Most of the world is used to European cars at all price points — including ultra-cheap economy cars from such brands as Renault, Opel and Škoda.
Americans don’t get those brands. European cars here tend to be luxury cars like BMWs, Jaguars and Audis.
However, we do have Volkswagen. Its cars and crossovers exhibit the same clean, almost-stark design aesthetic as Audis (not surprising, given that they’re part of the same company). And because European buyers expect excellent ride and handling composure, VWs often feel more premium to drive than their competitors.
Volkswagen has added more value for the money to that combination – acknowledging American demands for ample interior space, affordable pricing and a long warranty.
A chief example is the Tiguan compact crossover, which the company redesigned and reinvented for the 2018 model year. It threw out the old Tiguan’s extra-petite dimensions in favor of a stretched body that makes the Tiguan among the longest compact crossovers, even allowing room for an available third-row seat.
Prices for the 2019 Tiguan start at $25,290, and a well-equipped version with all-wheel-drive, heated leatherette upholstery, blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking remains under $30,000.
Particularly from the outside, the Tiguan doesn’t look like a $25,000 vehicle. While some might find it plain, its straight lines and rectangular design elements will be perfect for buyers who find other crossovers to be garishly over-styled. It’s narrow for its length, though — the U.S. gets an elongated version of the more internationally successful five-passenger Tiguan.
Things are also fairly clean and simple inside. There’s no imitation wood or shiny chrome trim, and no elaborate shapes across the dashboard. Here too, some will see welcome restraint, but others will feel it’s just plain. All trims but the base S are available with two-tone upholstery (black and orange on the tested SEL Premium), which livens things up a bit. Materials quality is respectable for the compact crossover class, if not luxury-grade.
The Tiguan has mostly straightforward controls, and the infotainment system (an 8-inch touchscreen on most trims; 6.5 inches on the S Model) supports Apple CarPlay and Android CarPlay smartphone integration. A few functions work more smoothly or more elegantly in some competitors, though.
The cabin is spacious, with comfortable front and rear seats, and the cargo space is among the best in the compact crossover segment. The available third-row seat — standard on front-wheel-drive Tiguans and optional with all-wheel-drives — is OK for kids in a pinch, but a larger midsize or full-size crossover would be a better fit for more- frequent use.
On the road, the Tiguan presents perhaps its weakest point: a 2.0-liter 184-horsepower engine that struggles a bit with the Tiguan’s 3,800-pound weight. Acceleration trails the best compact crossovers, and the engine gets noisy and coarse when it’s pushed. Moreover, fuel efficiency is mediocre for the class (though excellent for a seven-passenger vehicle) at 25 mpg in mixed driving with front-wheel-drive and 24 mpg with all-wheel-drive. Unlike the first-generation Tiguan, though, it uses regular fuel rather than requiring premium.
Like most European cars, the Tiguan rides and handles well, with its tautly tuned suspension inspiring confidence on a winding road. However, it doesn’t have the outright eagerness that might characterize a Mazda CX-5 or Ford Escape — and even the best-selling Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue handle with respectable composure.
Overall, the Tiguan delivers a spacious interior, pleasant driving manners and a wide array of available safety features. But so do the CR-V and Rogue, which also trump the Tiguan’s fuel efficiency. So be sure to check out this above-average compact crossover, but unless its European styling or third-row seating wins you over, a competitor may prove better-rounded.
Auto Drive also recently tested another upscale-feeling compact crossover whose unique looks are a big part of its appeal. However, this extroverted vehicle takes a very different approach from the clean and simple Tiguan.
That’s the 2019 GMC Terrain, a more elaborately styled version of the better-selling Chevrolet Equinox. It has a smoother, quieter ride than most compact crossovers, and it’s available with a more powerful engine than the class norm: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 252 horsepower.
GMC is the General Motors brand that’s limited to SUVs and trucks, and its vehicles typically feature big, prominent grilles. But on the more car-like Terrain, GMC throws in wedge-shaped headlights and taillights, plus a “floating roof” design in which a narrow side window wraps around the rear of the vehicle to meet the rear windshield.
Not everyone will find the design cohesive, but the right buyer will see an appealing mix of traditional GMC toughness with contemporary on-road flash.
The Terrain boasts a comfortable five-passenger interior with decent cargo space, though less total volume than the Tiguan. It also rides and handles well, while the optional 2.0-liter engine is quiet and punchy. (The standard 1.5-liter engine with 170 horsepower delivers more leisurely acceleration, but it’s also impressively smooth and quiet.)
Fuel economy is a mixed bag. The base model gets up to 28 mpg in mixed driving on regular fuel — decent but unexceptional for the class — but the 2.0-liter maxes out at 24 mpg on premium. An available diesel engine offers a standout 32 mpg in mixed driving, but it’s a pricey option and diesel fuel typically costs more than regular.
Terrain prices start at a reasonable $26,195, but GMC saves some common options for pricey trim levels.
If you’re careful with the options, the Terrain’s power and refinement can make it a compelling alternative to a midsize crossover — especially if you love how it looks. And if you don’t, the mechanically identical Chevy Equinox is inoffensively handsome.
Visit tinyurl.com/sentinel-tiguan to see more photos of the tested 2019 Volkswagen Tiguan.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.