2013 Volkswagen Tiguan Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 10, 2013

The 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan is a little conservative in look and feel, but otherwise it has everything that urban crossover shoppers want.

Over the last decade, Volkswagen has pushed simplicity, value and practicality in the U.S.; and in packaging, design and purpose, the Tiguan compact crossover stays true to these priorities, perhaps better than any other model in the lineup. The 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan won't necessarily win crossover shoppers over for its pricetag, for interior space, or for having the very latest infotainment and connectivity features. What it does simply, and well, is deliver the essentials in the typical VW fashion: it's the right size, with the right performance, styled for long-lasting appeal, with a cabin that's a knockout even at the top of its price range.

With respect to styling and the driving experience, the Tiguan is one of the more conservative designs VW has produced in recent years--but that includes a knockout cabin that's attractive and gets all the details right. As if the Tiguan were designed from the inside out (maybe it was), this is a vehicle with an upright design inside and a straightforward presentation, yet with richer finishes than we've seen in some of VW's other small cars. From the outside, there's really nothing adventurous and nothing exciting about it, and it ends up looking like a grown-upward version of the Golf--with only the larger wheels on some models helping throw it more decisively into the crossover category.

The Tiguan doesn't betray its homely exterior too much. Although the specs might sound promising--200-horsepower turbocharged four, manual or automatic transmissions--this is a vehicle tuned for family duty, not for VW precision. It's more nimble and responsive than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, for sure, but the goods simply aren't here to satisfy driving enthusiasts. It can tow up to 2,200 pounds—good for jet-skis or ATVs—while all-wheel-drive versions also make good picks for those in snowy climates.

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Really, the Tiguan is what it is: a very tall small car with a lot of usefulness, an affordable price, and good gas mileage. This vehicle is probably the best fit for a growing family that wants something with a little more utility, or to the older driver who likes the easier entry/exit and seating position of a city-oriented crossover. Most crossover shoppers also want an interior that's straightforward and versatile—as well as comfortable—and the Tiguan delivers on those expectations. Front seats feel sporty and supportive, with good comfort and an excellent driving position, while the second-row seats slide and tilt, leaving ample space for adults. With the 60/40-split seatbacks folded you get 56 cubic feet of cargo space (nearly 24 with the seat up), with a small 'hidden' storage bin under the floor plus a twin-compartment glovebox and various other cubbies throughout the vehicle.

Throughout the Tiguan, there really isn't a hair out of place. And while it isn't a design leader in any way, just a quick glance around the cabin may be enough to understand where this crossover really shines: Materials and details feel polished, assembly quality is tight, and overall there's a feel that this could conceivably be a vehicle from a premium brand like Audi.

Crash-test results for the Tiguan have been excellent, and Volkswagen continuous to offer a few more safety features than you'd typically expect to see in a small crossover. In addition to the usual front and side airbags, rear side thorax airbags—not often available in this class—are an option here. On all-wheel-drive versions, hill descent control is also included, to help control speed on steep slopes, while for 2013 hill-hold control and an electronic parking brake have been added to the entire model line.

Along with a mild refresh last year, VW upped the level of standard equipment in the Tiguan; base models remain above the entry prices for many rival models, however. But feature content throughout the lineup is now impressive. All Tiguans have a decent AM/FM/CD sound system, with an iPod adapter and voice-activated Bluetooth, while at the top of the model line you get leather seats and push-button start in the SEL. Mid-level SE models add fog and cornering lamps, heated seats, and VW's V-Tex vinyl seating—which to us is no upgrade, so try them both. The SEL model includes leather seats and push-button start, along with a sport suspension, bi-xenon headlamps and LED running lamps, and automatic climate control. Both SE and SEL trims get roof-rack rails. There's only one equipment surprise in the Tiguan: If you want a manual version of the Tiguan, you'll have to settle for the more basic base model.

For 2013, the Tiguan is no longer as vegan-friendly; all trims now include leather trim for the shift knob and steering wheel. Also new to the lineup is a partial power passenger seat in SE trims, while SEL models now have a full power one.

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2013 Volkswagen Tiguan

Styling

The Tiguan is rather plainly dressed on the outside, but its upscale interior charms.

