Test Drive: Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium is a refined SUV

When automakers finally figured out Americans wanted their sport-utility vehicles in smaller packages, we found our early objections to SUVs in general — too rough, too thirsty, too inefficient in their use of space — finally started to soften. Today, we have come to like several compact SUVs, also known as crossovers because they handle more like passenger cars. Among the best are the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Chevrolet Equinox. Joining the panoply of likable compact crossovers this year is the redesigned Volkswagen Tiguan — a model we judged too small in past incarnations.

Admittedly, our test car — a 2018 Tiguan SEL Premium — was a bit ostentatious, with such features as 19-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, lots of ambient lighting and a $37,150 sticker price. A base Tiguan S starts at $25,195. But the bones of this model are the same across the board. Every Tiguan has a 2-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine generating 184 horsepower, and an 8-speed shiftable gearbox. The lower-priced versions also have 17-inch wheels, which reportedly deliver a smoother ride.

Two Tiguan qualities stood out. First, it exhibited a high level of refinement, from the quality of materials, fit and finish, to the overall feel of the car. Second, it handled better than most crossovers. We’ve noted much the same quality in the CX-5 and CR-V, and both — especially the CR-V — sport higher fuel-economy ratings than the Tiguan. Our test car, with front-wheel drive, was rated at 22 mpg city, 27 highway, compared with 27/33 in the all-wheel-drive Honda.

Tiguans equipped with all-wheel drive achieve just about the same fuel economy as front-wheel-drive versions: 21/27.

The Tiguan has one other asset that most crossovers of its size and stature lack: a third-row seat. While too small for adult use, it’s suitable for small children, making the Tiguan a 7-passenger people mover.

The Tiguan, assembled in Mexico with a German parts content of just 16%, nevertheless has a decidedly German feel. It has been selling well in the U.S. market in recent years, offsetting sales slumps incurred by the sedan lines.

Standard features in the SEL Premium version include dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, overhead view camera, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitor with rear traffic alert, remote start, 8-inch touchscreen with navigation, Fender premium audio, remote power liftgate with hands-free easy open and close, smartphone integration and satellite radio.

About those heated seats: Volkswagen is the only automaker we know of that combines the steering-wheel heater with the driver’s seat heater in the same circuit. If you like to turn on the steering-wheel heater without the seat heater, you’re out of luck.

Full crash-test data are unavailable, but the 2018 Tiguan qualified for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick status under 2017 standards.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0T SEL Premium

Price: $37,150

Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline Four, 184 horsepower, 221 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 3,777 lb.

Ground clearance: 7.9 in.

Suspension: 4-wheel independent

Wheels: 19×7-in. alloy

Tires: 235/50r19 H all-season

Seating capacity: 7

Luggage capacity: 12 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 56.1 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 1,500 lb.

Fuel capacity: 15.3 gallons

Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 27 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

Steven Macoy (semaocy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.