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Daniel DeGasperi | Nov 7, 2016 | 13 Comments

Acquiring a bigger backside is for many people an unfortunate consequence of age, but the second-generation Volkswagen Tiguan is positively loving its upscaled rear.

The first-gen Tiguan was a class leader among 2008’s admittedly ordinary cohort. But it was marred by a 395-litre boot that was just too small. Far from becoming flabby, however, Volkswagen’s latest medium SUV now has the boot(y) volume to compete with its peers – just look at the bootylicious 615-litre space.

We could have pitched the new German medium SUV against any number of contenders. The Subaru Forester is a benchmark-value rival, while the Mazda CX-5 is the most dynamic. But both lack back-seat flexibility, rear airvents and boot space that are so central to family-car virtues that VW was pushed to push-out its player.

Enter the Hyundai Tucson. This second most popular contender in the medium SUV class (behind CX-5) has a 488l boot, along with the smoothest ride quality in the segment and the among the best after-sales care – basically, what are arguably priorities for family car buyers. It also shares more than just the first letter of its name with the Tiguan, as we discover below.

 

TESTED

 

TESTED

Hyundai Tucson Highlander CRDi ($47,490 plus on-road costs)

  • 136kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel 4cyl | six-speed automatic
  • Fuel use claimed: 6.8l/100km | tested: 7.6l/100km

Volkswagen Tiguan 140TDI Highline ($49,990 plus on-road costs)

  • 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel 4cyl | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
  • Fuel use claimed: 5.9l/100km | tested: 6.9l/100km
 

OVERVIEW

Volkswagen’s brand tagline is Premium for the People. Hyundai’s styling ethos is Modern Premium. The Tiguan’s top model is called Highline; the Tucson’s flagship is tagged Highlander. Both boast 400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engines and each even wear Continental tyres.

Both ask around $50,000 before on-road costs – $47,450 for the Tucson Highlander CRDi and $49,990 for the Tiguan 140TDI Highline.

A loaded Forester diesel can be purchased from just over $40K, while a fully equipped CX-5 costs almost $50K, has been around since 2012 and is due for replacement next year.

So what we have here is Volkswagen’s attempt at re-establishing class leadership from a rapidly improved South Korean brand that from the outset starts a little cheaper and boasts flashier 19-inch alloy wheels (versus 18s) on the outside. And the equipment advantage continues inside.

 

THE INTERIOR

Both contenders here include leather trim with front seat heating, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, keyless auto-entry with power tailgate, electrically foldable door mirrors, cruise control and touchscreen infotainment with satellite navigation.

Despite being $2500 cheaper, however, the Tucson Highlander uniquely adds front seat cooling, an electrically adjustable passenger seat and a panoramic sunroof, the latter of which adds $2000 to the price of the Volkswagen.

The Tiguan Highline includes some exclusives, such as tri-zone climate control air-conditioning (versus dual-zone for its rival), automatic park assistance, plus voice control and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto technology unavailable in the Hyundai.

There is a greater level of technology available optionally, with adaptive cruise control, 360-degree camera and a full-colour speedometer and tachometer cluster forming part of a $2000 Driver Assistance Package fitted to our test car.

While reasonably competitive with each other, neither contender appears outstanding value. As tested, the Tiguan Highline doesn’t feel like a $52,490 vehicle inside, and at this stage it is $11K more expensive than a Forester 2.0D Premium with similar specification (the Subie adds a standard panoramic sunroof but lacks adaptive cruise, AEB and blind-spot warning).

The Tucson Highlander also recently soared $2000 without adding extra equipment, due to currency fluctuations. So while at $45,490 it used to be fantastic value, its price hike arrives right when aspects of its interior are starting to show their age.

Hyundai’s cabin design scores sizeable ticks for its seat comfort (excellent front and rear), storage space (plentiful) and ergonomics (simple and sound). However, from the hard plastic surroundings, to the delayed operation of the basic touchscreen and monochromatic trip computer screen, it can feel dour despite its now-loftier price.

The newer Volkswagen feels at least a generation ahead inside. Even placing aside the superb colour screen in front of the driver – which if unoptioned is still replaced by a colour trip computer screen – the centre touchscreen is eons ahead of its rival.

In addition to smartphone mirroring technology, its graphics resolution is higher, a 10Gb hard drive and spare SD card reader is included, and the ‘one shot’ voice control makes entering addresses into the sat-nav a breeze. It’s worth the $2500 premium over the Tucson alone, in our view.

If infotainment is of less importance, however, then the Tiguan – once a leader for cabin finish – doesn’t trump its foe with its plastics (there are now several hard surfaces including on the rear doors) or seat comfort.

One row behind the front seats, and the Hyundai takes the award for cushy comfort, but the Volkswagen has the unique advantage of a 40:20:40 split-fold backrest in addition to a 60:40-split sliding seat squab.

In its rearward setting the Tiguan affords greater legroom than its rival, and anywhere on the sliding scale the taller seating position provides more substantial toe space under the front seats.

While both include a multi-tier adjustable backrest to aid long-distance comfort, the Tucson lacks a sliding back seat, gets only a 60:40 split backrest and misses both rear temperature controls and its rival’s handy flip-down tray tables – which include pop-out cupholders and, in a sign of the times, a 45-degree tilt setting so kids can rest iPads on.

