Road Tests

We drive VW’s GTI SUV: 162kW Tiguan TSI 4Motion

In our very near automotive future most performance cars will have five doors and sufficient ground clearance to offer you the option of being one of those hateful kerbside parkers.

I’d like to imagine the authority of my 15 years’ test driving cars all over the world, and reviewing them on South African roads, could persuade you that this SUV/crossover obsession is a most regretful indulgence. That the compromises in cabin packaging correlate with a higher mass centre point, which blunts agility and debits fluidity through a succession of potentially rewarding corners. But I can’t. Everyone you know, now owns an SUV, and soon, you will be compelled to own one too.

German automotive manufacturers – the only ones influential enough to matter – have calculated that half of their future sales will be a blend SUVs or crossovers, hence the probability of you having little choice but to buy one. Ordinarily this would be a prospect of utter despair for petrolheads, but perhaps there is redemption in the SUV as performance car offering.

Much as I wish more people would buy four-door performance cars instead of their SUVs, there is an argument to be made for the South African case. We have access to the world’s most extensively used gravel road network. Along these corrugated roads, are marvellously interesting communities and panoramas of majestic scale and inspiration.

Often a car’s greatest merit is as the means to journey, exploring your country and finding the unique places of appeal that make one patriotic about it – and if you are seeking the Jaluka-worthy locations of Mzansi, an SUV is perhaps going to serve you better than the latest Nürburgring-edition sedan or coupe. Like gluten free pizza, compromise is always an unfulfilling experience and if you buy that destined SUV, the driving experience is a touch disappointing. The awkwardness of living with an SUV of supposedly rewarding performance potential is compounded, as between your weekends of finding those potentially viral Instagram vistas in your said SUV, there’s a working week of urban commuting toil.

It doesn’t have to be compromise at all, though. Enter VW’s silver bullet, the new 2017 Tiguan TSI. They should have badged it Tiguan 2.0 GTi, but for reasons of marketing cannibalisation to historic reverence, that would never be allowed. Truthfully? It’s the real-world GTi VW doesn’t want you to know about.

This nameplate that established the entire cult of hot hatches, which remains one of the most iconic cars in production, indisputably successful and spitefully admired is also now available as an SUV. It’s an open secret and amazingly, nobody’s noticed.

GTI traditionalists will undoubtedly be troubled at my logic, but there is no faulting that the sum of parts on offer with Tiguan TSI, make it an authentic VW GTi SUV. It’s built on the mechanical engineering miracle which is Group VW’s MQB platform and powered by the same engine in your Golf 7 GTI. If the heart and skeletal structure of two creatures are similar, there’s no disputing their bloodline due to some proportional differences, right? Exactly.

Admittedly, Tiguan’s DSG transmission has an additional gear (totalling seven) and the benefit of all-wheel drive, like a Golf R… These are the details which make its standing as the GTi of SUVs so compelling. Outputs are equal between the Golf and Tiguan ‘GTi’s’ – 162kW/350Nm – but the SUV is burdened by an additional 300kg of metal, glass and trim bits. Amazingly, despite this, both run similar times for the benchmark 0-100kph sprint – 6.5 seconds.

Traction. It is a thing. And transplanting the Golf GTi’s proven performance powertrain into an SUV, adding mass, but also adding the benefit of Haldex-coupled all-wheel drive, shows just how much of a thing traction can be. Sure, the additional front surface area and much higher roofline of Tiguan calculate to a lower top speed (220km/h for Tiguan, 244km/h for Golf), but for real-world urban driving urgency (read: ‘traffic light racing’) they’re very evenly matched.

Beyond the identical acceleration numbers, I’m never going to try and convince you that this 162kW Tiguan TSI can change direction – at irresponsible speeds – with the confidence and ability of a ‘7 GTi. It can’t. But it can corner without a trace of the fridge-on-skateboard understeer which afflicts most SUV, when you drive them with hot hatch levels of input and commitment.

The truth of experience is this, VW’s all-but-in-name Tiguan GTi matches a ‘7 GTi for urban racer pace, will lag a few lengths behind at a Kyalami track day, yet crucially, can run for hundreds of kilometres on roads that will ruin your Golf’s front bumper in a matter of metres. This is the unrecognised value of this unheralded VW performance car: it has 201mm of ground clearance, 68mm more than Golf, which means swift progress on Karoo gravel tracks, without having to claim R10k worth of stone chip damage from your insurance on Monday.

I despise compromise cars. They’re like compromise braais, where you accommodate vegans and they ruin the entire tempo of preparation by brining soy burger patties. Too many SUVs are like that too: not ladder-frame off-road robust, but hardly 10/10th inspiring on the way around the Gillooly’s at speed, either. Always somewhat out of place, no matter where you’re driving them.

It’s the compromise I can justify, this Tiguan TSI. In R-Line trim it’s a disarmingly attractive car and the VW parts-bin cabin bits are quality items of which you wouldn’t mind having as furniture in your house. Best thing about it, is the Q-factor. Nobody is going to know you are driving the VW South African petrolhead’s unwittingly desire, one with gravel travel capable ground clearance, Golf GTi sprinting ability and Golf R cornering traction.

We all love Q-cars and VW’s Golf GTi has certainly become too popular to be regarded as one anymore. This Tiguan is a proper Q-car, though. In fact, it’s the perfect contemporary South African five-door performance family car. Part SUV. Many parts Golf GTi. But with a seven-speed DSG. We know, we know. That last detail has just convinced you, hasn’t it?


  • PRICE: R542 200
  • Engine: 1984cc 4-cyl petrol turbo, 162kW, 350Nm
  • Transmission: 7spd DSG 4Motion
  • Performance: 0-100km/h in 6.5secs, 220km/h
  • Economy: 7.8l/100km, 180g/km
  • Kerbweight: 1669kg
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