2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Expert Review:Autoblog
At first blush, Munich seems like an awfully long way to travel for the chance to drive a mid-cycle refresh. But Volkswagen has good reason to ask us to schlep across the Atlantic to drive its updated-for-2012 Tiguan: Momentum.
The compact crossover had a bit of a knock-kneed start out of the gates when it arrived in the U.S. in May of 2008 as a 2009 model. While demand was spectacular at home in Europe, the VW failed to find early favor with North American shoppers, despite entering a white-hot segment. But that's rapidly changing. Last year, Tiguan sales increased from fewer than 14,000 units to nearly 21,000, and this year, it's on its way to a new record, selling almost 3,100 units in May alone. And thanks to a series of meaningful updates for 2012, there's every reason to believe that the kid brother of the pricey Touareg will continue to find increasing favor among consumers.
Utilizing the same 2.0-liter turbocharged TSI four-cylinder engine that helps the GTI tug at our heartstrings, the Tiguan has always been an engaging drive. Generating the same 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque output as last year's model, a willing drivetrain was never the problem – it was lackluster fuel economy. VW says it has made significant strides in this area, executing lots of little changes that add up to a big improvement in miles per gallon. Chief among them is an updated version of its 09M six-speed automatic, which now uses two overdrive gears instead of one. Along with this change, the Aisin gearbox uncouples its torque converter when coasting, and the transmission software features reduced shift points and lowered idle speed (now a diesel-like 600 rpm).
Although official EPA fuel economy numbers aren't in yet, Volkswagen says these alterations, along with low rolling resistance tires, should add up to a 15-to-20 percent gain in efficiency. Being conservative and going with the 15-percent improvement, that should work out to about 23 mpg city and 30 mpg highway in front-wheel-drive spec – big improvements over the outgoing model's frankly unimpressive 20/26 ratings. Unfortunately, the turbo'd Tig still recommends premium fuel.
The Tiguan's updated hardware hides beneath a modest exterior updo that's surprisingly effective. The front fascia adopts VW's latest corporate look, with a twin split-bar grille and new headlamps that look markedly more assertive than the somewhat saggy fixtures they replace – particularly in SEL trim, which incorporates U-shaped LED arrays, a change that recaptures some of the aggression lost when the Concept Tiguan of 2006 made the transition to production. In profile, little has changed other than the addition of a chrome lower trim strips, and out back, reshaped two-piece taillights look less globby, with more intricate "Double L" internals. To our eyes, the new look is at once more cohesive and premium, and the refined Tig has a more confident stance, particularly when outfitted with optional 19-inch Savanna alloys.
Interestingly enough, ours is one of two front-end looks for the 2012 Tiguan. Known as the 28° Track & Style nose (you can't make this stuff up), it has a light-duty plastic skid plate and slightly improved arrival angle (name aside, VW specs suggest the arrival angle is actually 24.3°, but we don't see many people off-roading their Tiguans anyway). The other front fascia, known as the 18° Sport & Style, incorporates a bluffer face, with a larger center air intake and a Leno jut to its lowermost region. European customers will get their choice of front-ends depending on which model they choose, but U.S. customers will have to be happy with the style seen here.
Much to our quiet relief, the interior of the 2012 Tiguan is largely the same as its predecessor, which is to say comfortable, clearly laid out, and well-constructed. There's a new steering wheel with multi-function switchgear, a crisper and more colorful data display nestled between the tachometer and the speedometer, an updated gearshift lever and top-spec SEL models get a thin fillet of matte silver trim on the door cards. That's about it. Those fearing the same sort of decontenting and discount materials inflicted upon the 2011 Jetta have nothing to worry about – the 2012 Tiguan still errs on the premium side and observed fit-and-finish in a variety of test models was first-rate.
Sadly, we can't give you the complete goods on the new Tiguan just yet, because even though we drove a whole range of examples, they were European-spec models with all manner of powertrain and option combinations that we won't see in America. We powered out of Munich and into the heart of the Austrian Alps driving everything from the innovative 1.4-liter twincharger (which is both supercharged and turbocharged to deliver 158 horsepower and 177 pound-fet of torque) to our 2.0-liter TSI four-cylinder backed by a six-speed manual and 4Motion all-wheel drive, both wearing Sport & Style togs. We even spent time in an automatic-equipped 2.0-liter TDI diesel 4Motion, the subject seen here in our photographs. Since we won't get any of these powertrain combinations (as before, we'll have a choice of a base front-wheel-drive model with manual transmission or uplevel trims with front-or all-wheel drive paired exclusively with the updated six-speed automatic), we'll have to wait to give you our full impressions.
Alright, we'll give you one observation that's likely to come as a surprise: In this application, the 2.0-liter TDI needs work. We've been delighted with the flexibility and driving characteristics of this very same diesel in other VWs (including our own long-term Jetta), but if an oil-burning Tiguan is to come to the States, it's going to need a trip to manners school. While likely acceptable to a European audience used to diesel power tradeoffs, we found the TDI to be surprisingly coarse sounding – acutely so upon start-up (despite ambient air temperatures in the mid-60s). Once underway, it's possible to forget about the noise, vibration and harshness after a while, enjoying the TDI's 168 hp and 258 lb-ft. of torque output, but the start-stop feature caused us to revisit our misgivings about the engine's refinement every time it kicked in. Officials reconfirmed that the company is actively considering offering a TDI model stateside, so we hope they sic their engineers on the problem, as some extra sound insulation and a bit of tuning would probably address our concerns. Cornering the market on a high-mpg compact diesel CUV certainly strikes us as worth the added effort.