The Tiguan is one of the more conservative designs VW has produced in recent years--but that includes a knockout cabin that's attractive and gets all the details right. As if the Tiguan were designed from the inside out (maybe it was), this is a vehicle with an upright design inside and a straightforward presentation, yet with richer finishes than we've seen in some of VW's other small cars.

From the outside, there's really nothing adventurous and nothing exciting about it, and it ends up looking like a grown-upward version of the Golf--with only the larger wheels on some models helping throw it more decisively into the crossover category. Last year the Tiguan got a new grille and some subtle exterior changes that put it back in line with some of VW's recently redesigned vehicles. While the overall look is subdued—it's not really sporty, rugged, or adventurous—the front end is more crisply detailed now and the 19-inch wheels offered on top SEL models do give the whole design a little more punch.

Inside, the Tiguan has a lot more charm, and it's not because the styling itself is that much more flamboyant but because the cabin is so well detailed. It's very straightforward but richly textured, with nice materials and big round gauges, framed simply, and the interior feels like it's from a premium brand—a step up from the somewhat cheapened interiors of the Jetta and Passat sedans.

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2013 Volkswagen Tiguan

Performance

The 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan has a gutsy turbocharged engine and nimble feel, yet it doesn't feel all that sporty.

You might expect Volkswagen's reputation for driving fun to carry over to the Tiguan, but there's not much the automaker can do to add excitement to a vehicle that's so straightforward in purpose.

The specs might sound promising--200-horsepower turbocharged four, manual or automatic transmissions--but this is a vehicle tuned for family duty, not for VW precision. It's more nimble and responsive than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, for sure, but the goods simply aren't here to satisfy driving enthusiasts. It can tow up to 2,200 pounds—good for jet-skis or ATVs—while all-wheel-drive versions also make good picks for those in snowy climates.

The turbocharged four has a broad, flat torque curve, and it's teamed well with either the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission; we've spent more time in the automatic, and it's punchy enough so you're rarely bored in urban driving. This manual gearbox is atypically light and imprecise, while the automatic makes the most of the engine's torque plateau, so we recommend the latter.

Otherwise, the Tiguan has the road manners you'd expect from a tall wagon. Ride and handling are tuned for all-around utility, not hot-hatch dynamics. The steering can feel a little light and lacking in feedback sometimes, and if you push it too hard in corners the multilink rear suspension merely blunts out impacts, in favor of sharpness and at the cost of sharpness. There's a lack of zeal and tenacity, and the Tiguan is simply not meant to satisfy serious driving enthusiasts. But at the same time it's safe and responsive enough for most needs—even nimble-feeling compared to other crossovers.

The Tiguan's Haldex all-wheel drive system (called 4Motion in the model line) is great for snowy driveways; it delivers 90 percent of torque to the front wheels most of the time, but once slip is detected it can send more to the wheels where it's needed.

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2013 Volkswagen Tiguan

Comfort & Quality

Impressive interior space, a comfortable ride, and high-quality materials all give the Tiguan what crossover shoppers want.

The 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan has a lot of usefulness, and it's probably the best fit for a growing family that wants something with a little more utility, or to the older driver who likes the easier entry/exit and seating position of a city-oriented crossover.

Most crossover shoppers also want an interior that's straightforward and versatile—as well as comfortable—and the Tiguan delivers on those expectations. Front seats feel sporty and supportive, with good comfort and an excellent driving position, while the second-row seats slide and tilt, leaving ample space for adults.

At about 173 inches long and 73 inches wide, the Tiguan has a smaller parking footprint than most compact sedans. Yet its height of 66.5 inches and carlike layout allow lots of cabin space—including very good head room. 

There are three different upholstery materials used in the Tiguan, and in each case they're tastefully done and have a high-quality look and feel. Base models get cloth, while mid-line models have a vinyl 'leatherette' and top-of-the-line models get true leather. Most versions also have adjustable lumbar support and height-adjustable seats, as well as a power rake adjustment for the driver's seat, but not the passenger seat.

You won't find third-row seats in the Tiguan, of course, but the second row has a level of comfort that almost rivals that of the front, thanks to the tall roofline and a seat design that seems to have prioritized passenger comfort as much as cargo space. Shoulder and leg room are good, and the seats are split to fold, slide, and tilt to improve access to the cargo area. With the 60/40-split seatbacks folded you get 56 cubic feet of cargo space (nearly 24 with the seat up), with a small 'hidden' storage bin under the floor plus a twin-compartment glovebox and various other cubbies throughout the vehicle.

