Given a chance to drive the all-new 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan, we found it to be roomy and pleasant, checking all the right boxes for us. But questions remain: Does it still have the youthful demeanor we’ve always liked? Or has this compact SUV grown up too much, not only in its look and feel but also in price and size?

To find out we rented one from Volkswagen before it goes on sale later this fall.

The new Tiguan is one of the largest players in the compact SUV segment, stretching 185 inches, a whopping 11 inches longer than the previous model. That’s also 2 inches longer than the Chevrolet Equinox and 4 inches more than the Honda CR-V

The added length allows the new Tiguan to include a standard third-row seat on front-wheel-drive versions (it’s an option on all-wheel-drive Tiguans).

On the road, the new car was easygoing and user-friendly. The engine and transmission provided prompt responses when you hit the gas pedal, but don’t expect any breathtaking power. The eight-speed automatic is okay, but it suffers from a few hiccups in stop-and-go traffic. The engine’s stop-start isn’t the smoothest, either, but you can turn it off easily with a button. When you select Sport mode, the accelerator reacts a little faster and the steering firms up just a bit.  

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan driving

Learn more about the latest small SUVs.

Though the Tiguan is enjoyable enough to drive, don’t expect VW GTI levels of playfulness. Unlike the previous version, the new Tiguan is not among the sportiest small SUVs, falling behind its main rivals, the Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5.

Volkswagen Tiguans come with a new 184 horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. That’s fewer horses than the old Tiguan’s 200, but torque has been increased, and that means more power when you initially accelerate. Undoubtedly, most drivers will appreciate that the new engine runs on regular gas rather than premium, which the last Tiguan required. The EPA estimates the new Tiguan at 23 mpg overall, which is not a standout for the class.

The ride is comfortable and controlled because the Tiguan absorbs all types of broken pavement quite well. It’s usually quiet inside the cabin, but a coarse engine sound can intrude when it’s pushed.

Interior of 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan.
The 8-inch touch-screen infotainment system is a focal point of the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan's tasteful interior.

Inside is where the new Tiguan really shines. The seats are comfortable and supportive, even though the power lumbar adjusts only in and out. The second row is very roomy, but the third row is tiny. Getting to the wayback is helped by an easy-to-reach lever that also allows the second row to recline and slide.  

Controls up front are straightforward and easy to use, including the infotainment touch screen, which is uncluttered and responds quickly. Some labels appear next to their icons as your hand approaches the screen, but that’s not a huge distraction. It’s also intuitive to interact with the system by using buttons on the steering wheel. Interior quality in the SEL trim we drove is clearly a notch above most of its competitors.

Thoughtful touches include bottle holders built into all doors, a dedicated place under the cargo floor to store the retractable cargo cover, and the ability to lower sections of the second row using levers in the cargo hold.

For tech lovers, the new Tiguan packs in all the latest in smartphone connectivity, including standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Advanced active safety features such as forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist are available starting with the SE trim level.

Rear three-quarters view of 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan.
The all-new 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan features a standard third-row seat on front-wheel-drive versions.

Pricing starts at $25,345 for the front-drive S trim and rises to the upper $30,000s for a loaded SEL version with AWD. Though that’s not significantly different from before—or from what competitors are charging—Volkswagen has reshuffled the equipment you get with each trim. For example, a power driver’s seat and automatic climate control now come standard on the mainstream SE, which costs around $30,000, close to the sweet spot of the segment. With the original Tiguan, you had to spring for the SEL trim—at almost $37,000—to get those features.

Incidentally, the previous version of the Tiguan will soldier on as the Tiguan Limited.

Clearly, the new Tiguan is very functional, roomy, and easy to live with, qualities that give it a better chance of resonating with most compact-SUV shoppers than the old version. For VW loyalists, though, the new Tiguan may be a bit too straightlaced, having traded sportiness and cheerful looks for more mainstream virtues.

Check back with us in the fall after we buy our own Tiguan and fully test it.