In a class that grows larger every year, Volkswagen’s Tiguan has remained a solid alternative to the boring Ford Escapes, Honda CR-Vs and Toyota RAV-4s. Compact, smart and handsome, it provides enough flash for the cash. And with VW now set on a course of growing, cheapening and de-contenting its offerings to suit American tastes, it might well be one of the few remaining ‘European’ vehicles to be sold by the brand.
1. The Tiguan is priced at $23,720 to start, although our mid-range AWD test model retails for a more significant $30,170.
2. Power comes exclusively from a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine making 200-hp.
3. Fuel economy is rated at 20/26-mpg for the automatic, and drops one tick on the highway when equipped with AWD.
4. Cargo room is a bit tight at 24 cu-ft in the rear and 56 cu-ft total.
Even four years after its introduction, the 2011 Tiguan still looks classy, although the dual-level smiling grille is of VW’s previous styling direction. We can expect a revised Tiguan for 2012 with a new front end that mimics its larger Touareg cousin, which depending on your point of view, might not be the best choice. But the upright cabin allows for decent outward visibility, and its tidy dimensions mean you can easily thread through tight parking lots.
ONLY ONE ENGINE CHOICE, BUT IT’S A GOOD ONE
Still loosely based on the Golf, the Tiguan comes in only a handful of configurations. It still retains its competitive 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injection four-cylinder engine that also produces a stout 207 lb-ft of torque from 1700-5000 rpm. Routed through either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, it’s enough haul the 3,400-pound Tiguan to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds, regardless of choice. Choose the automatic, and you can also have optional 4MOTION all-wheel-drive.
Surprisingly, the manual gets worse fuel mileage in town compared to the automatic (18 mpg vs. 20), while both get 26-mpg on the highway. Adding 4MOTION drops the latter to 25-mpg on the highway.
Don’t let the all-wheel-drive fool you, though. This cute-ute is biased purely for on-road work. The four-wheel independent suspension is tuned stiffly to better help cornering performance. Even with the relatively high-profile 17-inch tires, on our tester, larger bumps and road imperfections can be felt. Despite the harder ride, the Tiguan still pitches and rolls slightly, further complicated by the quick-ratio steering that’s nearly devoid of feel. It’s hard to pick a smooth line, and demands more concentration to keep straight on the highway. Not the ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ type.
PUTTING THE COMPACT IN COMPACT CROSSOVER
The compact dimensions that make the Tiguan so nimble take their duty in interior space. There’s real room for four, five in a pinch. But your passengers will be treated to a high-quality cabin, with nice plastics, soft leather, and good ergonomics. Drivers of most any size will find the front seats comfortable, with lots of adjustability. The steering adjusts for rake and reach, and the wheel itself is nicely sized with secondary audio controls standard. The rear seats have good leg and headroom – and can be adjusted fore and aft to suit passengers. But as mentioned before, it could do with a little more shoulder space when three are aboard.
Perhaps the biggest complaint comes from the cargo area – with only 24 cu-ft of storage without folding down the rear seats, the Tiguan doesn’t hold much of an advantage over its Golf cousin (15 cu-ft), and is smoked by the Jetta SportWagen (32.8). With the rear seats stowed, that expands to just over 56 cu-ft, but it’s still a narrow space.
As befitting a small near-luxury crossover, the number of convenience features standard and available on even the base $23,720 Tiguan is impressive. Our mid-range SE 4MOTION tester starts at $30,170 and gets power windows and locks, cruise control, rear defroster, a multi-function trip computer, an eight-speaker touch-screen premium sound system with optional navigation, a power sunroof, and Bluetooth hands-free calling. High-end SEL models also get bi-xenon headlights, privacy glass, heated exterior mirrors, 18-inch wheels, rain-sensing wipers, keyless access with push-button ignition, a 12-way power driver’s seat, leather seats and more for just over $33,000.
Unfortunately, the Tiguan’s value equation is shot to hell by its pricing. Both the CR-V and RAV4 are larger and less expensive – and in the Toyota’s case, more powerful with its optional 3.5-liter V6. Perhaps the biggest thorns in the Vee-Dub’s proverbial foot are the new Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, which offer more style and space, similar cabin quality, but with serious price advantages. While their standard 2.4-liter engines don’t quite stack up power-wise, the new optional 260-horsepower turbocharged four-bangers will smoke the Tiguan where it stands. And cost about $7,000 less to drive home.
Unless you’ve still banished the Korean companies from your choices, the Volkswagen is a tricky choice to recommend wholeheartedly. It helps to be a previous Volkswagen owner, or at least a big fan of the brand, because at least then you’d be aware that the ownership experience rarely goes according to plan. And that the bigger price tag buys refinement, and perhaps a little badge snobbery – but not much else – compared to the Japanese or Koreans.