Short Take Road Test: 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 2.0T 4MOTION
By Csaba Csere of Car and Driver
Fuel is expensive, SUV sales have cratered, and buyers who still want high-off-the-pavement wagon-like machines with the option of all-wheel drive have downsized their desires. As a result, the three bestselling SUVs in the country this year (and last) are the Honda CR-V, the Ford Escape, and the Toyota RAV4.
The Volkswagen Tiguan parachutes into this market with perfect timing. Sharing its mechanical architecture with the Rabbit, the Tiguan is almost exactly the same size as the Escape, but it's three to seven inches shorter than the CR-V and RAV4, respectively.
This shorter size shows up in the VW's slightly smaller passenger- and cargo-volume measurements, but you'd never notice it. The front and rear seats feel very spacious, and there's plenty of luggage room for four people's stuff. And the rear seat folds easily and nearly flat when you need to bring home a new power washer or television.
Not unexpectedly for a German machine, the Tiguan drives beautifully. Its steering is accurate and feels just about perfectly weighted. The suspension is tautly controlled yet compliant on rough roads. And for a tallish vehicle weighing the better part of two tons, it displays excellent nimbleness and grip, achieving 0.81 g when you're howling its 235/55R-17 Michelin Latitude tires at the limit and stopping in a commendable 177 feet. The competition from Ford, Honda, and Toyota cannot match these figures or the Tiguan's dynamic gracefulness.
The Tiguan's powertrain is similarly satisfying. The combination of the turbocharged, direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 200 horses and a six-speed automatic driving all four wheels propels the SUV to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds and through the quarter in 16 flat at 88 mph. That's enough grunt for easy back-road passes, and none of the four-cylinder econo-utes can match that performance — unless you step up to the optional V-6 in the RAV4, which easily puts away the Tiguan.
Still, the VW's powertrain will elicit few complaints. Other than in the first 10 feet from a dead stop, there's no perceived lag from the turbo engine, and the transmission shifts smoothly and intelligently. The gearbox also has full manumatic control, using a separate gate on its floor shifter. The EPA fuel-economy figures of 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway are nothing special for the segment, but we got 22 mpg under a variety of conditions, and at a steady 70 mph, the Tiguan delivers an honest 25 mpg.
Our Tiguan test vehicle was absolutely loaded, starting with the top-of-the-line, SEL 4MOTION model ($33,630) and adding the nav system (bundled with a backup camera for $1990), a humongous sunroof ($1300), and rear side airbags ($350). That comes to a staggering total of $37,270 and jettisons the Tiguan right out of the class of SUVs that includes the Escape, CR-V, and RAV4. Although you can get a front-drive manual Tiguan for as little as $23,890, the least expensive all-wheel-drive model starts at $29,565.
All-wheel-drive CR-Vs start at less than $23K, and it's tough to get one to top 30 grand. Even the much quicker V-6 RAV4 doesn't get beyond the low thirties. For the price of this Tiguan, you can get an Acura RDX or a Land Rover LR2 and even start thinking about a BMW X3 or the soon-to-arrive Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLK. All of these more chichi machines can match or exceed the Tiguan's dynamics, and except for the LR2, they are also quicker.
VW seems to be trying to take the middle ground between the mainstream and premium mini-utes. The Tiguan is good enough to fulfill that mission, but we wonder if the VW badge delivers sufficient cachet to motivate buyers to step up to the price premium.
C/D TEST RESULTS: