The 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan is an all-new compact SUV that VW is releasing at the right time. VW calls it the GTI of crossovers, an apt description based on our test drive.
The Tiguan's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is shared with the GTI. It's more powerful than the engines offered in most compact SUVs. Those who want to shift their own gears can choose the six-speed manual transmission, an odd and sporty offering for the class. The available six-speed automatic transmission is more mainstream and it has a manual shiftgate that adds a sporty character.
With either transmission, the Tiguan has ready power for everyday needs and worry-free passing. Fuel economy is average for the class, which is better than most SUVs, but not as good as your average car. Fuel economy is hurt somewhat when the available all-wheel-drive system is ordered, but it's a big advantage for driving in northern climates.
Behind the wheel, the Tiguan offers a carlike and somewhat sporty driving experience. Handling is sharp for a crossover SUV, with manageable lean in turns, communicative but not overly quick steering, and good brake pedal feel. The ride is also quite good. Small bumps are barely noticed, but the Tiguan can react harshly to sharp bumps, especially with the available 18-inch wheels.
Like other Volkswagens, the Tiguan exists somewhere between standard line and luxury. Inside, it has a lot of soft-touch materials and the general feel is of quality. A navigation system with a hard-drive radio and rearview camera is offered, and the top-line SEL has an attractive leather interior.
The controls are clear and easy to use, and there are lots of little nooks for small items storage. Getting in and out is easy, and road and engine noise are kept to a minimum. Front seat room is plentiful, and the driver's seat offers comfort and a good view to all corners.
The rear seats move forward and aft up to six inches, allowing drivers to optimize the Tiguan for either rear cargo room or rear passenger comfort. Fully back, the rear seats have lots of room, but cargo room suffers. With the rear seats folded down, the Tiguan has a nice rear cargo area, but it is small for the class.
Buyers looking for a comfortable small SUV should give the Tiguan a look. It is sporty for the class, with a fine engine and a smooth ride. The interior is a pleasant place to be, and, like all SUVs, it can haul cargo. Just be careful about which model and options you choose, because pricing for the top-line model gets into the luxury realm.
Unlike other VW vehicles, the Tiguan is not named after a type of wind or a nomadic tribe. Instead, the name Tiguan is a composite of Tiger and Iguana, and it was chosen as the winning entry in a naming contest. The Tiguan looks nothing like a tiger or an iguana. We're not sure what a cross between a tiger and an iguana would look like, though we're pretty sure it would not be an attractive creature. Nevertheless, the Tiguan is a good-looking vehicle.
Built on a platform that combines elements of the Jetta/Rabbit and Passat, the Tiguan is shorter than the Jetta by almost five inches and shorter than the Passat by 13.6 inches, though it is almost 10 inches longer than the Rabbit. The Tiguan's 102.4-inch wheelbase is 0.9 inch longer than that of the Jetta/Rabbit and 4.3 inches shorter than that of the Passat. All this adds up to fairly efficient compact SUV packaging, though as we'll see, the Tiguan doesn't have the cargo room of most vehicles in its class.
Up front, the Tiguan features another take on Volkswagen's corporate face, with a trapezoidal grille whose shape is reflected in a lower air intake. Fog lights flank the intake on SE and SEL models. The look is reminiscent of the Jetta and Passat, just raised a bit higher off the ground.
The shape of the grille flows into the hood and those lines flow directly into the A-pillars. Along the sides, the Tiguan has black plastic wheel arches and rocker panels, as well as flared and squared off wheel cutouts with a character line connecting the two. Chrome trim around the side windows on SE and SEL models adds a look of quality. Compared to the visually aggressive concept vehicle that was shown at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show, the production model has much smaller wheels, ranging in size from 16 to 18 inches from the factory (though 19-inch wheels can be purchased as accessories at the dealership). The effect is a less imposing vehicle than the concept, but an attractive one nonetheless. (This is often the case with concept cars.)
The Tiguan's best angle may be from the rear. On the road, it looks like a beefed up GTI, and that's not a bad thing. The taillights are split between the rear fenders and rear hatch, and the VW logo is featured prominently at in the center of the hatch. Unlike the GTI/Rabbit, however, the VW logo does not act as the handle for opening the hatch. Instead, that is located lower in the license plate frame. Unfortunately, the Tiguan does not have separate opening hatch glass to ease loading groceries.
The large panoramic sunroof has a 13 square foot opening (about three times the size of an average sunroof), and includes a power retractable shade to let the air in but keep the sun out.
Like other Volkswagens, the Tiguan exists somewhere between standard line and luxury. That is most evident inside, where the Tiguan has more soft-touch solid materials than most compact SUV competitors. The dash is padded, and the remainder of the materials are solid and well assembled. The only competitors with comparable interior materials come from Acura and BMW, and they cost quite a bit more.
Once inside, the driver is presented with a hooded instrument panel that features a large speedometer and an equally large tachometer flanking small fuel and water temperature gauges, as well as a digital vehicle information center readout. The instrument panel is black, as are the gauges, which are set off by silver raised surrounds, white numbers, and red needles. The gauges are always easy to read and are quite attractive.
The center stack features the radio set high. It is flanked by four air vents, two on each side. The radio and vents are surrounded by silver plastic material that looks so nice that we had to touch it to be sure it wasn't metal.
The optional navigation system takes the place of the radio and it incorporates the radio controls. It's an attractive unit and it comes standard with a 30-gigabyte hard drive, 20 gigs of which are devoted to music storage. Music can be loaded via an SD card slot, a USB interface or straight from CDs. The navigation system also has a 6.5-inch touch screen, and DVDs can be played on the screen when the transmission is in Park.
