The early 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan
fits into the thriving market for crossover utility vehicles, although VW refers to its new model as a compact SUV.
By that definition, the Tiguan is Volkswagen's first compact SUV. I'd call it the automaker's first compact crossover because it was developed from Volkswagen's compact Rabbit auto platform, with much-modified running gear. A crossover is generally defined as a vehicle that's car-based with SUV-style roominess.
The Tiguan is handsome, with a substantial profile and such items as sculpted shoulders. It's a four-door hatchback built to help Volkswagen match rivals Toyota and Honda as a genuine mainstream automaker.
Although billed as a five-seater, the Tiguan more comfortably seats four tall adults because its roomy backseat has a stiff center area best left to a large fold-down armrest.
The new VW comes in S, SE or SEL trim levels with front- or an improved version of the automaker's all-wheel-drive system for the two higher-line models.
Prices range from $23,200 for the front-drive S with a manual gearbox to $32,940 for the SEL with an automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. All have such standard features as air conditioning, cruise control, decent sound systems, split-folding rear seats and power windows and door locks with remote keyless entry.
Standard safety items include front- and curtain-side air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system.
Options include a navigation system and a panoramic sunroof.
In Europe, where fuel prices easily top those in America, the Tiguan has a 1.4-liter, twin-turbocharged diesel engine. But it likely will be offered here with a turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder diesel late this year or in early 2009 -- and the sooner the better with no fuel price declines in sight. The approximately 140-horsepower diesel might deliver up to 40 mpg on highways.
For now, though, the Tiguan has a dual-overhead camshaft 2-liter four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection and four valves per cylinder, instead of the usual two, for greater efficiency. It sits low and doesn't take up much room under the hood, where fluid filler areas are easily reached without getting clothes dirty.
That engine provides an estimated 18 mpg in the city and 25 on highways with the automatic transmission and a few more mpg with the manual gearbox. All-wheel-drive versions are a little less fuel-thrifty.
Although small by U.S. standards, the sophisticated four-cylinder produces 200 horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 207 pound-feet of torque at only 1,700 rpm for good responsiveness during typical U.S. driving. This familiar VW engine provides nearly the performance of a six-cylinder while being smooth and quiet.
The engine is mated to a manual or automatic transmission, both with six speeds. The decent manual works with a light, long-throw clutch that might cause some Tiguan buyers who live in congested areas to opt for the efficient automatic.
However, the Tiguan is like most Volkswagens in that it's a fun-to-drive vehicle with a sport suspension.
Acceleration is strong and linear in town and on highways, although the Tiguan is rather heavy at 3,397 to 3,631 pounds. Steering is quick and accurate, putting the Tiguan exactly where you want it to go without hesitation. It has an electro-mechanical assist mechanism that nearly eliminates kickback road shock at the wheel when encountering big bumps.
The suspension shrugs off road imperfections, although the brake pedal causes the brakes to engage a little early. A more progressive-action pedal would be appreciated.
The quiet, nicely executed interior has an upscale appearance. Front seats provide good side support and all have adjustable back supports. However, rear headrests partially hinder vision through the back window. Climate controls are large, and radio controls are easily worked once you get used to them. Front and rear dual cupholders are set low, although the rear armrest contains more conveniently placed cupholders. Back windows lower all the way.
The cargo area has a wide, rather high opening and is roomy. Rear seatbacks flip forward for more cargo space but don't fold completely flat. The hatch has two indented areas to help close it.
The heavy hood has a long prop rod to hold it open, rather than more convenient hydraulic struts.
While a little late to the crossover party, the Tiguan looks and feels more upscale than some more-established Asian rivals. 2009 VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN Prices:
Fast. Roomy. Distinctive styling. Decent fuel economy. Compliant ride. Fun to drive. Available all-wheel drive. Dislikes:
Narrow rear door openings. Old-fashioned hood prop. Rear headrests hinder vision.