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Hot hatch happiness in an SUV


Volkswagen Tiguan R combines sporty dynamics with SUV practicality.
Volkswagen Tiguan R combines sporty dynamics with SUV practicality.

Choosing the new and surprisingly raucous Volkswagen Tiguan R as your family car is very much like buying a rottweiler; it will definitely scare your children and annoy your neighbours, and if you’re not careful it might just bite you.

It’s hard to believe that adding an R (it probably stands for “Racy” rather than “Rottweiler-ish”) to the humble and generally quiet and suburban smallish SUV Tiguan’s rump could change it so substantially, giving it both more bite and more bark, but it really does.

In VW world, earning an R badge is much like getting a neck tattoo.
In VW world, earning an R badge is much like getting a neck tattoo.

In VW world, earning an R badge is much like getting a neck tattoo, or shaving your head and eyebrows. It draws attention and causes people to take you more seriously.

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The question of why you would give the power, noise and tech treatment to a family hauler for small families is a good one, but I think I understand.

Basically, there are a lot of men, and no doubt some women, out there who have long pined for a hot hatch, like Volkswagen’s excellent and legendary Golf GTI, or the even more sporty, and all-wheel-drive, Golf R.

Unfortunately, for many of them, the point at which they reached the level of disposable income necessary to buy such a vehicle coincides with the life stage at which they have two young children, a dog and far too many pieces of luggage.

In the past, this meant either giving up on the hot-hatch dream or attempting to compromise on space and spine health as they somehow wrangled small, wriggling beings into child seats in the rear of a vehicle clearly not designed for them.

The little-ones won’t need to wriggle into these seats.
The little-ones won’t need to wriggle into these seats.

The Tiguan R, however, is designed to combine sporty dynamics with SUV practicality, an offering VW describes as “completely unique in the mainstream market”. The word “mainstream” is working fairly hard in that sentence, of course, because in the upper echelons of price, Audi, BMW and Benz do attempt the same, tricky compromise.

Doing so requires a vehicle to overcome some fairly sizeable hurdles, of course, the largest of which Albert Einstein would define as “physics” or just “gravity”. Vehicles that stand tall enough to make loading children into the back seats easy are not built to corner like sports cars, because their centre of gravity is noticeably higher than that of race cars.

It really is quite a shock, then, to find yourself flashing down the straight of Sydney Motorsport Park — where the Tiguan R was launched — at 210km/h, the car’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine — lifted directly from the more sylphlike Golf R — roaring and snorting like a hungover bogan woken too early the day after the Bathurst 1000.

Despite the SUV height, the Tiguan R corners more like a lowly slung sports machine.
Despite the SUV height, the Tiguan R corners more like a lowly slung sports machine.

And even more so to find yourself tipping into the track’s titanic Turn One at 150km/h and, rather than tipping over on your side and catching fire, tearing through the apex with a baffled smile on your face.

It’s a strange sensation, to be sure, as it feels like you’re doing something you know you shouldn’t, and that the wheels beneath you are somehow disconnected from the car that they’re attached to, and thus able to perform more like they’re part of a different, more lowly slung sports machine, as they get you around the bend with minimum fuss.

I can only imagine it’s a bit like running on high heels, and yet not falling over.

Through slower, more technical corners, the Tiguan R shines perhaps even brighter, using its stupidly clever R Performance Torque Vectoring system to push as much as 100 per cent of power to the rear wheel that can most use it, which allows you to apply throttle and steering angle in ways that just shouldn’t work and then slip and slightly slide your way out wearing that same look of disbelief on your face.

Cleverly, that same torque-vectoring ability can be used to improve traction and grip when going off-road, should you be willing to do that in a car with such nice, shiny paint and aggressive bodywork.

The Volkswagen Tiguan R is far more fun than you’d believed was possible.
The Volkswagen Tiguan R is far more fun than you’d believed was possible.

With each passing lap, you are forced to accept that this Tiguan is far more fun than you’d believed was possible. After spending a few days with it on public roads I also came to appreciate that it can still operate like a quiet family hauler, as long as you keep it in Comfort mode and are gentle with the throttle.

Should the madness take you at any moment, however, say at a traffic light, you can choose to switch to Race, engage Launch Control (a tricky bit of software originally developed to help F1 drivers cheat, which provides the perfect combination of grip and power to get you off the line, fast), stamp both the brake and the throttle at once and then step off the brake and fire your way to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds.

Yes, it does seem strange for a Tiguan to have Launch Control, but that doesn’t make it any less amusing, nor its 235kW and 400Nm engine any less wonderful.

In the cabin, everything feels classy.
In the cabin, everything feels classy.

In the cabin, everything feels classy, the screens are clever and modern (VW continues to grow close and closer to its sister company, Audi, in terms of interior quality, which must annoy one of those companies), and the steering wheel feels properly chunky. I did find the seats a little hard, but perhaps that’s to remind you that you’re a hard-core kind of person.

For family use, you also get 615 litres of boot space, rear seats that tilt and slide and the ability to fit three child seats across the rear, effectively creating a kind of Easter Show ride for your little ones, should the urge to unleash the rottweiler within overtake you.

Launch mode will get you to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds, enough to get around annoying blue cars.
Launch mode will get you to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds, enough to get around annoying blue cars.

The only issue, then, is the price, which, at $68,990, did make me whistle in shock. In my mind, a good hot hatch should be obtainable somewhere between $40K and $50K tops, but then a “good” hot hatch is a front-wheel-drive-only VW GTI, and the R is a different level again.

On paper, the Tiguan R made laughably little sense to me, personally, but after driving it, particularly on a track, where it did look like a camel at Flemington, I must admit, I loved it.

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