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Interior and styling upgrades boost the Tiguan's kerb appeal, but diesel may no longer be the fuel of choice
Felix Page Autocar writer
7 January 2021

What is it?

Turbocharged Direct Injection technology (you may not know) is a Volkswagen Group invention, first used in 1989 for a TDI-badged diesel version of the Audi 100, before going on (for reasons you will know) to bring the company some quite undesirable publicity 26 years later. 

Injecting diesel fuel directly into the combustion chamber is nothing new, and neither is combining that fuel vapour with ice-cold turbocharged air for a bigger bang, but its starring role in this review will no doubt spark discussion for the very fact that it runs so overtly counter to the future-thinking rhetoric at the heart of Volkswagen’s current manifesto

Curiously, in fact, you could walk into a Volkswagen dealership at this very moment with a little over £30,000 in your pocket and emerge with either this 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel SUV or a much more futuristically styled electric hatchback (with a 261-mile range) in tow. Of course, as Wolfsburg gradually expands its electric ID line-up, we’ll start to see oil-burners such as this discontinued, but for now they continue to form an integral part of the brand’s European range, to the extent that some 20% of facelifted Tiguans sold in the UK are expected to be diesel-powered, even after the market introduction of the tax-friendly, plug-in eHybrid version next month. 

There’s no denying the superficial appeal of such a powertrain, even in light of the social stigma that’s now grown around cars that sup from the black pump. Even the most abstemious modern petrol motors can’t quite match a diesel for long-distance frugality, and for lugging large loads - in this case likely three children, a dog and maybe a bike or two - the low-end torque will be a significant boon. But the fact remains that these cars are no longer as cheap to run as they once were - for the majority at least - and as low-emission zones are adopted and expanded across the country, their daily usage will gradually become less and less viable. 

What's it like?

We’ve quickly become used to the impressive capability of today’s buzzy little turbocharged petrol motors, and no longer sneer at the idea of a 1.5-tonne family mover being propelled by a powerplant you might once have associated exclusively with the supermini segment. So firing up a four-pot diesel motor today - however large the car - feels slightly old-school and a tad inappropriate, especially in an urban environment that’s quickly becoming inhospitable to all cars but those that shun fossil fuels altogether. 

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Of course, should you live in such an area and venture only occasionally onto motorways and the like, you’re probably not considering a diesel in any case. And, indeed, this is not where the Tiguan TDI shines; there’s no mild-hybrid system here, which means no energy recuperation under braking, which in turn means you’ll no doubt waste as much fuel getting out of town as you would have saved over the course of the entire journey. 

It’s not exactly what you’d call quick off the mark, either, lumbering from 0-62mph in 9.3sec, so there’ll be no gap-chasing in traffic nor sprinting between traffic lights. The Tiguan’s diesel option is paired exclusively with a seven-speed DSG automatic, which slips effortlessly between ratios on the open road but feels lethargic in stop-start operations, holding each cog for a tad too long at the top of the rev range, before offering up another all too suddenly. Even when pushing on, kickdown appears to elicit more noise than anything else, and while the illuminated S at the base of the shifter might catch the keen drivers eye, Sport mode fails to tangibly extract any zip or verve from that four-pot motor. 

Means of propulsion aside, this latest iteration of the Tiguan passes as a convincing value alternative to more ostensibly premium-oriented rivals. Say what you will about the gradual extinction of physical controls, but it doesn’t half make for an upmarket interior vibe (albeit one that’s harder to appreciate when you’re trying to turn the fan down at 70mph but keep activating the heated seat or demisting the windscreen). Our joint-top-rung Elegance trim test car’s panoramic sunroof made the cabin feel distinctly larger, while the plush dual-fabric seats felt sufficiently sized and bolstered to make long-distance driving the pleasurable experience you’d no doubt seek when specifying such a car. There’s little to take issue with in terms of material quality either, though the splashes of carbonfibre-effect trim might make more sense on the more aggressively styled R Line model. 

