Amid the growing cast of compact crossover utility vehicles, which are increasingly finding favor with buyers, the Volkswagen Tiguan has so far been a bit player.
With the 2012 model, however, the German company sees an opportunity to erode some sales of the class leaders, especially the Honda CR-V. It is a daunting task. In 2010, the CR-V had sales of 203,714, compared to just 20,946 For the Tiguan.
To make a credible run at the leaders, VW is following a two-track strategy: lower prices and simpler, more customer-friendly marketing. Both tactics already are underway with its Jetta and Passat sedans.
Instead of an array of models and options, VW will limit buyers to just 13 Tiguan choices. It is a system that has been used for many years by Honda.
For example, the Tiguan comes in three versions: S, SE and SEL, each with a given level of equipment and only a few options packages.
The base model, the S, with a starting price of $23,660, has front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox, along with full safety equipment, air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, power windows and locks, and motorized outside rear-view mirrors. The upholstery is a comfortable cloth.
If you want the six-speed automatic transmission, add $1,500 and, if you want the 4Motion all-wheel drive, it’s another $1,955, for a total of $27,115. The automatic also gets you 16-inch alloy wheels. With all-wheel drive and a panoramic sunroof, the price goes to $28,715.
The tested Tiguan was a mid-level all-wheel drive SE with the automatic transmission, along with a package that included the sunroof and a navigation system. The SE upholstery is vinyl leatherette done so craftily it is difficult to distinguish from leather. It had a $33,300 sticker.
However, if you want to go whole hog, the top-of-the-line SEL with a high-end audio system, leather seats and navigation checks in at $38,900.
The main drive-train across the lineup is VW’s 200-horsepower, 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine connected to a six-speed automatic transmission that has been redesigned for 2012. The two top gears now are overdrive to improve fuel economy.
The 2012 Tiguan 4Motion with the automatic is rated at 21/27 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s city/highway cycle, compared to its predecessor’s 19/25—a point that the VW folks no doubt will tout in sales pitches.
Volkswagen’s soothsayers expect about half of the buyers to choose all-wheel drive, while the remainder will be satisfied with front drive.
On the road, with either front or all-wheel drive, the 2012 Tiguan exhibits a fine balance between handling and ride. It hustles around corners confidently without much body lean and even occasionally imparts a sporting feel. The ride, though a bit stiff, is comfortable as long as the road doesn’t get too choppy.
The turbo four won’t win too many drag races but it performs as well or better than most of the competition in the compact CUV class. Acceleration from zero to 60 miles an hour with the slick shifting six-speed automatic comes up in about eight seconds, with a top speed shy of 120.
Although not designed for serious off-road driving, even with the all-wheel drive, the Tiguan has decent ground clearance at the front to climb over obstacles like modest snow banks.
Inside, the front seats offer stiff comfort and support with substantial side bolstering on the seatbacks. With manual or power adjustments, the driver’s seat should be capable of accommodating most drivers. Also, the steering wheel is adjustable for reach and rake.
Unfortunately, the sun visors do not slide on their support rods and so are ineffective in blocking sun from the side. Similarly, on models equipped with the panoramic sunroof, the shade is made from a sort of cheesecloth, peppered with small holes, that doesn’t effectively block bright sunlight. Sun shades should be opaque.
In the back, there is ample head and knee room in the outboard positions even for above-average sized people. However, the seat bottoms are not as yielding as those up front, with firmness that borders on hard. As in most vehicles these days, the center-rear position is an uncomfortable perch further compromised by intrusion from the floor hump and the front console.
A nicely carpeted cargo area can accommodate 24 cubic feet of goods. The split rear seatbacks fold to expand the area to 56 cubic feet. But they do not fold flat. A hard cargo cover keeps contents hidden with the seatbacks raised, and there are tie-downs to secure cargo.
Volkswagen doesn’t bill the Tiguan as a family car. It’s aimed at people who like that indefinable something called German feel, who also need or want additional space. The Tiguan provides that: passenger volume is 95 cubic feet, which is similar to that of a mid-size car.
Like its sibling, the Touareg, the Tiguan has an unusual monicker. It came from a naming competition and is a combination of the words “tiger” and “iguana.”
- Model: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan SE 4-Motion 2.0T four-door crossover utility vehicle.
- Engine: 2-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 200 horsepower.
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
- Overall length: 14 feet 7 inches.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 95/24 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,450 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 21/27 miles to the gallon; premium recommended.
- Base price, including destination charge: $31,345.
- Price as tested: $33,300.