Freshened styling on tap for 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan

By Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan different?

2020 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium R-Line

Freshened styling but no alterations to the body itself and probably no change to the powertrain. We would urge Volkswagen to filter driver assists, such as adaptive cruise control, down to lower priced models. Barring that, look for minor appearance revisions to nose and tail that’ll carry the German automaker’s top-selling U.S. vehicle through to its next full redesign, probably for model-year 2023 or ’24.

Expect the ’21 Tiguan to return with one engine – a turbocharged four-cylinder – and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. If VW perceives continued demand for the optional third-row seat, the ’21 Tiguan would remain one of just two compact crossovers with seven-passenger capacity, the Mitsubishi Outlander the other.

Today’s second-generation Tiguan (the name marries “tiger” and “iguana”) debuted for model-year 2018. Unlike its cramped and costly predecessor, it was designed expressly for the American market, priced competitively, and sized at the top of the class for passenger and cargo room. Buyers responded: sales more than doubled in 2018 and were up another 7 percent through the first three quarters of 2019. Still, Tiguan demand trails well behind that for the class-dominating Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Chevrolet Equinox.

Should I wait for the 2021 Tiguan or buy the 2020?

2020 Tiguan SEL Premium R-Line

Wait for the ’21 if you want the styling and feature set that’ll be current for another couple of years. Wait also if you’re hopeful rumors of a high-performance Tiguan R model prove true. VW could add the 300-horsepower R model for 2021 to buoy interest as the second-generation Tiguan winds down. Our sources, however, suggest an R model wouldn’t arrive in the U.S. until model-year 2022, at the earliest.

If cosmetic updates don’t matter and you’re not an R intender, consider a 2020 Tiguan. It’ll be materially the same as the ’21 but won’t suffer model-year price inflation and probably will be discounted a little deeper than usual as dealers make room for the refreshed version. It’ll again slot into VW’s crossover lineup between the automaker’s about-to-be-announced subcompact, tentatively called the Apollo, and its midsize five-seat Atlas Cross Sport and seven-seat Atlas.  

Expect the 2021 Tiguan lineup to be a rerun of the 2020, starting with the entry-level S and ascending through the better-equipped SE, the sporty-trimmed SE R-Line Black, the upscale SEL, and the flagship SEL Premium R-Line. R-Line is essentially an appearance package, with no changes to mechanical specification. VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive (AWD) should remain standard on the SEL Premium and optional on the other models in place of front-wheel drive.

Will the styling be different?

2020 Tiguan SEL

Only by degree. Look for the lower front fascia of all models to adopt larger air intakes similar to those on the 2020 R-Lines. New taillight lens, color choices, and perhaps updated wheel designs could be on tap, too. All 2021 Tiguans may also acquire the subtly updated brand logo, in which the letters “VW” are thinner, and the lower points of the “W” don’t meet the edge of the roundel.

R-Lines will again be distinguished by darkened exterior trim and specific badging and wheels, likely 20-inch alloys versus 19s on the SEL. The refresh could give S and SE 18s, up from the 2020 models’ 17s.

Inside, surface textures and accents might change, but the dashboard will retain its straightforward layout, with self-evident controls and clear gauges. VW might find a way to fit a slightly larger central dashboard touchscreen than the 6.5-inch display that’s been included with the S and the 8-incher that’s been standard on the other models.

2020 Tguan

With no redistribution of features, leather upholstery would remain exclusive to the SEL Premium R-Line. The S would retain cloth and the other models a sturdy leatherette. Even with the leather, sober lines and a modicum of padded surfaces would keep cabin ambience more single-guy-loft than upmarket luxury. No stinting on space, though. Passenger room in the first two rows will again be a big selling point. The tiny third row would remain an option on AWD models as occasional seating for kids in a pinch.

Cargo volume will also be a drawing card, with seven-seaters getting 12 cubic feet behind the third row, 33 behind the second row, and 65.7 total. Five-passenger ’21 Tiguans would have 37.6 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 73.5 with them folded. All will retain a 40/20/40 split/folding second row, a flexibility most in this class don’t match. Generous door pockets should offset a small center console to help keep small-items storage a plus.

Any mechanical changes?

2020 Tiguan SEL

No. Expect every 2021 Tiguan to return with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower is likely to remain class-competitive at 184, torque slightly above par at 221 pound-feet.

With the transmission’s fuel-economy programming giving preference to higher gears, the ’21 Tiguan is likely to again feel lazy away from a stop but lively enough once underway. A shift-point-altering Sport mode and manual-type gear control via the console stalk can sharpen throttle response some. We’d love to see VW add paddle shifters for 2021, but a Tiguan with true hot-rod acceleration will have to await the rumored R model, with its circa-300-horsepower turbo four from VW’s latest Golf R hatchback.

