Volkswagen’s R-badged performance car recipe is pretty well known by now. It takes its best-selling models, fits a boosty 2.0-litre engine under the bonnet, adds a little sporty flair to the exterior and improves the handling.
That might seem a little reductive, but it’s a recipe that’s clearly working for the brand by expanding its model ranges with largely shared parts while also giving various models an aspirational halo version.
The latest car to get this treatment is the best-selling of them all, the Tiguan SUV.
The regular Tiguan was given a big update late last year, with a new look at the front, updated assistance systems and a new infotainment system.
Although Volkswagen considers the R a separate model, it gets the same updates, as well as a bunch of go-faster parts such as an R-specific engine, reconfigured all-wheel-drive system, sports exhaust, lowered ride height, a new progressive steering system, and drive mode selection.
What’s under the bonnet?
When we say R-specific engine we mean specific to the Tiguan range, because anyone familiar with VW Group’s performance models will immediately recognise the EA888 engine that’s widely used in a variety of desirable cars across the its brands.
This is the latest generation, boasting 316bhp and 420Nm of torque delivered in that familiarly old-school turbo way.
It surges towards the red line and sounds great, if a little artificial, while doing so. In this SUV package it’s not quite as punchy as it is in other much-loved VW models, but it’s got enough get-up-and-go to have fun.
What’s it like to drive?
In everyday driving situations the Tiguan is fine, but no more than that, and that’s a little disappointing. The gearbox is incredibly sluggish, being reluctant to shift down when you ask for a little more power, while the ride quality is just a little choppy.
However, if you need the practicality of an SUV but want something that can delight on a B road, they’re compromises that might just be worth making.
Pop the Tiguan R into sport mode and use the wheel-mounted paddles to change gear yourself and it’s surprisingly fun in the twisties. It doesn’t like to be hustled like a rally car, but once you’re in a rhythm it hides its heft well.
How does it look?
The Tiguan is already a great-looking SUV, but in R trim this only improves. There’s a sleek headlight design up front and a prominent front grille that gives it an aggressive face.
The chunky bumper is quite elaborate in design, with swoops and swirls around the air intakes for aerodynamic effect.
The rear LED lights have a great signature at night, but while the rear is a little less extroverted in its sporty styling touches, the lower diffuser with the quad-exit exhaust system hints at the fact this is no ordinary Tiguan.
The 21-inch alloy wheels, meanwhile, probably play a small part in the slightly rougher ride, but they look fantastic.
What’s it like inside?
The cabin is perhaps the only area where we have some bigger complaints – but first the positives…
It’s big and spacious inside, making it perfect for family life, while there are plenty of high-quality materials, comfortable sports seats and an excellent infotainment system.
However, VW has an obsession with touch-sensitive controls, and none are pleasant to use.
The steering-wheel buttons, such as skip song or change volume, have a weird haptic feedback and don’t respond to rapid presses, while the climate sliders would take a lot of getting used to.
We’re big fans of technological progress but this feels like change for change’s sake.
What’s the spec like?
Tiguan R starts at £45,410 and comes very well equipped.
Standard kit on the outside includes the 21-inch alloy wheels, R styling updates and LED lights front and rear, while the cabin gets cloth-upholstered sports seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel plus shifter handle, and stainless steel pedals.
Other key features are the digital instrument panel, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, sat nav, and three USB-C ports for fast charging.
A few optional extras that could be worth ticking include a panoramic sunroof (£960), heated front washer nozzles and heated outer rear seats (£55), a Harman Kardon premium sound system (£790) and a leather package (£1,605).
And if the exhaust note isn’t fruity enough, there’s always an Akrapovic upgrade for £3,155.
What do we think?
While this might be an all-new model to the VW line-up, it’s a familiar recipe we’ve come to know and love.
All the important ingredients are there – the stylish looks, rapid engine and improved handling – so it’s no surprise when the Tiguan R is great fun on a blast across the countryside.
There are a few minor gripes, such as the hesitant gearbox and annoying touch-sensitive buttons in the cabin, but as an all-round package the Volkswagen Tiguan R should have enough to win you over.
Facts at a glance
Model as tested: Volkswagen Tiguan R
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Max speed: 155mph
0-60mph: 4.9 seconds
Emissions: 225g/km CO2