A rear bench on rails is how Volkswagen claims to offer a 615l boot, a measurement made when basically there is no legroom left for back riders. To be fair, that is fine for babies whose parents could need more pram space than most.

Although Hyundai claims a 488l capacity, according to our tape measure each medium SUV offers 840mm boot length when a maximum amount of legroom is afforded in the Tiguan, in addition to 1000mm width and 430mm loading height.

Only the Highlander includes an alloy spare wheel with full-sized tyre underfloor, too – the Highline gets a space saver.

 

ON THE ROAD

All 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engines are not created equally, as these two medium SUV models prove. Why diesel? Although petrol engines are available in both models, from experience we think the Tucson, the CX-5 and the Forester all work best when running off the black pump at a service station.

Experience testing a vast number of heavy SUV models also realiably tells us that diesels in this class can get closer to their fuel consumption claims than equivalent petrol models – and that is just how the statistics panned out.

Weighing 1622kg, and delivering 136kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm between 1750rpm and 2750rpm doesn’t tell the full story with the CRDi-equipped Tucson.

It’s a quiet and smooth operator, but the highlight is its superb throttle response and briliantly intelligent six-speed automatic. Whether around town or on the open road, it is a delightful partnership that is satisfying everywhere.

The 140TDI version of the Tiguan weighs a hefty 1691kg and makes 140kW between 3500rpm and 4000rpm, and 400Nm between 1900rpm and 3300rpm.

Immediately it’s noisier than its rival and, teamed with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic dubbed DSG, its throttle response is much softer around town. In undemanding situations the Volkswagen slurs along easily, but beyond that the combination can be frustrating. Even in Sport, hills require plenty of extra throttle to be added in order to retain speed and coax the auto to grab a lower gear.

A claimed 7.9-second 0-100km/h only feels realistic when using the paddleshifters and keeping the engine on the ball, or when the throttle is flattened from standstill. Hyundai doesn’t claim an acceleration time, but this duo feel on par in the real world.

Surpisingly, the Tucson strides ahead in other ways. Its steering is superbly direct and medium weighted, with a terrific lane-keep assistance function that subtly keeps the driver lane-centred without pulling and tugging. It’s almost possible to drive this SUV with fingertips and let the system thread in slight adjustments when cruising.

By contrast the Tiguan’s steering doesn’t share the tight, nicely weighted system of the Golf. It is a bit too loose on the centre position – even in Sport – and its version of lane-keep assistance feels lumpy as it tugs needlessly at the tiller.

Despite riding on lower-profile 19-inch tyres, the Hyundai has the smoother, more supple ride quality around town.

However, the opposite is true on country roads, where the Volkswagen not only permits less coarse-chip roar into the cabin, but it adeptly soaks up big potholes and undulations that can ruffle its rival. Simply, it’s the better family-holiday tourer.

The 140TDI Highline also powers through corners in a sportier, more secure fashion, despite less grip from its 18-inch tyres. This is a predictable and even fun chassis, feeling just like a supersized Golf – which is just how the original Tiguan behaved.

If anything the Highlander CRDi sits flatter through bends, but its sharp steering isn’t supported by chassis balance that can be a tad edgy. Still, the Continental tyres are superior to other model grades wearing cheap-brand footwear.

For drivers who owned a hot hatchback in a younger life but now need a family car, it’s a;lso worth noting that neither vehicle offers the dynamic panache of a CX-5 – if sneaking off from the partner and kids just for a drive is a hidden parental agenda, see your Mazda dealer.

And speaking of dealers, the Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty still surpasses Volkswagen’s three-year equivalent. Each offer class-benchmark annual or 15,000km servicing intervals, with the first three costing on average $379 each for the Tucson and $504 for the Tiguan.

On our test, however, the 140TDI Highline travelled each 100 kilometres using 0.7l less fuel. Based on the average 15,000km Australians travel each year and with diesel at $1.30 per litre at the time of writing, it means the Highlander CRDi will rob $137 more from wallets annually, entirely swallowing up its $125 servicing-cost lead.

 

TMR VERDICT | Who Wins the 'Family SUV Battle'?

Both medium SUV models clawed at each other throughout this test. The Hyundai offers stronger value, with a sweeter engine and transmission, and superior steering and urban ride comfort. The Volkswagen provides greater technology, smarter cabin details and flexibility, less road noise, more confident dynamics and better economy.

The Highlander should be a four-star vehicle but for its recent price rise that places its dashboard design and infotainment under harsher scrutiny. Likewise the Highline would surely warrant four stars if its drivetrain was more impressive.

By a slim margin the Tiguan wins by being the smarter family car and with the knowledge that one of its maker’s superb petrol engines can be purchased for less than the price of this diesel – like the $48,490 162TSI Highline arriving in January.

With any engine, however, it still feels like a more premium vehicle than what its additional $2500 up-front cost would indicate. But we’ll wait eagerly for the 162TSI, thanks, and we’d recommend buyers do too.

By contrast the Tucson we already know is at its best in diesel form and in this contest it remains our pick on the road, if not inside. With updated cabin furnishings and technology to meet with its price rise – or if you can find a top deal – it could retake class honours.

  • Hyundai Tucson Highlander – 3.5 stars
  • Volkswagen Tiguan 140TDI Highline – 3.5 stars

MORE News and Reviews: Hyundai | Volkswagen
VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Volkswagen Tiguan Models - Prices, Features and Specifications
VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Hyundai Tucson Models - Price, Features and Specifications

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