Three easy-to-use climate control knobs are located below the radio. Below that is a small cubby. A larger, very useful cubby sits at the juncture of the center stack and center console. A shallow open tray is found at the top of the dash. There are two cup holders behind the shifter. And the center console has a useful storage bin. All this adds up to fine small items storage, but we are annoyed that the available six-disc CD changer is located in the center console bin, eating up most of its space. We'd prefer an in-dash changer.
It's easy to get in the Tiguan, and the driver also has plenty of room. Head room is impressive and the seat moves back far enough to allow big guys to fit. While the seats don't have very many controls, the tilt/telescoping steering wheel and general seat geometry allow for a natural driving position. In about six hours of driving we found the seats to be comfortable, and we felt just as fresh when we got out as we did when we got in. Visibility is good to all corners, but the side mirrors are somewhat short, making the blind spots a little bigger than we'd like.
Road, engine and wind noise are well muted, adding to the Tiguan's pleasant demeanor.
The rear seats can move forward and aft up to six inches, which allows owners to optimize the Tiguan for either rear cargo room or rear passenger comfort. Fully back, the rear seats have good leg room even with taller drivers up front. Move them up to increase carrying capacity and that room disappears unless the front passengers are short. Comfort in the rear is pretty good, and it's aided by a fold-down center armrest with two built-in cup holders. The seats also recline, but not very far. Like the front, getting in and out is a breeze.
Cargo space adds to the utility of the Tiguan though it's below the class average. The second-row seats fold flat to open up 56.1 cubic feet of cargo room. That beats the Saturn Vue's 54.3 cubic feet, but is less than just about everything else in the class. For example, it is considerably less than the Honda CR-V's 72.9 cubic feet of space. While the Tiguan loses to its competitors in this area, it has a low liftover height, making it easy to load and unload cargo into the rear. Also, the front passenger seat folds flat to allow loading long items, such as a small ladder. In short, the Tiguan is far more practical than a sedan.
The Tiguan offers a pleasant and sporty driving experience, more so than most compact crossover SUVs.
Tiguan comes with front-wheel drive or 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. Volkswagen's 4Motion sends 90 percent of the power to the front wheels in normal driving conditions, but when conditions dictate it can send up to 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels. Generally, this system is made for on-road use in slippery conditions. It's an all-weather all-wheel-drive system with no low-range set of gears, though Volkswagen says the Tiguan has some modest off-road capability. 4Motion uses a Haldex coupling and a multiplate internal clutch.
The Tiguan's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is one of the best on the market. Direct injection helps it churn out a lot of useable power for its size, while also delivering decent fuel economy. The 2.0 TSI makes 200 horsepower from 5100 to 6000 rpm and 207 pound-feet of torque from 1700 to 5000 rpm.
Car guys will like the fact that that engine comes mated to a six-speed manual transmission, but most will choose the six-speed automatic with a manual shiftgate. It's a good choice. Both give Tiguan a leg up on the competition, the manual because so few manuals are offered in this class and the automatic because it has six gears while many competitors are offering four- or five-speed automatics.
We drove both and found that the power was easier to tap with the manual, aided by the fact that the manual is only offered on the lighter front-wheel-drive S model. The manual is easy to shift, though not particularly sporty, with longish throws.
The automatic has a tendency to upshift quickly for better fuel economy, which means drivers have to get on the throttle pretty hard to coax the downshifts necessary for maximum power. This can be remedied by using the automatic's manual shiftgate, but most drivers will just let the transmission do the work. Steering wheel shift paddles are not provided.
Volkswagen says the Tiguan is capable of a 7.8-second 0-60 mph run with front-wheel drive and the automatic transmission; 4Motion all-wheel drive adds only 0.1 second to that time. Numbers weren't available for a front-drive Tiguan with the manual, but we would expect the time to be a half-second faster. Front-drive or all-wheel drive, automatic or manual, the Tiguan is a sprightly vehicle that will have no problem passing on two-lane roads or merging onto the freeway.
The 2.0 TSI is a fairly fuel-efficient engine, but fuel economy suffers a bit in the Tiguan due mostly to weight: An SEL 4Motion weighs more than 3600 pounds. EPA fuel economy numbers range from 19 mpg City and 26 mpg Highway for a front-drive model with a manual transmission to 18/25 mpg for a front-drive automatic to 18/24 mpg for Tiguan 4Motion automatic. That's pretty good for an SUV, but the 3.5-liter V6 in the Toyota RAV4 is rated at 19/26 mpg with all-wheel drive making the RAV4 both more powerful and more efficient than the Tiguan. Also, Volkswagen recommends premium fuel for the Tiguan.
Towing capacity for the Tiguan is just 2200 pounds, which is okay for the class, but you won't want to use it to tow your 20-foot boat. That's sufficient for a couple of snowmobiles or personal watercraft or ATVs or a lightweight boat or pop-up camper.
Handling is the other part of the Tiguan's sporty driving experience. We wouldn't categorize it as a performance SUV, but its car roots are obvious. The feeling behind the wheel is that of a raised car, and a fairly sporty one at that. The Tiguan leans in turns more than your average sedan, but the steering is communicative, though not overly quick, and the vehicle tracks nicely. We didn't get bored after a few miles in the twisties like we might in a RAV4 or CR-V. The brakes felt competent at all times.
Balance the handling with a comfortable ride and you can see why the Tiguan is a pleasant vehicle. We found that the
The Volkswagen Tiguan is nicer but more expensive than most compact SUVs. It feels more upscale than mainstream models though not quite as premium as luxury offerings. It is fun to drive and offers nice passenger room, but cargo volume is smaller than that of most rivals. Prices for the top model are high, so buyers on a budget should look at S and SE models and choose all-wheel drive only if climate dictates it. Volkswagen includes three years of free scheduled maintenance, which partially offsets the brand's mediocre reliability record.
Kirk Bell filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Boulder, Colorado.