2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
March 29, 2012

It's not particularly fun to drive, but the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan feels every bit like a premium crossover vehicle.

The Volkswagen Tiguan won't win over crossover shoppers with a low pricetag, with a vast interior, the very latest infotainment and connectivity features, or even the best gas mileage. 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.

The Tiguan shares some running gear with the Golf lineup, and from a distance, it looks like a Golf upsized to tall-wagon proportions. It's tame in the same ways, timeless to some for the same reasons. There's not a hair out of place, and with its new grille, some blessed definition at the front end to match the crisp lines that outline its glass. No design leader like the Hyundai Tucson or Ford Escape or Kia Sportage, the Tiguan's content to look good for a long time. Owners will notice it from the inside more anyway, and that's where it truly shines, with polished materials and tight assembly quality that would embarrass some $40,000 sedans.

One engine propels the Tiguan, and it's one of VW's best. The turbocharged, 200-horsepower four works best with the six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive, though it doesn't feel especially light or nimble even in that trimmest configuration. The Tiguan's just not an autocrosser--for that, there's a Golf R with all-wheel drive. This crossover can tow up to 2200 pounds, and can mud around with optional all-wheel drive, toting your skis and pets if you want to share in the fun.

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The Tiguan has the straightforward, versatile, and comfortable interior that compact crossover shoppers look for. Sporty and supportive seats give good comfort and an excellent driving position in front, and the flexible interior package includes second-row split bench seats designed to slide and tilt. Even larger adults will be very comfortable in the front seats, thanks to generous headroom, shoulder room, and legroom, and the back seats are ample for adults. The cargo compartment has a small hidden storage bin underneath the load floor, and with the 60/40-split back seats folded there's 56 cubic feet of expanded cargo space. A twin glove box up front adds convenience, and there are numerous other cubbies.

With the Tiguan, Volkswagen keeps to its commitment to safety features and top-notch occupant protection. Standard features include front side airbags, side-curtain bags, and stability control, while rear side thorax airbags—not often available in this class—are an option. On all-wheel-drive versions, hill descent control is also included, to help control speed on steep slopes. Safety results have been excellent.

VW's upped the standard equipment in the Tiguan, but base models still cost more than $23,000, and fully outfitted versions approach $40,000. All Tiguans have a decent AM/FM/CD sound system, and an iPod adapter and voice-activated Bluetooth are now also standard on all models. The SEL model includes leather seats and push-button start, and roof-rack rails come with SE and SEL trims. Noteworthy options include a sizable panoramic sunroof, a navigation system, and a music hard drive, and an iPod connection. The navigation and audio setup also includes DVD video playback when the vehicle is stopped, and an SD memory card slot. The top Dynaudio system remains offered only on the Tiguan SEL 4Motion model.

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2012 Volkswagen Tiguan

Styling

The Tiguan's carlike looks are smooth and sleek, though not really rugged.

More carlike in many ways than SUV-ish, the Volkswagen Tiguan gets a mild restyling for the 2012 model year. Look at the front end to see where it's most obvious: the new grille has been redesigned to stand out more, as VW has done across its lineup, from Jetta to Passat to Touareg to Golf. The front end's brighter and less subdued than the rest of the shape, which has the typically tasteful but almost blandly contemporary VW look. It's hardly sporty, not very adventurous, but certain to look tasteful for a very long time. If nothing else, it looks like a grown-up version of the Golf, save for the massive new 19-inch wheels on top SEL models.

The Tiguan's cockpit is one of the nicer ones in the crossover realm, and better finished than Volkswagen's own Jetta and Passat. It's again, very straightforward, but richly textured, every bit up to its premium pricetag and positioning. The VW's big gauges are framed simply, drawing emphasis on them; the newly integrated navigation systems don't quite fit seamlessly with the look of the rest of the cockpit, since they're late-in-the-program additions, but they work well enough in the context of the dash. While other Volkswagens are getting less expensive interiors, the Tiguan's a great example of an era of interior design and quality that the automaker will have a hard time equaling.

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2012 Volkswagen Tiguan

Performance

The Tiguan feels more nimble than some crossovers, and its turbo four is gutsy.

Volkswagen's reputation for driving fun wants to carry over to the Tiguan. Some sensations make their way through, but there's not much VW can do to alter physics--the Tiguan still has the road manners of a tall wagon, even if it's one with more steering feel than the usual CR-V or RAV4.

All Tiguans sport a 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood. Front-wheel-drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is an option. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic is an option.

The turbocharged four has its usual broad, flat torque curve, and it's teamed well with either transmission; we've spent more time in the automatic, and it's punchy enough so you're rarely bored in urban-cycle driving, though there's more four-cylinder groan in this crossover than turbo moan. VW's manuals tend to feel notchy, but not this one: it's atypically light and imprecise. With either one, the Tiguan's capable of towing up to 2,200 pounds--perfect for dirt bikes or ATVs, VW points out.

Ride and handling are tuned for all-around utility, not pseudo-GTI dynamics. The steering is electric, and lacks feedback; it's quick to respond, but can come off pretty vague, fine for the kind of lazy driving crossovers do quite well. Push the Tiguan briskly, and its multilink rear suspension blunts most difficult road surfaces, but doesn't show any real zeal or tenacity in gripping the road. A Golf R claws at every grain in the asphalt, while this crossover's totally content to cruise over the hot top. The goods just aren't here to satisfy enthusiasts, and they really aren't meant to be, and this is reflected in the ride, steering, and brakes.

