What a difference a year makes. The roomy, versatile, and fuel-thrifty 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan replaces last year’s model that checked none of those boxes and has emerged as a serious rival for one of the most popular crossovers, the 2018 Subaru Forester.
Last year, this wasn’t competitive. For 2018, it’s a close one. (VW still sells the old Tiguan as the Tiguan Limited, but even its low price shouldn’t put it on your shopping list.)
The fresh-faced 2018 Tiguan rates a 6.8 out of 10 on our scale, while the aging Forester (it’s due for replacement soon) still scores a commendable 6.7. They’re neck-and-neck, each with its own set of virtues.
Physically, both crossovers cast a similar shadow. The Tiguan stretches a few inches longer and is a bit wider, but both treat passengers to about the same amount of space inside. Neither is much of a looker, though we probably prefer the Tiguan’s clean, ultra-conservative lines to the Forester’s angularity. Credit to Subaru for giving the turbocharged Forester XT a distinctive face; VW doesn’t go nearly as far with its sport-oriented R-Line trim package.
Inside, the Forester is light on flair and not assembled with plush materials, which can seem at odds with a price tag that climbs to nearly $40,000 fully loaded. Controls are convenient and simple to sort through and the view out is almost Range Rover-level commanding thanks to exceptionally high front seats, a low dashboard, and narrow roof pillars. The Tiguan takes a similar approach but lavishes on softer, low-sheen surfaces.
Both crossovers feature standard cloth upholstery but diverge from there. Standard on Forester Limited and Touring trim levels is leather. What looks like leather in Tiguan SE and SEL trim levels isn’t: it’s synthetic. VW reserves full hides for the pricey SEL Premium. Front seat passengers in either crossover are treated to firm, supportive seats that offer power adjustment for the driver in most trim levels. In the rear, outboard passengers have above average stretch-out room. Neither crossover is truly wide enough for three adults to sit abreast over long distances, but their back seats are fine for around-town use. Only the Tiguan offers a third row of seats—it’s standard on front-drive models—but the two-place seats are a kid-only affair and their use restricts cargo space considerably.
Safety doesn’t take a back seat in either crossover. Most versions of the Tiguan come standard with automatic emergency braking, while all but the base Forester offers similar tech as a reasonably priced (and highly recommended) option. The Forester has been subjected to more crash-testing and it has scored well in both IIHS and NHTSA evaluations. For now, only the IIHS has looked at the Tiguan—and it has earned a Top Safety Pick score.
Forester and Tiguan performance
The Tiguan and Forester diverge when it comes to what’s underneath. All Tiguans use a 2.0-liter turbo-4 rated at 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque paired to an 8-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive runs $1,300 extra.
Foresters come standard with a 2.5-liter flat-4 rated at 170 hp and a 6-speed manual transmission. A continuously variable automatic transmission is optional and is fitted to the vast majority of Foresters you’ll find on dealer lots. All-wheel drive is standard on every Forester. Subaru also offers a turbo-4 in its Forester XT with 250 hp paired to a firmer suspension. The XT is a far sportier option unmatched by the Tiguan.
That said, volume versions of both crossovers ride softly, with good control over harsh pavement. We give the Tiguan the nod for its better isolation from the road, but the Subaru’s steering is quicker and more direct. If fuel economy is a prime concern, the Forester delivers: it’s rated at 28 mpg combined, while the Tiguan comes in at a disappointing 23 mpg, according to the EPA.
Both crossovers have a wide spread of trim levels available and come standard with a high degree of standard equipment. You’ll find easy-to-use touchscreen infotainment systems with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in both, plus rearview cameras, Bluetooth, and the expected power features.
Most shoppers will probably skip the base variants in favor of the Tiguan SE and Forester 2.5i Premium trim levels. At that point, Subaru includes a power moonroof, an upgraded 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment, and alloy wheels for about $27,000. Another $1,700 adds heated seats, a power tailgate, and Subaru’s EyeSight suite of safety tech that includes automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alerts, and adaptive cruise control—features we think are worthwhile.
A Tiguan SE with all-wheel drive runs a comparatively hefty $28,950, but it includes automatic emergency braking and heated seats. A power moonroof runs an extra $1,200. That price differential is offset somewhat by VW’s impressive 6-year, 72,000-mile new car warranty.
For a little more luxury, the Forester 2.5i Limited adds leather seats and the automaker’s suite of safety gear and can be further upgraded with navigation and Harman Kardon audio. All-in, a Forester 2.0XT Touring lists for a hefty $37,000, but is well-equipped with features like keyless ignition, HID headlights, and 18-inch alloy wheels. VW’s range-topper, the SEL Premium with its configurable LCD instrument cluster and Fender-branded audio system, runs upward of $1,500 more without as much power underhood, making it a questionable value in our eyes.
But if you’re looking at the heart of the market—a crossover for around $30,000—the Tiguan and the Forester make compelling arguments. Shop the Subaru for its better value, excellent resale, and decent fuel economy. Consider the VW for its refined interior and soothing demeanor.