2012 Volkswagen Tiguan First Drive

June 14, 2011

Blending new elements with an existing look is tough, and often fails.  You should have seen the 70-something gentleman trying to rock 30-something "hair" aboard my recent flight to Munich.  Once in Bavaria and on a drive to Austria courtesy of Volkswagen, updates to the 2012 Tiguan proved more convincing.

First revealed at this year's Geneva Motor Show, the Tiguan's mid-cycle makeover highlights include an updated grille more akin to the Golf and Jetta (European buyers choose from two styles, we get one), body side trim accents on SE/SEL models, new wheel options and new taillights.  It all ties together well.  Though if you don't eat, sleep and breathe everything Tiguan, the changes may not be so obvious.

Same goes for the Tiguan's powertrain.  The GTI's 2.0-liter turbo remains on duty; its 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque are unchanged.  A six-speed manual sprouts just from consoles of base S models with front-wheel drive.  Add 4Motion all-wheel drive or spring for SE/SEL packages and a six-speed automatic takes its place.  That gearbox has been tweaked to contribute to VW's estimated 15-percent rise in fuel economy (EPA numbers are pending).  Making up the rest are more efficient daytime running lamps, lower engine speed at idle and tires with less resistance to rolling.

With our European-spec SEL 4Motion Tiguan rolling on the autobahn and its nav leading us to Austria, it responded much like the shared-platform Golf.  That's no bad thing.  In fact, it's beyond what most crossovers deliver.  Though rarely clear of speed limits or semis passing each other at glacial paces, we were impressed by the Tiguan's stability into 100-mph territory.  Those stints were short-lived as decrepit Fiats and Peugeots repeatedly oozed into the left lane to mimic the semis as we approached, but at least the VW's brakes didn't protest.  Continuing on twisting secondary roads into the Alps, handling and steering felt sharper than peers, though it was clear we had only the GTI engine and not its suspension.


For 2012, the Tiguan gains a GTI-look steering wheel and shifter, S models gain a panoramic sunroof option as found in SE and SEL front- and all-wheel drive 4Motion vehicles.  SEL trim now includes door accents.  That's about it.  VW rightly didn't fiddle much with dimensions or appointments.  Its distinctive European interior already looks and feels ahead of anything Asia or the domestics offer in this class.  And that's not only for driver and passenger; the 60/40 second row bench seat reclines plus adjusts fore and aft.  It also has three seat belts, though two adults will be more comfortable on drives of much length.  At least cargo space doesn't dictate the occupancy.  With the rear seat in place, 23.8 cubic feet remain open.  That expands to 56.1 when the seat's folded, and either way you can tow 2,200 pounds when the urge strikes to lug something.

With 2012 Tiguans shipping from Wolfsburg (and officially, only Wolfsburg for now, despite rumors to the contrary) and reaching dealers around September, final prices have yet to be announced.  From what we could gather, don't expect great for the price of good, as the Jetta tagline says.  Think more along the lines of great for the price of really good. 
Having entered Tiguan in the crossover game later than most in 2008 as an '09 model to modest initial sales, VW has built upon sales every year since.  At this rate, momentum should continue through 2011 and conceivably beyond.  Unlike my fellow airline passenger and his Trump-esque aftermarket rug, the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan wears its updates well.

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