Volkswagen Tiguan Review
Volkswagen's much improved second generation Tiguan targets the best small 4x4 and compact SUV and Crossover customers alike with a high quality, well priced package that's now smarter and more efficient. All the car you'll ever really need? Many see it as just that.
At the foot of the Tiguan engine range is a 125PS 1.4-litre TSI unit, or you can have a more frugal yet also more powerful 150PS version of this engine that uses 'Cylinder-on-Demand' technology. Both these variants only use 2WD. If you want Volkswagen's 4MOTION 4WD system in your petrol-powered Tiguan, you'll have to opt for the 2.0-litre 180PS TSI petrol variant which can be ordered with DSG transmission: this derivative makes 62mph in 7.7s.
Most buyers of this car though, will probably want a diesel. There's a 115PS entry-level 2.0 TDI 2WD derivative but many likely customers will want this car fitted with the 2.0 TDI 150PS unit, which can be ordered with with front wheel drive or 4MOTION 4WD - and has a DSG auto option. If you go for the pokier 190PS 2.0 TDI powerplant, you have to have 4MOTION and the DSG auto. That's also the case with the flagship bi-turbo BiTDI flagshp variant which puts out a potent 240PS. There'll also be a GTE Plug-in hybrid petrol electric version using most of the same technology you'll find in the existing Golf GTE and 218PS of total system power.
The fifth-generation four-wheel-drive 4MOTION system provides a faster apportioning of power to all four wheels via a process that provides pre-activation of the rear clutch and improved operation of the electronic differentials. In recent times, nearly three-quarters of Tiguan buyers in the UK have shown a preference for AWD. In compact 4x4 form, the car has 200mm of ground clearance, 11mm more than it would have in 2WD guise. There is also an optional Off-Road package, which features a uniquely styled front bumper providing an approach angle of 25.6deg and a departure angle of 24.7deg.
So, what's new on one of the best small 4x4s out there? Well, the conventional Tiguan has put on 60mm in length and 30mm in width and sits 22mm lower than before in 4x4 form. Wolfsburg has developed a lengthened seven-seat version this time around which our market may get. The UK will definitely receive a third coupe version. For the time being though, it's the conventional five-door model we need to concentrate on, a car which sits on the advanced, stiff, light MQB platform that underpins the current Golf and Passat models. It's certainly a more confident-looking car - and a more spacious one too. Inside, there's a 77mm longer wheelbase, at 2681mm, and the tracks have also been widened, which greatly improves the Tiguan's overall stance.
The cabin's classier too, fit and finish being of a noticeably higher standard than before. Much of the switchgear and the infotainment monitor will be familiar to anyone who has tried a MK7 Golf. Borrowed from the Passat is the optionalActive Info Displayhigh-definition instrument panel - but it all transfers well to this small 4x4. You can also specify a Head-up display that uses a small glass panel, deployed from behind the instrument binnacle at the press of button. Luggage space has grown by 145-litres to 615-litres with the standard 60/40 split folding rear seats in place, or 1655-litres with the seats lowered.
It's not hard to see why the Tiguan is such a popular choice in its sector here in the UK. You get pretty much all the quality of premium-badged compact SUV for the price of a budget brand contender. You get pretty much all the tarmac handling ability of a Qashqai-like Crossover with virtually all the off road ability of something more capable. And it all comes with the enduring appeal of that Volkswagen badge and the enduring residual values that'll go along with it.
Such has always been this small 4x4's appeal and not much has changed with this MK2 model. It's not a car for driving enthusiasts or those who live halfway up Snowdon - but then such people are unlikely to be shopping in this sector anyway. What it does offer in this improved form are running costs from an ever-more efficient range of engines that make the transition to a car like this from an ordinary family hatch less painful than ever. And an extra dash of polish in everything it does that'll make you feel as good when you open the bedroom window as you will when you're at the wheel. A sensible choice then in a compact 4x4, but one you'll enjoy making.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Tiguan Review range
Honda CR-V Review
The Honda CR-V small 4x4 has evolved, introducing a 160PS 1.6-litre diesel engine to replace the old 2.2-litre unit, a nine-speed gearbox, city braking technology, a new infotainment setup and a bafflingly smart adaptive cruise control system. It's a great all-round package that puts it in with the best small 4x4s on the market.
The big news with this CR-V is the fitment of a 160PS 1.6-litre diesel engine, which replaces the old 150PS 2.2-litre diesel, an engine that was looking a bit off the pace in terms of efficiency. The 120PS 1.6-litre diesel carries on much as before and there's a 2.0-litre petrol engine offered that's probably going to be largely ignored by UK buyers. Specify the CR-V with a manual gearbox and you can also have it in front as well as four-wheel drive guise. But you shouldn't. That's because Honda has replaced the old five-speed auto with a nine-speed automatic that then sends drive to all four wheels. It's an impressive piece of technology and does a great job plugging the diesel engine right into the meat of its 350Nm of torque available from just north of 2,000rpm.
The CR-V was never marketed as a particularly sporty drive and the updates to the car's suspension and steering don't aim for that goal. Instead, the steering has been revised to offer an 8 per cent quicker ratio, while revised bushings, dampers and other suspension fettling aim to deliver a smoother ride. Refinement is something valued by CR-V owners and the latest car features added sound insulation material, thicker carpets and chunkier door seal rubbers. The net result is a 6 per cent reduction in cabin noise at speed.