Swipe-tastic dashboard and airy cabin aside, it’s hard to escape the notion that this diesel version of Volkswagen’s sales chart stalwart has become a bit of a dinosaur. Long gone are the days we’d recommend a diesel SUV for anyone but a private buyer - especially so here given the 37% business-in-kind rating that oil-burning motor incurs - but even that would come with some significant caveats now. Reconcile yourself to its shortcomings, however, and you are likely to find the Tiguan's strong suits to be sufficient compensation. 

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Should I buy one?

Non-business buyers will pay £870 in vehicle excise duty alone for the diesel, and then you have to consider the very real possibility that such powertrains will be banned from city centres in the next few years. Neither of these considerations will keep you up at night if you spend all your time on the motorway, but you’d have to do some serious miles to justify the diesel over the bigger-selling 1.5-litre petrol, which only just lags behind in efficiency terms. 

As facelifts go, this is among the more significant of late, bringing welcome and noticeable improvements to the Tiguan’s styling, interior and range structure, but the increasingly apparent drawbacks of the diesel option make it harder than ever to recommend, despite its long-range refinement. It’s worth noting that if you’re married to the idea of a diesel Tiguan but do lots of urban driving, the closely related Seat Tarraco can still be specified with the 2.0-litre lump and a row-your-own box for similar money.

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Join the debate

Comments
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Halcyon 8 January 2021

"It’s worth noting that if you’re married to the idea of a diesel Tiguan but do lots of urban driving, the closely related Seat Tarraco can still be specified with the 2.0-litre lump and a row-your-own box for similar money"

What? Did Autocar just recommend bigger SUV with manual gearbox for URBAN driving? This makes no sense!

Magnitio 8 January 2021

So many comments from diesel-lovers here, many of whom probably haven't driven an alternative for years. Who's most biased, the journalist who wrote the article or the people who write the comments?

typos1 8 January 2021
Magnitio wrote:

So many comments from diesel-lovers here, many of whom probably haven't driven an alternative for years. Who's most biased, the journalist who wrote the article or the people who write the comments?

The journalist wrote something that was totally untrue not so much biased, more like bollocks.

Rather ride a m... 7 January 2021
Agree with most of the comments here; terrible review desperately trying to support the electric/hybridization fashion.
Completely under-represents the well proven value of diesels in cars like this:
simple, well proven reliability of well known diesel technology, much better real world mpg, effortless torque at the revs most drivers use, ease of use without dicking around with charging cables, fuel range, additional weight of hybrid batteries and motors.
Not to mention that the risk of the most modern diesels being banned from urban centres is minimal. And, of course, forgets about the additional damage to the planet caused by making huge batteries.
AddyT 7 January 2021
Rather ride a motorbike wrote:

Agree with most of the comments here; terrible review desperately trying to support the electric/hybridization fashion. Completely under-represents the well proven value of diesels in cars like this: simple, well proven reliability of well known diesel technology, much better real world mpg, effortless torque at the revs most drivers use, ease of use without dicking around with charging cables, fuel range, additional weight of hybrid batteries and motors. Not to mention that the risk of the most modern diesels being banned from urban centres is minimal. And, of course, forgets about the additional damage to the planet caused by making huge batteries.

 

Completely agree! Not sure where the 25% of sales is coming from as most of these are diesels for the reasons everyone has mentioned! I haven't looked but whatever the petrol MPG figures are, take 5 off straightaway and yes this applies to diesels too. When my wife was getting a Tiguan and looking at the diesels, the salesman tried to sell her the 2.0T petrol as it was in stock (fair enough) and tried to sell it as "only 12mpg less than the diesel". Problem was that's 38mpg and with the above in mind and that engine you are looking at early thirties realistically! No chance and especially as she does decent miles in one! Anyway away from that, a very strange and also frustrating review. Completely biased and it added no value to the reader at all really. Poor show. 

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