The Volkswagen Tiguan has been substantially revised for 2012. Designed for an active sporty lifestyle, the 2012 Tiguan delivers excellent performance on the road or over rugged terrain. The rear seat folds 40/20/40, creating cargo possibilities galore, and the standard tow hitch prep takes an available attachment that holds four bicycles. With a 2200-pound towing capacity, the Tiguan can pull a small boat.
The styling is revised for 2012, sleeker than before, while maintaining the Volkswagen family resemblance; in fact, if you look at a picture of all Volkswagens made, the noses all look the same, a smooth horizontal line of grille and headlamps, that stretches into a small smile.
All 2012 Tiguan models use a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with direct injection and variable valve timing. This engine has been around a long time and it's brilliant, now making 200 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque at a low 1700 rpm.
We found acceleration snappy and silky, while the engine is smooth and silent at high speeds, where the chassis is stable. In the Tiguan, 80 miles per hour feels like 60. In fact it's the smoothest four-cylinder we can think of. The Tiguan SE delivers a nice balance between smooth ride quality and stability at high speeds. Volkswagen says Tiguan is the GTI of compact SUVs.
Tiguan comes standard with front-wheel drive, but we highly recommend opting for the excellent 4Motion all-wheel drive.
Fuel mileage is decent, earning an EPA-rated 21/27 mpg City/Highway, an increase of 2 mpg over the previous (pre-2012) Tiguan, thanks largely to a taller sixth-gear ratio in the 6-speed automatic transmission, and lower-rpm shift points. These things are possible because of the engine's excellent torque, while making the driving dynamic smoother. We got 22.7 mpg running the Tiguan hard on the freeway, and easy around town.
The instrumentation is beautiful, and the clarity and simplicity of the touch screen and controls is outstanding. The interior materials are of a high quality, especially the V-Tex leatherette, which we couldn't tell from real leather. We recommend the optional Navigation system for its clarity and ease of use.
Volkswagen says that the Tiguan's main rivals are the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4.
In addition to about 400 miles on the road, we drove the Tiguan at an event in the Northwest called Mudfest, where it competed in the compact SUV class against a Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke, and Subaru Impreza. The CX-5 won overall, but the Tiguan proved superior on the autocross course with its wonderful handling, and out on the highway with its smoothness at high speed. And in the mud, with the Tiguan's 4Motion all-wheel drive, only the sporty Mazda CX-5 could keep up.
The 2012 Tiguan earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in front, side and rear crash test evaluations.
The Tiguan styling was done six years ago in California, when compact SUVs looked like a good idea but hadn't reached the popularity they enjoy today, for practical reasons driven by fuel mileage. It's a nice size, 174 inches long, 71 inches wide and 66 inches tall, which Volkswagen calls the perfect size for city dwelling and country living. We won't be wisecrackers and suggest that if that's true, then every other Volkswagen is either too big or too small for city or country living. Then again, maybe we will.
The windshield is lightly raked, the beltline creeps up almost imperceptibly. The side windows that appear bigger than they are because of black frames. There's not much shape at the rear, with a thick C-pillar that's nearly vertical; meanwhile, the rear glass tapers a bit toward the roof, where there's a small spoiler, mounted on the glass not the roof, so it doesn't look like the Tiguan is trying to be racy.
Unlike many SUVs, even compacts, the tailgate doesn't look big and flat, because it's not. A ridge runs back from the squared-off rear wheel arches, and wraps around the tailgate; imagine rainwater rolling down the rear glass, shooting off that ridge and flying rearward. The teardrop taillights add to the tidy back end, by not being blocky or radical; plus, hooray, they're totally red: no clear, no white, no chrome.
The front overhang is short, and there's one clean horizontal swipe that makes up the grille and headlamps, sweeping slightly upward around the corners onto the fenders. Compared to that big dumb grin that the Mazda3 has tapered down (but will never live down), the Tiguan bears a forced stretched smile. The 14 LEDs at the corners of the smile are daytime running lights, and look cool.
Under the bumper there's a honeycombed opening in the fascia, and beneath that a gray panel like a skid plate, with three more openings. Integrated into the new bumper at each side are honeycomb panels housing foglamps. Volkswagen calls it a tough new look for the urban jungle, forgetting that the days of the Hummer are over.
The Tiguan SEL features bi-xenon headlamps and 10-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels that can also be found on the high-performance Golf R.
We love the clarity and simplicity of the Tiguan SE's touch-screen display and controls! Volkswagen gets it! Everything you need to know and do, especially with the radio and navigation, with no distractions while driving! Consumer Reports doesn't like the touch screen. Consumer Reports usually get it right, but in this case we think they got it wrong. So we say yes to the Navigation option.
The speedometer and tachometer are big and beautiful. Between them is a multi-function trip computer that easily presents the information you use on a trip, especially fuel mileage and distance to empty. Bluetooth is standard.
Interior trim is soft plastic and faux brushed metal. Our Tiguan SE had the V-Tex leatherette, and you could have fooled us. The doors open wide for easy ingress and egress. There's only fair headroom and legroom for five adults, however. And there's an over-the-shoulder blind spot with the large C-pillar.
In the rear of the Tiguan there's 35.8 inches of legroom, considerably less than the competition, for example the Chevy Equinox (39.9), Mazda CX5 (39.3), Honda CR-V (38.3), and Subaru Forester (38.0).
