VW likes to advertise their fun and quirky nature in American commercials, but they’re considered the safe and sensible choice in Germany. So which is it? Are they for the “think different” crowd, or just a German version of Ford/Toyota? The truth is a bit more complicated. Here’s a closer look at VeeDub.
MotorTrend‘s 2015 Car of the Year winner, the super affordable Golf is the car that really can do it all. More upscale than most compacts, the Golf is a subtle design statement. Rather than big exterior speed lines and interior flash, you feel it in the material quality, low cabin noise, and comfortable and confident handling. The base S trim is notable for impressive headroom and a useful cargo area, and it’s loaded with a large assortment of standard features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. SE trim adds nice touches like a moon roof, heated seats, and active safety features. The base Golf drives a lot like a Mazda3, but adding some badges to the rear hatch makes sports car levels of fun. The sporty GTI adds a good 70 horsepower and raises the bar for handling, while the racy Golf R nearly doubles the horsepower and adds capable AWD. There’s even a Golf wagon with more space than most crossovers, and an efficient EV version if you are really willing to search.
Loaded with tech and options, the Passat is a premium car without the premium price. You can see this in owner reviews that love the spacious and quiet interior, which lends to it feeling like a more expensive car. Close your eyes while riding (not driving!), and you might think it’s an Audi Q5. Along those lines, the exterior is conservatively designed, but attractive in a mature way. The infotainment screen is large and clear, and surprisingly easy to use. Engine choices are a 174 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder, or 3.6-liter V6 with 100 more horsepower. Gas mileage is great for a car of this size, reaching 36 highway for the inline four, and upper 20s for the V6. Like the Golf, the base S trim doesn’t spare the features, with dual zone climate control, rear-view camera, and Bluetooth and USB ports standard. The SE might be worth it, with larger wheels, larger infotainment screen, a sunroof, and adaptive cruise control. The NHTSA loves the Passat too, to the tune of a five-star safety rating. The trunk is a massive 16 cu-ft, and the back seats are perfect even for taller adults. If you carpool or drive for a ride share service, this might be the car that hears no complaints.
The hot compact crossover class sees a ton of competition, but the first generation Tiguan was so good, it lasted from 2007 to 2017 with only minor upgrades. The Tiguan is sized about like a Honda CR-V, but with a more thoughtful interior and a more entertaining drive, like a Mazda CX-5. It’s not the sports car of the class, but more of a quiet comfy cruiser. The front seats offer class leading comfort for even the longest road trips, and it feels solid and well built, making that deep thunk when you close the doors. Entirely updated in 2018, this compact offers standard active safety features, punchier exterior styling, a large infotainment screen in a better location, and digital gauges that are flat out cool. It also gained nearly 1 foot in length, so if cargo or third-row seating is your thing, shop the newer design. Three-row seating is standard on the front-wheel drive base S trim, but optional with higher all-wheel drive trims. The third row is useful if you have several kids, but skip it if you want more cargo space. One complaint test drivers have about the Tiguan is its lack of acceleration. Pro tip: Tiguan defaults to Eco mode on startup. Push the sport button, and you won’t have any acceleration issues.
If crossovers aren’t cutting it for you and you need a real SUV, check out the Touareg and you’ll come away impressed. It’s a Porsche Cayenne underneath, and delivers real towing ability. Standard all-wheel drive, and when properly optioned out, it can tow over 7,700 pounds. The cargo area offers 32 cubic feet of space, or twice that with the rear seats down. You’ll want to shop the 2015 and newer model for updated styling, HID headlights, active safety features, more horsepower, and convenient Google Maps added to the nav system. Like competitors (say, the Chevrolet Traverse), the Touareg has a standard 3.6-liter gasoline V6. With 280 horsepower, it’s good enough for most drivers, but unlike the competition, there are other interesting engine options here. The 3.0-liter diesel V6 makes freight train torque for tackling hills, and the eco-friendly hybrid makes the most power of the bunch, with a combined 380 system horsepower, and a 5.9 second sprint to 60. Despite its real SUV ruggedness and powerful engines, the Touareg comes off family and passenger friendly, with comfy seats and a compliant ride. Looking for one newer than 2018? Look to Touareg’s North American replacement, the midsize Atlas.