Review and photos by
Greg Wilson, Autos.ca
Considered a “premium” compact crossover utility vehicle (CUV), the Volkswagen Tiguan occupies the high end of the CUV market with suggested retail prices ranging from $27,875 to over $42,000 fully loaded. In fact, well-equipped Tiguan’s are priced close to luxury CUVs like the Acura RDX and BMW X3.
What makes the Tiguan worth more than many other CUVs? Much of it has to do with the Tiguan’s standard 200-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the same engine used in the sporty GTI and Audi A4. But though this is a great engine with generous turbo-induced low-end torque, it isn’t the most powerful engine in its class by any means. The V6 engines in the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4, for example, beat it by 40 and 69 horsepower respectively. According to AJAC, the Tiguan (4Motion, 6-speed auto) has a zero to 100 km/h time of 9.2 seconds – downright slow compared to the 269-hp Toyota RAV4 V6 (4WD, 5-speed auto) with 6.7 seconds! And according to the EPA, the Tiguan isn’t even as fuel efficient, with 12.4 city/9.4 hwy vs 12.4 city/9.0 hwy (L/100 km). The kicker is that the RAV4 V6 costs about the same or less than a Tiguan.
What else about the Tiguan justifies its premium reputation? For many VW owners, it’s driving enjoyment. The Tiguan’s Golf-based platform, fully independent suspension, tight, rattle-free body, and well-weighted steering provide lively handling and a pleasurable driving experience that is missing from some of its competitors. My mid-level Comfortline vehicle had the optional “Sport Package” with 18-inch all-season tires, replaced for winter with Pirelli Scorpion snow tires, and a stiffer sport suspension which improves the handling, fortunately without destroying the ride.
Yes, you can get a six-speed manual transmission on the base Trendline and mid-level Comfortline models, but according to Autos.ca reviewer Chris Chase who likes manual transmissions, “the shifter has long throws and offers no satisfaction, and the clutch is spongy.” The optional six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic manual mode is the better choice as it’s a smooth operator and offers a nice highway gear where the engine does only 2,200 r.p.m. at 100 km/h. It also offers a Sport mode with more aggressive shift points, and a Tiptronic manual mode for clutchless manual shifts with the shift lever. This is not VW’s quick-changing six-speed DSG transmission, by the way.
VW’s optional 4Motion all-wheel drive is a hands-off, full-time system that normally runs in front-wheel drive but can send up to 100 per cent of the power to the rear wheels. In icy conditions at slow speeds, it automatically locks up in a 50/50 front/rear split to improve traction, eliminating the need for the driver to press a manual diff lock button on the dashboard, as is the case with many other CUVs. The Tiguan’s 175 mm (6.9 in.) ground clearance is adequate but not as high as some of it competitors. The RAV4, for instance, has 190 mm (7.5 in.).
Four disc brakes with ABS are standard on the Tiguan and AJAC recorded a panic braking distance of 44.3 metres from 100 km/h, compared to 42 metres for the RAV4. Traction control and stability control are also standard on the Tiguan.
On the highway, the Tiguan is very comfortable with minimal engine and transmission noise but some tire noise. Like most Volkswagens, it tracks very well at high speeds (think Autobahn). The driver’s visibility is good all around and variable intermittent front wipers and a fixed intermittent rear wiper help a lot in winter.
One thing Volkswagen does well is its interiors, which may not be trendy, but are well-finished with sensible locations for controls. My mid-level Tiguan Comfortline 4Motion model came with standard leatherette seats with three-temp seat heaters, two-tone cream and black interior colour scheme, chrome and metal dash trim, a touch-screen for radio controls, tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel and leather shifter, height adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar adjuster, rear seats that slide fore and aft, articulating rear seatbacks that fold down flat, and a fold-flat front passenger seatback.
Seat fabric depends on the trim level: Trendline and Comfortline manual transmission models have standard fabric seats, Comfortline 4Motion models get leatherette, and Highline models get standard leather. The Tiguan’s cabin is quite roomy for four adults with generous headroom and legroom, and the optional “Panoramic” sunroof includes a rear glass panel that lets light into the rear seat area.
The Tiguan’s backlit white-on-black gauges are easy to read day or night, although the tiny fuel and coolant gauges need some scrutiny.
All Tiguans come with a trip computer display between the gauges that provides a lot of useful information such as average fuel consumption, current fuel consumption, distance to empty, trip time as well as outside temperature, radio station, and gear selection.
The 6.5-inch centre screen, used mainly for radio and setup functions, includes large images and “pushbuttons” for selecting stations and audio adjustments, but I found it difficult to read with my sunglasses on. It includes a three-month free subscription to commercial-free Sirius Satellite Radio, and invariably when I’m testing a new car, I’ll switch to Sirius rather than FM. This audio system also includes six-disc CD/MP3 changer, SD card input and eight speakers. Separate auxiliary and iPod connections are also available.
Top of the line Highline models include an integrated Navigation system but replace the 6-CD changer with a single CD player.
The Tiguan’s cargo area behind the rear seats is smaller than some of rivals, but with 700 litres (23.8 cu. ft.) and up to 1,600 litres (56.1 cu. ft.) of cargo space with the rear seats folded down, the cargo area will meet most people’s needs. And like all VW’s, the floor and walls are lined with a durable fabric liner.
My Comfortline 4Motion test vehicle had a base price of $31,275 and almost $6,000 worth of options: 6-speed automatic w/Tiptronic $1,400; 4Motion AWD $2,200; Sport Package with 18-inch alloys, bi-xenon headlights and cornering lights, and stiffer sport suspension $1,700; and Connectivity Package with Bluetooth hands-free phone, and iPod connector $675. Adding a Freight charge of $1,580 and a/c tax of $100, the as-tested price came to $38,930.
That’s a lot of money for a small crossover, but there’s no denying the utility, comfort, luxury and driving enjoyment that a Tiguan can offer.
Pricing: 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline
Base price: $31,275
Options: $5,975 (6-speed automatic w/Tiptronic $1,400; 4Motion AWD $2,200; Sport Package $1,700; Connectivity Package $675)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $38,930
Buyer’s Guide: 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)