The 40/20/40 folding rear seat might make up for the lack of legroom, especially for a young couple that's into outdoor activity, even if they have a kid or two. The cargo-carrying options of a 40/20/40 are many. There's a modest 23.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat; more if the rear seats are slid forward by their adjustable six inches.
Cargo space with the seats folded flat is 56.1 cubic feet, which is a bit light compared to the competition. At an event called Mudfest, held by the Northwest Automotive Press Association, the Tiguan got beat by the winning Mazda CX5 in the compact SUV class, mostly because of its limited cargo space (however the Tiguan smoked 'em on the autocross course, which we'll get to). However, like the Honda Fit, the Tiguan's front passenger seat folds almost flat to accommodate, say, a kayak or a stack of 8-foot-long two-by-four boards.
The liftgate is wide, and opens with the key fob on most models. Inside there are cargo hooks and a 12-volt outlet.
Our Tiguan SE was equipped the panoramic sunroof, which is massive: triple the size of some others, including the VW Golf. One panel opens and another is fixed, it has a shade, and, according to Volkswagen, it's aerodynamically and acoustically optimized. It's sweet but it's not cheap. And it's the closest thing you can get to a convertible in a compact SUV. The Tiguan SE is a good choice with or without the panoramic sunroof.
On the autocross course at Mudfest, a tight course defined by pylons, the Tiguan blew away the competition; not just handling, but engine and transmission too. The compact SUV entries were Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke, and Subaru Impreza. We wish the all-new Ford Escape (with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine) had been there, because it might have challenged the Tiguan on the autocross and the Mazda CX-5 for overall. The CX-5 got our vote on the strength of its value, fuel mileage, and cargo space; it won the compact SUV category, so the other 24 Northwest automotive journalists apparently mostly agreed.
Besides some models of the Escape, the Acura RDX is about the only compact SUV that feels as sporty as the Tiguan; and the RDX has a V6 and costs much more. If you want a compact SUV that can handle off-road (with 4Motion) but feels like a sports car, the Tiguan is for you. The 2.0-liter Volkswagen/Audi intercooled turbocharged engine has been around a long time, and it keeps getting better, now with direct injection and variable intake timing. It makes 200 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque from a low 1700 rpm. We've never felt a four-cylinder that feels this amazingly smooth at 90 mph. You'll never think its acceleration is too slow.
Tiguan is EPA-rated at 21/27 miles per gallon City/Highway. We got 22.7 mpg overall, running it hard on both freeway and around town for a week.
The 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode that comes on most models is a dream. It's got a Sport mode and Dynamic Shift Program. Its sixth gear, as with a growing number of new cars, is a double overdrive, which helps raise the government's Highway rating to 27 mpg, an improvement of two miles per gallon over the previous model. Also in pursuit of fuel mileage, the transmission has been re-programmed to shift at lower rpm, which it easily can do because of the strong torque. We like it.
Not all all-wheel-drive systems are the same, and the Volkswagen 4Motion is one of the best, along with Audi quattro and Subaru's all-wheel drive. Acura SH-AWD is good, but the 2013 Acura RDX does not use SH-AWD, only the bigger and more expensive Acur MDX does. It's Volkswagen's electro-hydraulic 4Motion that leads to the super handling that enabled our Tiguan to its big win on the autocross course. Tiguan's 4Motion Haldex center differential continuously varies the torque between the front and rear wheels, from 90-10 to 0-100, depending on where it's needed for traction. No spinning wheels means no lost traction and quicker acceleration performance, particularly when turning sharply at the same time.
The Mudfest event is appropriately named. We blasted the Tiguan around in the mud, including through deep ruts, where the Tiguan's 28-degree approach angle came into play, although the chassis did drag. When you have the opportunity to compare awd systems back-to-back like this, you can clearly feel the difference. For surefootedness in the slime, the Subaru Impreza and Mazda CX-5 held up to the Tiguan, the Honda CR-V wasn't too bad, while the Kia Sportage and Mini Countryman spun their wheels far behind, the city slickers.
Mounted in a lightweight, one-piece aluminum subframe, the Tiguan's strut-type front suspension has long-travel coil springs and lower control arms, with a beefy four-link system at the rear, mounted in a high-strength steel subframe with a broad lower wishbone on each side.
We found the freeway ride in the Tiguan to be smooth. On the same roads, the Acura RDX transmitted uncomfortable jolts. The 1.6-liter Ford Escape felt jouncy, but the 2.0-liter Escape was smooth like the Tiguan.
We haven't gotten a chance to drive the Tiguan SEL with its sport suspension and 19-inch wheels with low-profile 255/40R19 all-season tires, but we've heard that it rides rough, and we don't doubt it, because of the tires. There is a price to be paid for short sidewalls. SUVs work better with taller tires.
The brakes keep up with the Tiguan's sporty character, using 12.3-inch vented discs in front, and a feature that wipes water from the discs in wet weather. The brakes stay applied for a couple seconds when starting off on an incline.
The Volkswagen Tiguan's 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and 6-speed automatic transmission are silky smooth, the handling superb, and all-wheel-drive system sophisticated The cargo space, rear legroom, and fuel mileage are so-so, while the price with the niceties can get up there, for a compact SUV. We recommend the Tiguan SE 4Motion with Navigation for its smooth ride quality over the firmer SEL sports suspension.
Sam Moses filed this report after his test drive of the Tiguan SE in the Pacific Northwest.