While arriving fashionably late to the compact crossover festivities, the German-engineered Volkswagen Tiguan manages to carve out a favorable, compact niche for itself.
Versatility, handsome looks and decent fuel-economy readouts have all conspired to boost sales of so called 'cute utility vehicles' such as Toyota's RAV4 and segment leading Honda CR-V. Recent newcomers have joined the parade a la the Chevrolet Equinox and Nissan Rogue.
The five-door Tiguan hatchback qualifies as the later, arriving at U.S. dealerships in the 2009 model year. This first-generation effort receives minor tweaking in 2012, most notably new front and rear-end styling. In addition to Tiguan, Europe's largest automaker sports a wide array of small, fuel efficient models including Golf, GTI and iconic Beetle.
Tiguan distinguishes itself by keeping a steady composure rather than overexposure in any one facet. It's not the most fuel efficient, lowest priced or power-potent offering, but well-mannered driving dynamics and a solid build add to the fun factor.
Volkswagen holds the distinction as Europe's largest automaker. In addition to its Audi luxury brand, Volkswagen also oversees low-volume boutique brands Bentley and Lamborghini while remaining cozy with longtime inspiration Porsche.
Tiguan's simple yet addictive powertrain scheme may be a deciding factor for discriminating shoppers. Standard in all four trims (S,LE, SE and SEL) is a 2.0-liter turbo-charged four-cylinder power train (an upgrade from a naturally-aspirated four-stroke engine) delivering an adequate but far from class leading 200 horsepower. The turbocharging process pressurizes air prior to the intake stroke via a turbine air compressor powered by recycled exhaust gasses. The highly volatile air mixes with the gas/fuel to create a bigger bang. Turbocharging maximizes engine oomph without adding additional cylinders or much extra weight. This effective engine is also available in the totally redesigned, 2012 muscular-looking Beetle.
Tiguan is the only 2012 compact CUV with the excitement of a standard turbo engine. This sole powertrain can be teamed with a six-speed automatic manual transmission (in S trim only) or a six-speed automatic (standard in remaining models) both delivering power to the front wheel-drive transaxle. For those desiring sure-footed peace of mind, check out VW's electro-hydraulic 4Motion, the German automaker's marketing answer to all-wheel drive. On dry pavement 90 percent of power gets automatically delivered to the front wheels. If conditions dictate otherwise and potential slippage is sensed, almost 90 percent of torque can be automatically directed to the rear wheels with no driver input via push buttons or pull levers. This technology is optional in all trims sans LE.
Volkswagen's competent, high-mileage clean diesel engine (which also take advantage of the well-tested turbo technology) could be an enticing option in future year Tiguans. The TDI (turbo direct injection) powertrain is currently optional in the compact Golf and redesigned Beetle.
Fuel mileage differs depending on transmission and drive properties. Our six-speed automatic tester connected to 4Motion all-wheel drive generated 21 miles per gallon city and 27 mpg highway, respectively. With front drive, city mileage improves by one. The 27 mpg highway represents a two mile improvement over 2011s. Six-speed manual generates 18 and 26 mpg respectively. Keep in mind higher-priced premium petro is recommended (but not required) for maximum performance when filling the 16.8-gallon tank.
Tiguan's starting price rates at the high end of the cute utility cost spectrum. Audiophiles will appreciate compact disc player, iPod adaptor and voice-activated Bluetooth standard in all trim levels. The lowest-priced model, a base S checks in at $22,840 while top-trim SEL with firmer suspension settings checks in at $33,975, $34,995 when adding a 6.5-inch in-dash navigation screen. All SELs comes standard with 10-spoke alloy wheels and bi-Xenon headlamps. Our tester SE with 4Motion, panoramic sunroof and in-dash navigation checked in at $32,480. The short option list included a $500 tow hitch for a pricy $33,800 bottom line included $850 destination charge.
Helping justify costs is a surprisingly opulent interior with cues borrowed from Volkswagen's up-market Audi lineup. Eight speakers and soft-touch dash materials come standard. Soft-tough materials extend to top portions of front doors. A stitched soft-cloth black comes in S while LE and SE opt for leatherette vinyl in black or beige while SEL moves upmarket with leather seating in black or beige. While marketed as a five-seater, two adults fit optimally in row two.
One welcome nuance played out big during a short Memorial Day weekend jaunt up north to the Wisconsin Dells with thee humanoids and one shaggy K-9 in tow. The rear 60/-40 split rear seat glides back six inches maximizing leg room in row two when more is called upon. Behind the second row is 23.8 cubic feet of cargo room, average at best for this segment.
The flat, handsome instrument panel includes two large backlit circular analog gauges with a square digital message center in between. Eight circular, closable air vents (two pair interspersed at four strategic dash locations) is a nice visual change to rectangular or circular styles. Our tester's huge panoramic sun roof extended front to back. A power shade closes anywhere along the way to tame solar heat. The ventilation system smartly incorporates three diminutive, yet easy-to-grab dials for single-zone monitoring; a more intuitive design than an array of buttons.
Front bucket seat height follows the Goldilocks rule: not too high, not too low, it's just right. Drivers have good road perception while a non-jump motion is all it takes to maneuver into position. All four side doors swing open wide enough allowing ample leg room entry. Many in the segment have narrower entry ways especially in row deuce. Small red reflectors along the bottom are visible to headlights if opened; a simple, inexpensive and effective safety nuance. A temporary spare tire along with shallow storage pods reside under the cargo's flat floor.
From a visual perspective, Tiguan shares more than a passing resemblance to its larger mid-size brother, the VW Touareg. Don't let the rugged good looks lead anyone into a false sense of security. The uni-body, one-piece sub frame is intended for on-pavement travel, not off-road hijinks. That said, Hill decent control comes standard with 4Motion helping to systematically monitor steep downward slopes without activation of the brake pedal.
Tiguan's updated front fascia sports VW's circular logo front and center. While many of Tiguan's underpinnings were detailed in Germany, exterior design cues were created on U.S. soil at the company's North American Design Studio in Santa Monica, California. Side windows are larger than many rivals, minimizing blind spot activity. Gently squared-off wheel wells incorporate protective plastic helping conserve exterior paint integrity. The rear hatch, hinged at the top with standard wiper, flips upward from the bottom with enough head clearance for those six-feet, two-inches and shorter. Small side-view mirrors smartly incorporate secondary blinker bands. Both tail light and head light assembly utilize narrow, band-like housing wrapping around to side fender areas.
If carting recreational equipment is part a weekend warrior lifestyle, Tiguan is a good choice. With the available towing package, expect a 2,200 limit, several hundred pounds better than most cute utilities in this segment.
At a glance:2012 Volkswagen Tiguan
Price as tested: $33,800
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo
Fuel estimates: 22 mpg city, 27 mpg highway
Length: 174.5 inches
Wheelbase: 102.5 inches
Height: 65.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,591 pounds
Drivetrain warranty: Five-year/60,000 miles
Assembly: Wolfsburg, Germany