Throughout the Tiguan, there really isn't a hair out of place. And while it isn't a design leader in any way, just a quick glance around the cabin may be enough to understand where this crossover really shines: Materials and details feel polished, assembly quality is tight, and overall there's a feel that this could conceivably be a vehicle from a premium brand like Audi.

9

2013 Volkswagen Tiguan

Safety

Great outward visibility, top ratings, and an extensive safety-feature list add up to a secure pick.

Crash-test results for the Tiguan have been excellent, and Volkswagen continuous to offer a few more safety features than you'd typically expect to see in a small crossover.

In addition to the usual front and side airbags, rear side thorax airbags—not often available in this class—are an option here. On 4Motion all-wheel-drive versions, hill descent control is also included, to help control speed on steep slopes, while for 2013 hill-hold control and an electronic parking brake have been added to the entire model line.

The Tiguan hasn't yet been rated in the new IIIHS small overlap frontal test, or in updated federal tests, but crash-test results for the VW Tiguan have been excellent. In recent years, it's earned top 'good' results in all categories of testing from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). 

About the only things that are arguably missing from the Tiguan's roster are advanced-safety features such as a rearview camera, parking sensors, blind-spot detectors, and lane-departure warning systems. These features, which might help avoid an accident, are beginning to become available in compact mainstream crossovers. 

It's worth noting though that outward visibility is better in the Tiguan than in many of the alternatives; thank the tall seating position and relatively level beltline.

8

2013 Volkswagen Tiguan

Features

The 2013 Tiguan costs a bit more than rivals, but its premium feel helps make up for that.

The 2013 Tiguan is offered in S, SE, and SEL versions, with quite a price spread between models—ranging from about $24,000 for the base S in two-wheel-drive form up to about $38k for a loaded SEL with 4Motion. 

Last year Volkswagen did improve the Tiguan's value by wrapping in more standard features and technology, so the Tiguan stands up better in the market in terms of features for the money than it did a couple of years ago. Included with the base S are 16-inch wheels; power windows, locks, and mirrors; an AM/FM/CD player with eight speakers; cruise control; Bluetooth; cloth upholstery; lumbar adjustment for the front seats; a trailer hitch prep kit; split-folding rear seats; and floor mats. SE models gain leatherette trim, heated seats, and an iPod adapter, along with 18-inch wheels; a multi-function steering wheel; power-recline driver seat; satellite radio; and fog lights. You can option it with a panoramic sunroof and a navigation system for nearly $2000 more.

One interesting change for 2013 on the Tiguan is that both the high-end Dynaudio sound system and the top navigation system have been removed from the lineup (they used to be optional on the top SEL). But with the SEL you still do get a level of equipment that's about on par with entry-level luxury-brand models. Here, the 2013 Tiguan includes 19-inch wheels; a sport suspension; leather seating surfaces; a power driver seat; pushbutton start; keyless entry; a power panoramic sunroof; automatic climate control; LED daytime running lights; and a navigation system.

For 2013, the Tiguan is no longer as vegan-friendly; all trims now include leather trim for the shift knob and steering wheel. Also new to the lineup is a partial power passenger seat in SE trims, with a full power passenger seat for SEL models.


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2013 Volkswagen Tiguan

Fuel Economy

The Tiguan has lower fuel economy ratings than some other compact crossovers.

The 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan has what should be a very fuel-efficient powertrain: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed transmissions that seem geared quite tall.

And yet actual EPA results don't deliver to that supposition. VW managed to raise the Tiguan's fuel economy slightly last year, but they remain as low as 18 mpg city, 26 highway with the manual transmission, or as good as 22/27 mpg.

Those numbers are near the bottom of the crossover class; compared to other four-cylinder compact crossovers; and the embarrassing part is that it's even fallen behind some of the newer V-6-powered crossovers in its class. Not only that, the Tiguan also requires drivers use premium fuel.

There are other options, even within the VW fold, for those who deem that unacceptable: The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen offers a TDI clean-diesel engine that's just as perky but offers up to 42 mpg highway.

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