Car Advice

What the 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan 4Motion Active Control modes actually do – An explanation

The 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan with 4Motion Active Control has two road modes and two off-road modes, we explain what they do.

LOOKING A LOT like some sort of terrain management system you might see in either a Ford Everest, Land Rover/Range Rover or even a Nissan or Toyota, the new Volkswagen Tiguan has something called 4Motion Active Control. And it’s a small dial, as per the picture, that sits down near the gear shifter. But what does it do, if anything?

The Tiguan is not an all-wheel drive in the same way that, say, a Subaru Forester is which runs a permanent, symmetrical all-wheel drive set-up. On the contray, the Tiguan is an on-demand system (although you’ll see reference in its marketing materials to it being a permanent all-wheel drive), meaning it’s predominantly a two-wheel drive vehicle (front-drive) to improve fuel consumption, with the rear wheels coming into play when slip is detected at the front. Indeed, Volkswagen says that between slip at the front and the rear axle receiving torque is “a fraction of a second”. And this, seemingly, is justification for calling it a permanent all-wheel drive.

More than this, while some all-wheel drive systems split the drive between front and rear in, say, a 60:40 split front to rear, Volkswagen claims the Tiguan’s 4Motion system offers “no ‘fixed’ distribution of drive forces… if slip still occurs at a wheel, power is redistributed to where it is needed at that time. The system can, if needed, send almost 100% of torque to the rear axle.

In a nutshell, activating one of the modes via the 4Motion Active Control will tweak how the throttle pedal feels, how the transmission, steering and adaptive dampers respond, as well as activating hill descent and ascent control and the Off-Road ABS function, as well as both the engine and brake traction controls, which Volkswagen refers to as ASR – engine traction control, and EDL – brake traction control. You’ll see the latter often referred to as a differential lock, but it isn’t. And you can read more about that in this technical review of the Golf GTI which explains everything. The driving situations covered by Active Control are ‘on road’, ‘ice and snow’, ‘off-road’ and ‘off-road individual’.

ON-ROAD

Activate the On-Road mode via the Active Control will reveal, on the infotainment screen four different profiles to choose from, including Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual, and if you’ve got the cost-optional adaptive dampers fitted will add a Comfort profile. Basically, choosing one of these profiles will alter the throttle response, DSG shift pattern (it will hold the gear longer in Sport, for instance), and if Comfort is selected it will soften the dampers. It will also influence things like Automatic Distance Control, and the head lights, either widening the gap and speeding up the action of the dynamic bending lights.

SNOW AND ICE

When Snow and Ice is selected the throttle response is dulled to ensure you don’t break traction via a heavy right foot. And the same goes for the DSG which shifts earlier and will default to second-gear starts to maximise traction. The Tiguan’s drive slip control system (otherwise known as ASR or, more commonly as engine traction control) which monitors wheel speed sensors and the throttle pedal will, if it detects slip, kill engine power to try and regain traction. Selecting this profile also influences the Automatic Distance Control which defaults to the ‘Eco’ mode, meaning a greater distance between your car and the one it’s following. At the same time, the dynamic turning lights are tweaked to the Sport mode, meaning they respond more quickly.

OFF-ROAD

Selecting this profile will tweak the throttle and gearbox to behave like ‘Snow’ mode in which the throttle response is dulled to ensure bouncing around off road doesn’t result in ‘jerky’ acceleration, as well as preventing you from hard accelerating the thing and spinning the wheels. The transmission shifts earlier keeping engine speed down to maintain grip and forward momentum, although if the driver decides to shift via the paddle shifts then the automatic shift function is disabled, meaning the driver can make better use of engine braking, or simply holding a lower gear for a steep climb. The ‘freewheeling’ functionality which sees the engine decoupled to save fuel and make use of “kinetic energy during rolling” is deactivated.

Steering response is also sharpened in Off-Road Mode to ‘Sport’ and the headlights offer a brighter and wider light spread up close to the vehicle. Start/Stop is deactivated. The ABS system is also tweaked offering a different pulse rate to that of its on-road performance to allow a wedge of dirt to build up ahead of the front tyres to assist with braking on loose surfaces and, as you can see in this demonstration on the Amarok, it works. The threshold for the intervention of engine traction control (ASR) is reduced, while the sensitivity of brake traction control (EDL) is increased.