When traction changes, the Tiguan's optional all-wheel-drive system has some considerable talent. Most of the time, it's set to deliver 90 percent of torque to the front wheels, and the rest to the back. Once slip is detected, almost all the power can shift to the rear, if needed--good for towing, for example.

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2012 Volkswagen Tiguan

Comfort & Quality

High-quality materials make the most of the Tiguan's good interior room.

With a refined interior and an upright cabin with firm seats, the Tiguan has a versatile, comfortable, and straightforward appeal for crossover shoppers who can afford a compact ute with a premium pricetag.

But first, the basics: the Tiguan sits 173.2 inches long, 66.5 inches high, and is 72.8 inches wide. That tall stance gives it very good head room, and in front, supportive and sporty seats with more bolstering than usual help to contribute to an excellent driving position. On base versions, the seats are covered in cloth; mid-line models get a high-quality leatherette, and top versions have seating surfaces covered in leather. Most versions also have adjustable lumbar support and height-adjustable seats, as well as a power rake adjustment for the driver's seat. It's all functionally adequate, but after a while, you begin to wonder--wouldn't it just be simpler to put a pair of power seats in all but the base models?

The second row of seats--there's no third-row option in the Tiguan, or even its bigger counterpart, the Touareg--has comfort that almost rivals the front, again thanks to the tall roofline. Shoulder and leg room are good, and the seats are split to fold, slide, and tilt to improve access to the cargo area. The split of 40/20/40 on some models lets the middle section fold down so skis and longer objects can be stowed with two passengers in place, and up to nearly 24 cubic feet of cargo stowed behind the seats. The rear seats fold down, as does the front passenger seat, for a total of more than 56 cubic feet of cargo space.

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Overall, the Tiguan has a very refined, high-quality feel inside. Fit and finish and build quality in the Tiguan are top-notch, and while there's a little wind noise on the highway, the Tiguan's cabin is well isolated from road and engine noise.
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2012 Volkswagen Tiguan

Safety

The Tiguan earns the IIHS' Top Safety Pick, and has great visibility.

The Tiguan has earned some excellent safety scores, at least from the insurance industry's watchdogs. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says the VW crossover earns its Top Safety Pick award, since it rates as "good" in each of its testing categories for the current model year, including roof-crush strength.

In the past, the Tiguan has earned five-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but since the federal agency revised its criteria for the 2011 model year, it hasn't retested the crossover.

Volkswagen has kept its commitment to safety and top-notch occupant protection with the Tiguan. Standard features include front side airbags, side-curtain bags, and stability control, while rear side thorax airbags—not often available in this class—are an option. On all-wheel-drive models, hill descent control is also standard, to help control speed on steep slopes.

Advanced safety features such as a rearview camera, parking sensors, blind-spot detectors, and lane-departure warning systems are not offered on the Tiguan. However, outward visibility is better than typical for this class of vehicle, with the tall seating position not only affording a great view forward but also rearward for parking and lane changes.

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2012 Volkswagen Tiguan

Features

The sticker price is higher than rivals, but the Tiguan's premium feel is amplified by high-end features.

As it has with other models in its lineup, Volkswagen's improved the positioning of the Tiguan by offering more standard features and more technology, even on base versions. The standard Tiguan S, priced from about $23,000, now comes with 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.

Moving up a step into the Tiguan LE adds on leatherette trim; heated front seats; iPod connectivity through a media interface; and tinted windows. From there, packages add on an automatic transmission; a panoramic sunroof with a tremendous glass area and a high-quality, retractable fabric shade; and a navigation system with a five-inch touchscreen interface and an SD card interface.

The Tiguan SE is priced from just over $29,000, and has the leatherette trim, heated seats, and iPod adapter, along with 18-inch wheels; a multi-function steering wheel; power-recline driver seat; satellite radio; and fog lights. For nearly $2000 more, the SE adds the panoramic roof and the navigation system.

The most expensive $34,000 Tiguan SEL comes standard with all SE equipment and adds 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. An upgraded navigation system includes a larger display and a 30GB hard drive for $1000 more, while a special SEL package with the latter system and Dynaudio sound is priced at more than $38,000.

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2012 Volkswagen Tiguan

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage isn't great in the Tiguan, though it's improved for the 2012 model year.

For the 2012 model year, Volkswagen's improved the Tiguan's fuel economy slightly, lifting its city economy ratings as high as 22 miles per gallon, and its highway ratings up to as much as 27 mpg.

The base front-drive, automatic Tiguan earns those ratings, while the same vehicle with a manual transmission sees its fuel economy slip to 18/26 mpg, the same as it was in the year prior. Those numbers are near the bottom of the crossover class; compared to other four-cylinder compact crossovers, the Tiguan isn't very efficient, and 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.

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For those who like the look and feel of the Tiguan but can't get over the mileage, the Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen gets a much more impressive 30/42 mpg with the available TDI engine, a turbodiesel powerplant that as of yet hasn't been offered in the crossover.
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