The changes to their latest compact 4x4 could best be described as a facelift, although Honda has gone further than the usual grille, bumpers and lights. Having said that, this latest CR-V 4x4 does have a revised front grille, smarter bumpers and sleeker lights, the latter featuring LED daytime running lamps. At the rear, the LED combination lamps have been restyled. There are revised 17 and 18-inch alloy wheels designs on offer as well.
The cabin has been tweaked courtesy of a reshaped chrome-effect inlay running the width of the dashboard, and through the use of higher quality materials on key surfaces. The dashboard has been redesigned to allow better visibility and access to the seven-inch touchscreen displaying the Honda Connect system. The latest CR-V also features a one action fold down rear seat system, with the rear seats featuring a 60/40 split function. With the seats in place you get an excellent 589-litres of luggage space which transforms to 1,648-litres with the seats folded. The load length is up to 1,570 mm, allowing the CR-V to easily swallow two adult mountain bikes (without having to remove the front wheels) or four sets of golf clubs, all de rigeur in the best small 4x4 out there.
Honda is a company that occasionally makes some rather strange decisions. For years it was utterly half-hearted about diesel engines, thinking that variable valve timing of its petrol engines would win the argument. It didn't. Only belatedly has Honda delivered really class-competitive diesels and in doing so, it has propelled the CR-V to the number one spot as the best-selling compact SUV in Europe. Of course, it helps that it's built in Swindon and has been designed to appeal to European tastes, but the powerplants now look pretty well sorted with the addition of the 160PS 1.6-litre diesel with its nine-speed automatic transmission option.
Perhaps the only way that the CR-V range could be better rounded out would be through the addition of a top-drawer hybrid, one field that Honda has a stack of experience in. As it stands, it's going to take something extremely talented to dislodge this excellent small 4x4 from the top spot in the sales charts.Click here to find out more about our Honda CR-V Review range
Toyota RAV4 Review
Toyota's RAV4 compact 4x4 soft roader has been around so long it's easy to forget quite how far it's come. The much improved fourth generation model we look at here is more sophisticated, better finished, and far more efficient thanks to the fresh option of hybrid power. There are some attractive trim packages available too. Why not reacquaint yourself with one of the best small 4x4s. You might be in for a surprise.
If you haven't looked at a RAV4 for some time, the key thing you'll need to update yourself on is the changes that have taken place under the bonnet. Here, the important news is the introduction of a hybrid model. Toyota has chosen not to offer the kind of Plug-in hybrid technology here you get in a rival Mitsubishi Outlander but the more conventional 2.5-litre VVTi petrol/electric unit you do get is commendably smooth and frugal, putting out 194bhp and able to get to 62mph in 8.4s. It's offered with either two or four-wheel drive configurations, the latter equipped with Toyota's E-Four system. This uses a second electric motor at the rear which provides automatic electronic all-wheel drive to give increased traction. The lightweight technology - there is no central propshaft - also gives RAV4 compact 4x4 Hybrid a 1,650kg towing capacity.
Of course, many RAV4 buyers will prefer to save a little up-front cost and stick with a more conventional powerplant up-front - probably a diesel. For these folk, Toyota has dispensed with the rather noisy 2.2-litre diesel engine that was in the previous version of this car in favour of an uprated version of its 2.0-litre unit, upgraded from 124 to 141bhp. Here, you get a decent 320Nm slug of torque and 62mph is 9.6s away en route to 121mph. Unfortunately though, you can't have automatic transmission or AWD with this diesel unit. Both these things though, are included on the 2.0-litre Valvematic petrol variant which offers 149bhp and makes 62mph in 9.9s en route to 115mph.
This heavily revised small 4x4 fourth generation RAV4 gets a smarter look than before - and in particular, a sharper front end. The upper grille is more slender and is flanked by restyled halogen or LED headlamps with integrated LED daytime running lights. The middle grille has been made wider and the lower, trapezoidal grille has been made significantly larger. Inside, the cabin still doesn't have a truly premium brand feel but it has been tidied up quite a lot. The instrument binnacle, the centre console and the gearshift surround get a slightly smarter look. Plus the centre console has been redesigned to accommodate the latest Toyota Touch 2 infotainment system touchscreen, all a requirement now-a-days on a compact 4x4.
Otherwise, things are much as they were in the original version of this MK4 model. All the instrument and switchgear is backlit in cool blue and the dash features strong upper and lower beams, interrupted by a curved, metal-finished spar to frame the instrument binnacle, steering wheel and driver's footwell. The front-to-rear seat couple distance remains a best-in-class 970mm. Combined with a thinner front seatback design, this increases rear legroom. Thanks to Toyota's Easy Flat system, the rear seats can be quickly and easily folded flat (the seats dividing 60:40) and each section can be reclined independently. The load space is long, increasing capacity to 547-litres, and there's also a 100-litre undertray making it one of the best small 4x4s.
The changes Toyota has made in refining this fourth generation RAV4 have been welcome. The car now has the more distinctive look it always needed, plus infotainment and safety has been brought up to speed. The important news though, lies in the introduction of hybrid power, still a rare thing in the compact 4x4 segment. No other brand has more experience with this kind of engine - and that shows with the installation here.
If you have decided that a RAV4 is the small, compact 4x4 that you want, don't automatically tick the box for the improved diesel version before you've got your dealer to allow you to have a go in a hybrid model. This petrol/electric variant does, after all, give you the useful option of AWD and once you've added up all the fuel and CO2 figures, it probably won't cost you any more to run in the real world. Something to think about. In a car worth thinking about.Click here to find out more about our Toyota RAV4 Review range