From our vantage point, the Tiguan's other chief impediment to bigger sales has been its price. The 2011 Tiguan may boast a more sophisticated engine and a nicer interior than many of its competitors, but its $23,720 base price is well north of its larger chief competitors, the Honda CR-V ($21,895) and Toyota RAV4 ($22,475), not to mention cheaper offerings like the Kia Sportage ($18,295) and Nissan Rogue ($21,460). Volkswagen hasn't tipped its hand on pricing ahead of the 2012 model's September on-sale date, but it's likely to at least hold the line, if not decrease a bit.
Bigger changes will have to wait until the next-generation Tiguan, a model that's likely to be very different from what you see here. For one thing, the all-new model is widely expected to be built not in Wolfsburg, but in Chattanooga at VW's new plant. Building in the U.S. will help make a much lower price point possible, and this successor will almost certainly grow a bit in size to fit U.S. tastes – likely sprouting a long-wheelbase variant with three rows. What's more, we hear from several sources that the next Tig is unlikely to see the sort of interior cost-cutting that's drawn fire from auto critics and brand loyalists. According to what we've heard from several sources, Jonathan Browning, VW of North America's new CEO, is understood to be unhappy with the Jetta's accommodations, so a repeat performance with the Tiguan is unlikely.
In the meantime, we don't see anything here that will stop the current generation from continuing to build momentum. It's more refined, better looking and cheaper to run, and it still packs the heart of a GTI.
New Car Test Drive
Redesigned with sleeker styling, improved fuel mileage.
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 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan comes in four models, all using the 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, with all-wheel drive available on three models. All use a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual mode, except the base Tiguan S which comes with a 6-speed manual standard with a 6-speed automatic without manual mode optional.
Tiguan S ($22,840) is equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission. Tiguan S with 4Motion all-wheel drive ($26,295) comes with the 6-speed automatic and alloy wheels. Tiguan S comes standard with cloth upholstery, reclining front seats with driver's lumbar adjustment, 40/20/40 folding rear seats, Bluetooth, intermittent wipers, eight-speaker sound system with in-dash CD player, full power, cruise control, 16-inch steel wheels, and tow hitch prep. Alloy wheels come with the Tiguan S automatic ($24,340), and there's a Tiguan S Sunroof model ($25,940) with a power tilt/sliding panoramic glass roof and tinted windows.
Tiguan LE ($25,175) and all other models come standard with the automatic. LE upgrades to V-Tex leatherette upholstery, tinted windows, heated front seats, and a Media Device Interface (MDI) with iPod cable.
Tiguan SE ($28,635) and SE 4Motion ($30,590) upgrade with a leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls, manual height adjustment for the front seat, fog and cornering lights, premium satellite radio, roof rails, heated front washer nozzles, and 18-inch alloy wheels. A Sunroof and Navigation model ($30,525) adds the power tilt/sliding panoramic glass sunroof, and a navigation system with five-inch color touchscreen. With 4Motion all-wheel drive it's $32,480.
Tiguan SEL ($33,975) and SEL 4Motion ($35,930) come with the sunroof and navigation, leather upholstery, and a sport suspension with 19-inch alloy wheels and 255/40 R19 all-season tires. It also adds silver-metallic interior trim, power adjustable driver seat with memory and power lumbar, Climatronic air conditioning, intermittent front windshield wipers with rain sensor, keyless entry with push-button start, power foldable/adjustable/heated exterior mirrors, Bi-Xenon headlights with low-beam assist, and LED daytime running lights. Tiguan SEL with Premium Navigation ($34,995) includes an upgraded navigation system with a 6.5-inch color high-resolution touchscreen display, integrated 30GB hard drive, and voice control. There's also an SEL with Premium Navigation and Dynaudio ($38,080) that adds standard 4Motion all-wheel drive and a Dynaudio premium sound system.
Safety equipment includes frontal and side-thorax airbags, airbag curtains, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, tire pressure monitor, and Volkswagen's Intelligent Crash Response System that automatically shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard warning lights if the vehicle is involved in certain types of collisions.
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.
Volkswagen Tiguan S ($22,840); Tiguan S 4Motion ($26,295); Tiguan S Sunroof ($25,940); Tiguan LE ($25,175); Tiguan SE ($28,635); Tiguan SE 4Motion ($30,590); Tiguan SE Sunroof and Navigation ($30,525); Tiguan SEL ($33,975); Tiguan SEL 4Motion ($35,930); Tiguan Premium Navigation ($34,995); Tiguan SEL 4Motion Premium Navigation and Dynaudio ($38,080).
Options As Tested
Volkswagen Tiguan SE 4Motion Sunroof and Navigation ($32,480).
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