Similarly, sensible rather than sensational should again describe the ’21 Tiguan’s road manners. Volkswagen found success retuning its compact crossover to favor bump absorbency and competent handling over a taut ride and darty moves. Still, if VW could give the ’21 Tiguan’s suspension a bit more starch, maybe wavy pavement wouldn’t trigger the porpoise-like motions we experienced with our test 2020 SEL Premium R-Line.

4Motion provides a worthwhile dimension of all-weather security, seamlessly shuffling power from the front wheels to the rear when sensors detect tire slip. A console controller allows the driver to optimize steering, powertrain, and traction-control calibrations among snow, on-road, and off-road modes. Tiguan won’t challenge the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk or even the Subaru Forester for severe backcountry capability, but 4Motion and a liberal 7.9 inches of ground clearance won’t leave you vulnerable to unpredictable conditions.

Will fuel economy improve?

2020 Tiguan SEL

With no mechanical changes and little expectation of improved aerodynamics or reduced weight, the 2021 Tiguan’s EPA ratings should be unchanged from the 2020’s. That would keep this VW in the lower half of the class for gas mileage, which some might consider an equitable tradeoff for its generous passenger and cargo space.

Expect the ’21 Tiguan to rate 22/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 20/27/23 with AWD. VW should continue to recommend regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

Will there be new features?

2020 Tiguan with optional third-row seat

New features per se aren’t likely, but VW could well take advantage of the fact that its new subcompact crossover will supplant the Tiguan as its least expensive crossover. That could mean the ’21 Tiguan might reallocate some upscale amenities — leather upholstery, LED headlights, the snazzy Digital Cockpit instrumentation, for instance — from higher trim levels to lower ones as standard equipment.

More vitally, the ’21 Tiguan would become more competitive with the CR-V, RAV4, Forester and other top rivals if VW’s full suite of safety features were included on the base S model. Laudably, every ’21 Tiguan should return with forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection as standard. Likewise, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert. For 2020, driver assists such as adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead and lane-maintaining steering correction were exclusive to the SEL and SEL Premium R-Line models. Top rivals tend to include at least adaptive cruise control as standard across the board.

With the caveat that VW could redistribute features for ’21, here’s a look at how the 2020 Tiguan was configured. In addition to the aforementioned items, the S grade came with LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, WiFi hotspot, support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and heated mirrors. If the third-row seat returns, it should again be an option for any 4Motion Tiguan, at around $595.

Most buyers start shopping at the SE level. The ’20 SE expanded on the S with dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless access with pushbutton ignition, heated front seats, a power driver seat, satellite radio, wireless phone charging, infotainment-system voice control, heated windshield-washer nozzles, and two front USB ports (versus one in the S).

A panoramic sunroof was a $1,200 option for the SE model and standard on the SE R-Line Black and above. The SE R-Line Black also included a leather steering wheel, park-distance alert, and the 20-inch wheels in black.

The 2020 Tiguan SEL came with all the above, plus remote engine start, rain-sensing wipers, a rear USB charge port, automatic-dimming rearview mirror, a heated steering wheel, a power liftgate, and an imbedded navigation system that can provide real-time GPS mapping in the absence of a cell signal. Along with the SEL R-Line Premium, it featured VW’s Digital Cockpit, which replaces the analog main gauges with a screen that can display digital instrumentation as well as redundant navigation mapping.

The ’20 Tiguan SEL R-Line Premium delivered the features already noted, plus full LED headlights with automatic high beams, a 360-degree overhead camera view, ambient cabin lighting, driver’s-seat memory, a hands-free power liftgate, and VW’s Fender co-branded audio system.

Will 2021 prices be different?

2020 Tiguan SEL

They’ll almost certainly increase, but we’re betting VW will proceed cautiously, balancing the added cost of any redistributed features against losing sales momentum in this price-sensitive segment.

For reference, here are 2020 Tiguan base prices, including the $1,020 manufacturer destination fee. The S started at $25,965 with front-wheel drive and at $27,265 with AWD, the SE at $28,115 and $29,415, respectively.

Base price was $31,315 with front-drive and $32,615 with 4Motion for the SE R-Line Black and $33,265 and $34,565, respectively, for the SEL. With 4Motion standard, the ’20 SEL Premium R-Line was priced at $39,815.

Encouraging news for Tiguan’s value equation is the crossover’s continued improvement for dependability, long a hurdle associated with the VW brand. In a recent report from the consumer research firm J.D. Power, the Tiguan ranked roughly midpack in its competitive set for Quality and Reliability.

Expect the ’21 Tiguan to share with all Volkswagens two years of complimentary maintenance as part of the 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper factory warranty. That coverage came online for model-year 2020, replacing VW’s industry-best 6-year/70,000-mile warranty (with no free maintenance). The change reflects the automaker’s efforts to address its spotty record for reliability and reputation for high cost of ownership.   

When does it come out?

2020 Tiguan SE

Look for a 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan release date in the fall of 2020.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee and Compass, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross and Outlander, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]