On the Road Review: Two for One: Volkswagen Tiguan SE and Volvo S90 T6

Two automakers here in America that have been getting a lot of media exposure lately, for various reasons, Volkswagen and Volvo both are on new paths that point to expansion here and worldwide. Up first, the latest Tiguan compact crossover.

A thoroughly new design, the 2018 Tiguan will be sold alongside the previous edition (Tiguan Limited) for several months as VW brings two new crossovers to America this year. Built in Mexico, the newest Tiguan is almost 11 inches longer, rides on a lengthy 110-inch wheelbase and has gained about 330 pounds in top 4-Motion AWD models. Power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter four, 184 horses and 221 pound/feet of peak torque, mated to a new eight-speed automatic transmission. EPA ratings with FWD are 22/27/24 mpg — our usage revealed a consistent 33 mpg.

Now the largest compact class crossover, the redesigned Tiguan offers an optional third row folding seat. Pricing will start at just over $25,400 for front-drive “S” models, while a loaded SEL R-line with 4-Motion will sticker for around $40,400. The sweet spot model will be the SE AWD that combines the latest safety and techno features, as well as convenience items that are popular throughout this segment — keyless ignition, blind-spot monitoring, Apple/Android connectivity, heated 10-way power front seats, split folding rear seats as well as sliding rear seats. Power liftgate, 360-degree view camera, panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise and other features are available on SEL trim or as options. The new six-year/72,000-mile warranty is also transferable.

Looking much bolder, the Tiguan’s smooth turbo-motor provides decent grunt, surprisingly efficient fuel economy, plus the VW has a much roomier, more comfortable cabin that will impress. The third row seat is strictly for small children, but this option alone will prove to be attractive to young families.

VW sales have turned the corner since the diesel-gate debacle, rising 6 percent so far this year with the new Tiguan and the larger Atlas crossover bringing renewed showroom traffic.

Swapping into the Volvo S90 T6 Inscription sedan is in marked contrast to the VW in both seating position and overall feel. The new S90 is a hushed near-full-size premium sedan aiming for the class leaders — BMW, Audi and Mercedes. Designed in Sweden, built in China, the S90 reflects the role this car now plays in Volvo’s fleet — it is largely intended for the Chinese market. Hence the oh-my-god humongous rear seat, since Chinese owners prefer to be driven, not driving.

If your last large Volvo sedan was an S80 — my condolences. This car is not an S80. It is way better.

With arresting styling all around, the distinctively handsome S90 creates visual sensations outside and inside. Momentum trim is base $47,945 with FWD and 250-hp T5 power, while our T6 Inscription with AWD and 316 hp starts at $55,095 ($69,140 as shown). Buyers should be pleased with the stance, refinement and overall panache of a car that no longer needs to be quirky to stand out. From the two-tone leather steering wheel to the linear walnut wood inlay dash, the S90 oozes quality and luxury.

Under the hood, like the recent V90 wagon, the S90 employs a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that uses both supercharging and turbocharging to maximize power and efficiency. EPA estimates are 22/31/25 mpg on premium fuel for the more powerful T6; we saw a realized average between 24.5 and 27 mpg on combined secondary roads and limited-access highway driving.

Pushing the Volvo along the narrow, winding, undulating Grand Army of the Republic Highway in northern Vermont, the S90 proved to be quiet, smooth and the kind of touring sedan that premium car buyers expect. The long wheelbase chassis delivers a relaxed yet stable ride while handling is capable if not sporty despite the low-profile rubber and optional 19-inch wheels. As with the Tiguan, both of these new cars have automatic forward braking assist and electronic parking brakes that prefer you using your seat belt before going anywhere. The Volvo, always the unconventional automaker, also includes Pilot Assist — which allows hands-free operation while following other traffic plus road signs and road-markings up to 80 mph. OK, but why?

Moving the needle further on the autonomous scale is a goal of Volvo and other automakers, yet the swipe and touch center panel (think iPad) is an acquired act and requires more eye-attention than should be applied for general system alterations. Packed with information and capabilities, the center screen — as well as the 12-inch instrument panel — can do things that we have never been able to do before in our cars.

Despite the arrival of the 90-series cars this year, Volvo’s American auto sales are down 6 percent so far this year. The S90 will certainly sway many buyers to this Swedish brand, in China and here, however, the newly arriving XC40 sub-compact crossover, plus the all-new XC60 crossover will ultimately make Volvo relevant again in the USA.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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