On a grade of more than 10% both hill descent and ascent control will activate and control speed between 2-30km/h automatically; the driver can increase or decrease speed within that threshold via the throttle or brakes. Hill descent and ascent control will disengage once the gradient is less than 5%. There is also a Hill-hold assist function which can be used to help move off when parked on a slippery hill side.

OFF-ROAD INDIVIDUAL

You could almost think of this as some sort of next-level off-road functionality. Selecting Off-Road Individual allows the driver to tailor things like the steering, throttle and transmission response (either Normal, Sport, or Eco), you can also adjust the stability control threshold and even things like the behaviour of the dynamic headlights.

The use of Off-Road Individual can be handy, for those who know what they’re doing, to tailor the car’s functionality to better perform in, say, mud and sand where you want good throttle response and perhaps a manual gearshift to ensure forward momentum.

Despite this electro-trickery the Tiguan will never rival a Land Rover when it comes to tackling tough tracks, but VW deserves a pat on the back for designing a system that works on low-speed rough tracks that don’t require a full-blown 4×4. That said, it’s worth remembering that the Tiguan hasn’t been designed for long-time low-speed work on rough roads and sustained use can see things like the DSG overheat.

Question: Do you own a new Tiguan and take it off-road? Let us know below, and if you’ve got some pics, send them to readerhelp@practicalmotoring.com.au


  • McF1

    This is an interesting informative article.

    I have seen the selector dial on the new Tiguan. I thought it was mainly about traction control, but did not know that it also had an effect on the headlights, steering input, distance control, and other factors. The selector dial does much more than what I realised.

    Just off interest, are there any suggestions in regards to the numerous controls on the Tiguan with what works best for driving in “heavy rain”. For instance, if one has adaptive dampers fitted, would “comfort” mode be more suitable? With my current car there are no controls to play around with, the best that I can do is increase the distance between myself and the traffic ahead, slow down, and switch on the headlights.

    A few days ago there a string of major collisions involving more than 100 cars on an icy/snowy highway in Canada. One tends to think about the basic rule “drive according to the conditions”, which appears not have been adhered to.
    cbc dot ca/news/canada/toronto/highway-401-crashes-involving-about-100-vehicles-caught-on-camera-1.3927089

    • Yeah, it’s a pretty clever system. I didn’t know it did all of those things either because there’s really no way of telling from behind the wheel… no lights that light up, etc. Got the info out of Germany from an engineer… I can ask what they’d suggest as a good rain setup. Stay tuned. – Isaac

      • McF1

        Issac, thanks for the reply. It will be great to hear what the engineer has to say about heavy rain driving. Maybe you can have a separate article about it.
        Do you know whether the Land Rover/Range Rover does the additional things as the Tiguan in regards to the traction control?
        I was definitely surprised reading all the interactions involved with the traction selector. It gives me a greater appreciation of it.

        • The Land Rover systems do much the same but they have far more tech such as hill descent control (HDC). What the Tiguan does is not unusual for such vehicles these days.

          No car has specific modes for rain driving, but some have brake wiping where they apply the brakes to keep them dry-ish just in case an emergency stop needs to be made.

          • McF1

            Thanks for the reply Robert.

  • Monty

    I’ve done a bit of dirt road driving but nothing too rough. I can verify that the brakes are excellent on dirt, no lock up or left or right pull. I’m looking forward to trying it in the snow.

  • Galaxy Being

    I know what it does… It fails just outside of warranty and VW just ignores you.

    • J. S. D.

      I was asked incredulously once about why I own VWs. “Aren’t they so expensive to fix”, was the question.

      I paused for a moment to give her a thoughtful answer and frankly had to say “No”.

      Reason being, especially the 2.0 l TSI engine I typically end up in is a gem. If it never breaks down or has any issues, how could it be an expense to fix (it cost but an oil and filter change every 10,000 miles). Standard fare.

      Sorry for your negative experience, on occasion but I believe your comment does a true injustice to their engeneeringand to the general public interested in VWs.

      On another note, I have personally dealt with 3 different VW dealerships and their professional and courtesy has been outstanding.

  • Monty

    Little trick to help when parking the Tiguan: I have to stop and get to open a gate. The engine stops then the vehicle bleats to tell me the ignition is switched on. I switch to off road before I get out and the car keeps running.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.