Volkswagen Tiguan R review: a taller Golf R

By topgear, 03 May 2021

Overview – What is it?

It’s an inevitability. Volkswagen’s biggest worldwide seller isn’t currently the Golf, it’s the Tiguan. Thus the application of an R badge ought to be no surprise. The only shock is that it’s taken VW so long to join a sector now thronging with competitors.

Perhaps the wider VW group was using the Cupra Ateca – a very close relation of this car just with shiny copper rather than glitzy blue badges – to test the water. And to make sure a 300-odd horsepower engine can go to work in a family-sized SUV without immediately shaking semi-digested Frubes straight back out of the kids.

The VW Tiguan R is actually a bit more powerful than the Ateca, though. As well as the Audi SQ2. Its four-cylinder turbo engine shares 316bhp among all four wheels, using the latest tune of 2.0 TSI from the Mk8 Golf R. Plumbed solely through a seven-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox, it endows the Tiguan with a 4.9sec 0-100kph time and 250kph top speed.

At a stocky 1,746kg it’s almost 200 kilos heavier than a Golf R (and even the titchier T-Roc R crossover), but there are plenty of mechanical tweaks to try and replicate the R experience. There’s a torque vectoring system incorporated into the rear axle, 10mm lower (and actively damped) suspension, 18in brakes tucked behind 21in Estoril alloy wheels… it’s a proper job they’ve done. You can even spec an optional Akrapovic sports exhaust. Crikey.

It feels like a proper R inside, too. A pair of hugging sports seats sit up front, trimmed with fabric and Alcantara rather than the obvious (and often less pleasing) leather, while an R button on the steering wheel shortcuts you straight to Race. Which is the, um, raciest of seven different driving modes (including off-road settings we’ll be amazed if you ever use). Anyone upgrading from a Golf R will feel immediately at home in here. Just a little higher.

It’s actually just one prong of a hugely expanded R range, sitting between the T-Roc R and Touareg R if you want yours to be an SUV. The Golf R has been a true everyday performance hero of recent times – time to find out if the taller Tiguan R is a satisfying next step…

tiguan r
tiguan r

Driving – What is it like on the road?

It’s a blooming quick car this, especially if you engage launch control. One day, when the car world has changed forever and electric is the default, someone will point to performance family SUVs with launch control and wonder what the heck we were thinking buying them. While VW cranks up production of the ID.3 and its myriad platform-mates, elements of this car can’t help but feel like a sidestep into a curious automotive cul-de-sac.

An impressive amount of hot hatchback DNA makes it into the Tiguan R intact, though. It drives extremely neatly however much yobbishness you deploy – its mixture of 4WD and torque vectoring shuffles the power around almost imperceptibly. You can wring out every rev of its muscular engine without throwing the chassis into disarray beneath you. There’s no drift mode, mind, and it stops short of the Golf R’s engagement, blunted by its extra height and weight.

There’s a price to pay its tautness, though, and that’s a residual firmness to the ride whichever of its three levels you’re in. Comfort is fairly knobbly on road, Sport just about tolerable, Race a step too far even on relatively smooth surfaces. Perhaps if it were softer we’d bemoan it didn’t feel ‘R’ enough (something the larger Touareg R can be accused of), but as it stands, it just feels too stiff to be everyday family transport. And if that’s not what you’re buying this car for, you probably ought to be sticking to the Golf. Perhaps those Frubes are in danger of making an unwelcome return after all.

Settle on an A-road or motorway and it’s better equipped for fuss-free travel. It sits at 2,000rpm (or so) at the national speed limit and is quiet and comfy inside when the roads are nice and smooth. But then so is a regular Tiguan…

On the inside – Layout, finish and space

The regular Tiguan is a very nice place to be – it felt a big step up when it launched back in 2016. So with a dusting of new technology from a mid-life facelift and the addition of some chintzy R bits, it’s very nice indeed in here. The big enveloping buckets look ace and feel even better, and you’ve plenty customisation on offer with the digital dials ahead of you.

Mind, facelift time also brought some part-physical, part-digitised climate controls that offer the best of neither world. Touchpads rather than buttons, you need to take your eyes off the road to operate them. And you need to toggle up and down temperatures half a degree-Celsius at a time – attempt to hold down either end to cycle up or down a little quicker, and you’ll shortcut to 30 or 16 degrees. And have to toggle back to where you started in half-degree increments again.

It’s not as hard to fathom as the Mk8 Golf’s even newer cabin, though, and you can loosen the stability control with a simple button press in here whereas it’s a number of sub-menus in the sportier Golf. Mad.

You can also leap into Race mode via the blue R button on the steering wheel, but it feels like a gimmick given it puts everything in Race, suspension included. It would be better if VW had taken a leaf out of BMW’s book and made the button a shortcut to your Individual settings. Which, if you have anything resembling regular bone structure, will likely involve Comfort or Sport suspension.

We’re only banging on about the ride because it’s the one thing stopping the Tiguan R from being just as a fantastic family car as the stock Tiguan, but with a side order of B-road nous. There’s abundant room in the back for people of all sizes and a huge boot, unchanged from standard with 615 litres of capacity seats up, and 1,655 seats down. The only chink in its armour is a sole USB port in the back. Only your favourite child gets to charge their phone or tablet.

tiguan r
tiguan r

Owning – Running costs and reliability

Volkswagen claims 10.0 l/100km and 226g/km of CO2 on the combined WLTP cycle. And VW’s claims are true (‘for once!’ we hear you chortling at the back), for circa-9.4l/100km is what you’ll get if you broadly drive your Tiguan R sensibly but take it on the odd, frenzied detour of a favourite road once the kids are dropped off and you’re all on your tod. Attempt such antics more often and the figure will soon plummet into the mid 20s.

It’s priced confidently: a whisker under £46,000 (RM263k) on the road before options. The Lapiz Blue paint you see here – an R signature – is actually a £770 (RM4.4k) extra. A non-metallic white is the only standard colour.

A year’s breakdown cover comes as part of the package, as does a three-year/97,000-kilometre warranty.


Verdict – Final thoughts and pick of the range

"Judge it as a taller, fatter Golf R and it's very good. But it's flawed family transport"

It’s a curious car this, and one not short of talent. That Volkswagen’s R team have made a 1.7-tonne SUV handle this sharply and replicate most of the Golf R’s talent (if not all of its engagement) deserves praise.

They’ve ended up with a firm and thirsty car as a result, though. Fine if you’re not buying this for family duties, in which case its stiff suspension will likely be less of an issue. But if that’s you, perhaps you’re better directed towards the smaller T-Roc R crossover.

Or better yet, the daddy of this sub-brand, the Golf R. While R’s huge expansion in recent years is a welcome sign the performance car still has a future, perhaps not all of the directions it’s branching out in feel entirely natural.


Overall Verdict: 6/10