Two of our favorite all-weather hot hatches spawned quick and tall crossovers. However, only one of the two can be truly recognized. Richard Lane checked it out
What if we assumed that there were no best hot hatches and no best competitors? It’s difficult, but only 10 minutes? That’s the only way I can run this test with a fair comparison of the two crossovers here. Because the new Volkswagen Tiguan R and Mercedes-AMG GLB 35 are deliberate and irreversible compromises from the start.
The aforementioned hot hatches are the Golf R and AMG A35. Both are great high-performance cars, but over the past decade, the Golf has earned a reputation for its exquisite blend of everyday usability and prolific speed. If you want something interesting without being too flashy, Volkswagen is the first step.
But excellence is fragile. If you put an extra 195kg on the latest Golf R, push the axle 49mm further, and have it sit as high as a can of Coke, you’re sure to ruin the recipe. To put it bluntly, the Tiguan R is exactly that. The GLB 35 took a similar approach, with the A35 as a base and noticeably more fleshed out. So it’s closer to 1800kg, 99kg heavier than Volkswagen. And the engine that both cars have to move all this is the best in-line four-cylinder. Fatter, taller, and wider than our preference, both cars were resolutely compromised.
But these are my last words in comparison to hatchbacks. Obviously, these crossovers outperform their originals in terms of dynamics. But in isolation, it still offers a lot of its own. And, of course, because the market demands it from these cars, it’s worth exploring.
AMG currently produces more than 10 additional SUV-derived models, including the GLB, and Volkswagen already has models dedicated to the R badge of the T-Roc and Touareg in terms of the seniority of the Tiguan.
So what exactly are these cars? First of all, it’s fast. Although the Tiguan R is slightly more powerful and has better acceleration of the two models, both produce over 300 horsepower with a 2.0L turbo engine and all-wheel drive and dual-clutch automatic transmission. Both can reach 97 km/h in about 5 seconds, and both have interiors that can only be found in a really fast car, such as well-supported seats, a sporty steering wheel and flashing pedals.
The exterior design of the two cars also leaves no room for interpretation. The radiator blades are menacingly exposed through the open bumpers, and the brakes shine from behind the alloy wheels in the shape of manhole covers that fit into the wheel arches reinforced with a plastic shell.
In the UK, the GLB 35 is only available in the top Premium Plus trim, and has more convenience features than most would like, including a 10.3-inch parallel display. Except for the cheap atmosphere of metal-plated plastic, the interior feels really luxurious, and both the material and the layout are luxurious.
The seats look a bit plain, especially when compared to Volkswagen’s Alcantara trim semi-bucket, and are too tight on the thighs. But wrapping the GLB on the other side seems to be for a cozy long drive. In terms of ergonomics, the GLB also has some seat cheats. It is a 7 seater space. It’s an uncluttered beast from any angle, but the fold-out third seat beneath its square roofline can accommodate two children.
In contrast, the Volkswagen is chaotic with its spacious and airy feel. Cozy sense of space is welcome in a regular SUV, but is not required in a high-performance car. The Tiguan R wants to have both. That’s why, when you transfer from the GLB 35, it feels like a mess. The GLB 35 is also spacious, but has a lower seat compared to the thick scuttle, and the atmosphere is much more mature and feels like a passenger car.
Volkswagen stands so awkwardly driving posture. The distance to the gear lever like a tool is also long. Elements of a fast car, such as the very prominent gearshift paddles, collide with this architecture. Imagine a McDonald’s with a white tablecloth and mahogany chairs. It is the somewhat hardened limits of Tiguan that can be unacceptable and unsettling.
However, there is no denying that both cars can use the second row. If three or four people travel frequently, passengers will appreciate riding a crossover like this instead of a Golf R or AMG A35. This is the first strike.
Equally undeniable is the speed of the Volkswagen, which is 99 kg lighter than the Mercedes-Benz, as well as more torque and peak torque from a lower 2100 rpm.
To get the most out of the drivetrain, you’ll need to switch to Sport or Race mode, where you hear sound transmitted to the speakers. A fellow reporter said, “The sound of a leaking Subaru horizontally opposed four-cylinder manifold seems to have been sampled with an 8-bit home computer in the 1980s.” but it’s fast What is clear is that instead of creating a unique character for the Tiguan R, Volkswagen tried to transplant the character of the Golf R here as if it were wholesale.
That said, this crossover not only accelerates relentlessly, but is more agile and direct than expected, with exquisite body movement controlled by standard-fitted adaptive dampers. The new R Performance Torque Vectoring setting, which sandwiches the electromechanical clutch pack in the rear differential to transfer driving force from wheel to wheel, is also effective. Potentially all of the driving power can be driven by the rear wheels, which use only half of the engine’s total power at any moment. This function of deflecting to the outer rear wheel works in conjunction with the XDS ‘differential lock’ system on the front axle, which is no different but can use the ESP to brake the inner wheel as needed during hard cornering.
As a result, the Tiguan doesn’t corner as flawlessly as the Golf R (unfortunately, two strikes), but relentlessly stays neutral wherever he throws it and stays on the driver’s chosen line. The driver simply steers the forefoot of the pretentious car in the desired direction, and it proceeds like a drooling bulldog chasing his favorite canine toy.
When it comes to driving on rural roads, Volkswagen is at a level that Mercedes-Benz cannot match. But that’s how much you lose in this fight. The GLB 35 is firm in road holding performance, but the grip is less harsh and the body lean is more lenient. It goes through the twists and turns with formal precision rather than zeal. It is less dynamic than the Tiguan R, but at least shows its own identity. A smoother, more refined car, more suited to the role of a higher-placed family car.
While feeling reluctant respect for Volkswagen, genuine warmth for the Benz grows. AMG’s direct steer is overly direct and little feedback when off-center. However, the low feeling of the driving position makes the AMG easier to drive compared to the Volkswagen.
Both cars have a surprisingly flexible ride with the most comfortable setting of the dampers, but the AMG side breathes better with the road. The GLB 35’s engine feels less powerful of the two, and reliance on the sound effects it produces is just like the Tiguan R’s EA888, but the GLB 35 is still a clearly fast car and the synthesized engine noise is better to hear. This is a more attractive machine, and the generous 7-seater shell is more comfortable.
So AMG wins. The reason for its existence is clearer. On the other hand, I always wonder if it needs to be this big on the Tiguan R, and how much better it can do with the Golf R. But this is a three-strike, and it’s an out.
Written by Richard Lane
Mercedes-AMG GLB 35
price £51,660 (approximately KRW 79.4 million)
engine Inline 4-cylinder, 1991cc, turbo, gasoline
maximum output 302hp/5800-6100rpm
maximum torque 40.8kg m/3000-4000rpm
gearbox Automatic 7-speed dual clutch
0 → 100km/h acceleration 5.2 seconds
top speed 250km
Fuel efficiency 7.5km/L
CO2 200 g/km
Volkswagen Tiguan R
price £45,915 (approximately 70.56 million won)
engine Inline 4-cylinder, 1984cc, turbo, gasoline
maximum output 316hp/5200-6600rpm
maximum torque 42.9kg·m/2100-5300rpm
gearbox Automatic 7-speed dual clutch
0 → 100km/h acceleration 4.9 seconds
top speed 250km
Fuel efficiency 12.7km/L
CO2 226 g/km