What it provides is better looks for the same heart: every Tiguan carries a 2.0-liter four-cylinder TSI engine up front, turbocharged and intercooled, sending the same 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet either to the front wheels or to all four via a Haldex-clutch-equipped 4Motion system. Volkswagen touts the option of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, but such buyer discretion only applies to the front-wheel-drive model. If you want 4Motion, you have to get the automatic, and the R-Line cannot be had with a manual. Both FWD and AWD models are rated at 26 highway miles per gallon, but in the city, the manual FWD returns 18 mpg, the automatic FWD gets 21 mpg and the AWD gets 20 mpg – none of which is terribly pleasing for a compact crossover, particularly when premium fuel is recommended.
- On the outside, beyond the badging, R-Line spotters will take note of body-color side skirts, black wheel arch extensions, a roof spoiler, HID headlamps and power folding side mirrors.
- R-Line interior extras include leather seating surfaces and power front seats along with a flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped steering wheel, stainless steel pedals and aluminum sill plates. The interior is a premium VW affair with leather that exudes all the right vibes and everything else feeling soft to the touch. The choice materials and two-tone instrument panel overcome the minimalism of the center console and the huge sunroof keeping the cabin bright. A very nice Fender audio system is standard, and so is a trial of Volkswagen's new Car-Net connected services suite (the People's Car version of OnStar).
- VW charges the Tiguan with "putting the 'Sport' in SUV," crediting it with having the soul of the GTI (but not the same heart), and we didn't scoff at the bombast after a couple of hours behind the wheel. As we mentioned in our recent First Drive of the 2014 Jeep Cherokee – even though we drove the Tiguan before it – there are crossovers that are finally and truly delivering on the promise of a car-like ride, the Tiguan R-Line being a prime example. We threw it at the same scrunched-up Sonoma Valley curves we had just tackled in a base-trim 2014 Jetta with the new 1.8-liter base engine. The 115-hp Jetta got a gold star for being capable and fun, but the compact crossover that looks like a big shoe is a perfect hoot to drive.
- It's almost always mentioned that the R-line doesn't add more horsepower, but few mention that in applications like the Tiguan, the R-Line can do more with its power - it has larger 19-inch wheels wearing 255/40 R19 Pirelli Scorpions (versus 17- or 18- inch wheels on less aggressive rubber) and a firmer, sport suspension tune means it isn't only about appearance. Plus, the Tiguan R-Line is the only trim to get shift paddles on its steering wheel.
- Yet we almost never touched the paddles. That 207 lb-ft of warthog grunt comes on from 1,700 rpm, same as the 200 hp, and the six-speed transmission didn't need help knowing where to be in the rev range when called to attention. With 4Motion all-wheel drive there for the assist – the Haldex center diff can move almost 100-percent of the torque to the rear wheels, during acceleration, for instance – they easily get the 3,591-pound crossover connecting one uphill ess to the next, that firmer suspension and those Scorpions taking over to get one through those corners as wished. On milder runs at highway speeds, the cabin is quiet and composed, and the staccato flow of urban drive is like being in a VW sedan with a booster seat.
- For 2014, there are five Tiguan trims, with a healthy price climb from bottom to top. The base S starts at $22,995 and the range-topping R-Line begins at $36,535, or $37,400 after you add $865 for destination. Check the 4Motion box and you're at $39,355. The Tiguan we drove had been optioned up to $39,625 with the addition of four Monster Mats, a trunk liner and a first aid kit. That's more money than a base Audi Q5 with the same engine.
- A quick run through a few configurators put the Tiguan at about $1,400 more than a similarly equipped Chevrolet Equinox, about $3,700 more than a Ford Escape and roughly $7,000 more than a Mazda CX-5 – the first two of those being among the eight vehicles VW lists in the Tiguan's competitive set. All of them have more headroom, legroom and cargo space than the Volkswagen. They are also all down on power compared to the Tiguan, in some cases quite a bit down, and only the Mazda can come close to the driving experience. But the competitors (in four-cylinder guise) do get better gas mileage on less-costly regular fuel. If you don't need the R-Line features, the SEL trim omits the look-faster and turn harder kit and provides an instant $4,000 discount with an MSRP of $32,670. It will take more than that to explain the huge disparity in sales between the Tiguan and its competitors, of course.
- The Tiguan – any Tiguan, but especially the R-line – strikes us as a lifestyle choice in a segment guarded by the twin sentinels of Practicality and Value, those watchmen ready to disembowel the sales of non-conforming competition. Remember when the Internet's circuit boards glowed red because of enthusiasts raging at the 'dumbing down' of the 2011 Jetta, livid that VW acceded to market dictates and unveiled a vehicle that was a far better competitor for a segment also guarded – even more intensely – by practicality and value? The Jetta has sold in five-digit quantities every month since that happened, something that could not be said of it before. In fact, its sales are still climbing two years after it hit the market. The Tiguan, meanwhile, remains representative of the VW that demands premium money for a premium product no matter the trim and no matter the segment, and it has sold more than 3,000 units in a single month only once since January 2010. As a lifestyle proposition, though, the Tiguan R-Line is a good one; it's slightly smaller and less frugal, but it's good looking, more powerful, nicer inside and a lot more fun to drive than most of its rivals.