up.
The Tiguan R does everyday driving as inoffensively well as any high-spec VW; the engine is responsive, the dual-clutch shifts intelligently and the steering is noteworthy for both its accuracy and weighting. However, where something like a Golf R can almost entirely disguise its sporting bent when the situation requires, the Tiguan isn't quite capable of the same trick. The wheels are to blame. In the UK, a 21-inch alloy comes as standard, and though they'll look fabulous outside the nearest Gail's Bakery, you do pay a penalty in terms of comfort. It's worth pointing out that a Golf comes with 18-inch wheels as standard, with a 19 as an option.
Race mode is simply out of the question in the UK; Sport is an improvement, though still far from forgiving. Comfort on the DCC dampers is all you'll ever need and, as an evenhanded compromise in a dedicated fast car, is actually pretty good. But anyone buying the Tiguan too cruise urban areas at low speeds might still find it on the tough side. This is the problem with the car's remit as a family car: for every person who might relish its entertainingly up-and-at-'em attitude, two more might find it just a tad uncompromising.
Which is a shame, really, because with an Individual mode configured to taste, some speed under those chunky wheels and a bit of space to explore, the Tiguan is actually a really nice car to drive. In our limited time with it, the R seemed to work best with the suspension at its most comfortable (obvs), the powertrain at its most urgent and the noise somewhere between its meekest and its meanest. For the first time in a performance VW, the most aggressive mode for the steering (Sport or Race are offered) is actually recommendable, really nicely judged for the chassis and satisfying at the wheel. Heck, even the brake pedal feel is decent enough - old dogs can be taught new tricks.
And what of that torque vectoring rear axle? Initially, it's hard to detect much, though that might well be because you're focused on corner entry; those brakes, along with chunky 255-section tyres at each corner, mean the Tiguan dives really nicely for an apex. Eventually, however, the car feels like it's launched from each bend with as much push from behind as pull from the front, which is nice given 4Motion cars can be so blunt. It goes further than that, too, albeit only with more, er, vigour than might be acceptable on the drive to swimming lessons. When all the cornering stars are aligned, the Tiguan R can exit a bend with the throttle helping to wind off the last few degrees of steering lock. It's a peculiar sensation when perched so high, but enjoyable nonetheless - and actually less contrived in juggling torque around than in a Focus RS. It feels natural, or at least as natural as an SUV very lightly oversteering can feel. And once that's been appreciated, you tend to notice how the Tiguan gets out of every bend more willingly than was previously expected, like the engine has been moved back or the wheelbase shortened. Subtle but effective in the best VW tradition.
And although familiar gripes remain - the nice new paddles have no travel or weight, and nobody needs four engine sounds to choose from - the fact remains that the Tiguan R is, given everything, a nicely sorted driver's car. Probably more so than a T-Roc R, in fact. Just as long as that suspension is left in Comfort. Moreover, it occupies a section of the market where rivals are pretty few and far between. A Macan is now an old car, and a sub-£50k one has much power as a PCSO; an Alfa Stelvio Veloce might feel similarly undernourished after the punchy VW, though it is a bigger car. On the flipside of that, neither a BMW X2 M35i nor an Audi SQ2 will likely be as suitable for the family.
But there is one more car that might be worth considering instead of a Tiguan R, and it's the car with which it shares the most: the Cupra Ateca. Remember that? It uses the same powertrain (albeit with 20hp less), the same fundamental platform and, perhaps just as importantly, can only be had with a 19-inch wheel. Oh yes, and the range starts at £38,600, which is less even than the Golf - and undercuts the Tiguan starting price by £7k. (It should be noted that the Ateca range extends right up to a £45,520 VZ3.) The benefits of the torque vectoring are certainly nice to have in the VW, though in focusing on creating a rewarding driver's car the Tiguan R might have missed the chance to be thought a consummate example of fast and fun family transport. A Cupra may lack some cachet and a bit of desirable hardware, yet it's easy to imagine an actual buyer valuing its array of talents as much - if not more than - the VW's. Cheaper and comfier may not mean sexier, but who buys a compact SUV for that quality anyway? That job still falls to the lower, lighter Golf R.
SPECIFICATION | VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN R
Engine: 1,984cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 320@5,200-6,600rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@2,100-5,350rpm
0-62mph: 4.9 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,746kg (unladen)
MPG: 28.3 (WLTP combined)
Price: £45,915 (price as standard; price as tested £47,615 comprised of Lapiz Blue paint for £755 and electric glass sliding/tilting roof with integrated roller blind (£945)
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