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2009 Volkswagen Tiguan S Review

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2009 Volkswagen Tiguan
2009 Volkswagen Tiguan S Review

Crossover sport-utilities are like sensible shoes or health food - good for you, perhaps, but ultimately bland and boring. Just as a mix of tofu and brown rice, healthily unspiced and without even basic salt, is unlikely to excite your taste buds, the average small crossover is unlikely to excite that part of the human brain that enjoys a spirited driving experience.

Unless that small crossover is a Volkswagen Tiguan. VW has made its reputation on fun-to-drive cars, as best exemplified by the GTI hatchback. A hatchback of the GTI's size, with two or four doors, offers much of the space efficiency and versatility of a crossover, but it is smaller. What would happen if a GTI was stretched a bit - but not too much - made a touch wider and higher, and given a slightly higher stance - but not so high as to upset its road manners unduly - and even given available four-wheel drive for improved all-weather traction?

What would happen is a Tiguan. With the same 200-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged FSI direct fuel-injection engine as the GTI, in a version of VW's transverse-engine platform stretched just a bit in every direction compared to the GTI or Rabbit, and given a boxy crossover body with all of the current Volkswagen styling cues, it's touted as "The GTI of crossovers."

There are three trim levels, base -- but still well-equipped -- S, the mid-range SE, and the near-luxury SEL. GTI aficionados who need something a little larger will find the S to be the most interesting, as it can be specified with a six-speed manual transmission in place of the six-speed automatic with "Tiptronic" manual shifting that is the alternative in the S and only choice in the other models. While the S is available in front-wheel drive form only, the SE and SEL versions can also be equipped with VW's 4MOTION all-weather, all-wheel drive system.

I had the opportunity to drive a stick-shift S and a 4MOTION SE when the Tiguan was introduced to the press in Boulder, Colorado, and have just finished a week at home with an automatic S. "S" in this case definitely does not stand for "Spartan". Compared to the SE, the S is a bit simpler in trim inside and out, and lacks availability of options like satellite radio, the "RNS510" navigation system with integrated 30-GB hard drive for storing music files and backup camera, and the 4MOTION all-wheel drive system. It does boast fine seat comfort, power windows and mirrors (no memory), a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, and both a 60/40 folding rear seat with back angle and fore-and-aft adjustment and a fold-flat front passenger seat for interior carrying of long items.

If the Tiguan S lacks bells and whistles, it has all of the basics -- and then some -- and not everyone needs the gadgets. On the road, the extra weight compared to a GTI is not particularly noticed, and the lovely 2.0T FSI engine never feels overworked. The ride is firm, if not quite GTI-like, and the Tiguan is at the head of the compact crossover pack for road manners and fun factor. Fuel efficiency is good, with EPA ratings of 18 mpg city and 24 highway backed up by my mostly highway 22. Is the Tiguan the GTI of crossovers? Absolutely.

APPEARANCE: The face is familiar. The chrome-trimmed rounded-trapezoid grille, angularly-domed hood, and ellipse-meets-rectangle headlights would say "Volkswagen" even without the corporate logo prominently displayed at the center of the grille. Broad shoulders and strong wheel arches, and a careful amount of side sculpting, give the Tiguan an assertive look without going overboard, and the plastic protective cladding surrounding the bottom of the vehicle says "German car", not "macho truck".

COMFORT: There is no doubt as to the manufacturer inside of a Tiguan, either. The design and materials are pure Volkswagen, right down to the blue lighting on the instruments at night. At the S level, that means textured nylon cloth upholstery and a rubberized steering wheel rim, and plain trim, but note that with quality materials and good fit and finish, plain does not mean "cheap" in the pejorative sense. Eight vents in the dash send warm or cold air where it's needed. The front seats are bolstered in a sport style, firmly padded for all-day comfort, and manually adjustable, including driver's cushion height. The steering wheel adjusts for both tilt and reach. Instrumentation is complete, with the exception of the multi-function information display reserved for higher models, no big deal. The rear seat lacks nothing compared to the pricier versions. Split 60/40, with an additional ski-passthrough, each part features a full range of back adjustment from forward flat for cargo to a comfy recline. And each section can be moved fore and aft. Especially fully to the rear, legroom is excellent, and headroom is never a problem. There is more space in the Tiguan's rear seat than in a Touareg's. Small but useful storage spaces are found around the cabin, and the large cargo area is hidden by a standard cover.

SAFETY: Volkswagen's "Prevent and Preserve Safety System" is made of 45 different features, including six airbags -- dual front, front side, and side curtain -- with rear side bags available, the ESP electronic stability system, traction control, and a sturdy unibody structure designed and constructed to protect occupants.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Although based on the same platform as the GTI and Rabbit (and Jetta, and Passat) a Tiguan is 8.5 inches longer than a GTI, mostly in the rear seat and trunk areas, on an inch-longer wheelbase. It's considerably higher, with a higher center of gravity, and weighs 300 to 500 pounds more, depending on trim level and equipment. The suspension is the same fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink type as other VWs, suitably retuned to deal with the additional mass. It's sportingly firm, but not at all uncomfortable, and if not as surefooted as a GTI (few affordable cars and no SUVs are...) the Tiguan is quite amenable to being hustled down the road in a more sporting manner than the average small crossover. Maneuverability also aids safety, as do excellent four-wheel antilock disc brakes and ESP stability control. And, although it's longer than a GTI, it's still shorter than a Jetta, so the Tiguan is easy to park. Electronic "auto hold" makes starting from a stop on a hill easier, too. With 6.9 inches of clearance, the Tiguan is not exactly Baja-ready, but it can deal with the everyday hazards of the real world just fine.

PERFORMANCE: Volkswagen Group's turbocharged and intercooled direct fuel-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is a gem. With 200 horsepower between 5100 and 6000 rpm and 207 lb-ft of torque between 1700 and 5000 rpm, it's fully capable of any demand made by 3400 to 3600 pounds of Tiguan -- or any other vehicle in which it is found. There is absolutely no need for a V6 here. Acceleration is spirited, with 60 mph coming up in less than 8 seconds from a standstill, yet when used more reasonably it sips fuel at an acceptably low rate. The six-speed manual offers the best control and driving experience, but the Tiptronic automatic, also six-speed, is nearly as good thanks to both manual shift mode and the engine's wide, strong torque band. Turbo lag is non-existent except when, in D, revs get low and a sudden demand, as for quick acceleration on the highway, is made. Even then it's little more noticeable than the similar lack of power in a naturally-aspirated engine running beneath its torque band. The EPA says 18/24. I saw 22 overall, with about 2/3 of my time on the highway - mostly highway with steep hills, not level ground.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan is the antidote to the boring small crossover.

2009 Volkswagen Tiguan S

Base Price			$ 24,300 with automatic
Price As Tested 		$ 25,340
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve turbocharged and
intercooled inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection and
				 variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 121 cu. in.
Horsepower			200 @ 5100-6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			207 @ 1700-5000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		102.5 in. / 174.3 in.
Curb Weight			3433 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		17.2
Fuel Capacity			16.8 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P215/65R16 98H Michelin Latitude
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, ESP standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				 independent multilink
Ground clearance		6.9 inches
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 24 / 22
0 to 60 mph				7.8  sec (mfg)
Towing capacity 		2200 lbs.

Rear side supplemental restraints	$350
Destination charge			$690