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2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Review

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  • SEE ALSO:Volkswagen Showcases 2009 VW Tiguan CUV At 2007 LA Auto Show - Video
  • SEE ALSO: Volkswagen Specs, Pics and Prices - Volkswagen Buyers Guide
    By Steve Purdy
    Detroit Bureau

    Here comes another great entry in the small to mid-size SUV market – the fresh, new Volkswagen Tiguan. What do you suppose took VW so long to convert a small or mid-size sedan into an SUV like just about everyone already has? Think Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Mazda CX7 – we could go on and on including BMW X3 and Acura RDX. Well, whatever the reason, it’s here.

    Arriving at dealers now (May 2008) the Tiguan is a global product for VW based on Golf, Jetta and Passat underpinnings. Best of all, Tiguan is powered by VW’s sweet GTI engine. More on that later. It looks to me like VW has done an admirable job of designing this slick newcomer.

    “Where does that silly name, Tiguan, come from?” you might ask. Well, I did, and it seems it’s one of those made up names that comes from a bunch of marketing people sitting around a table playing with syllables. In this case they narrowed their ideas down to a few then let the public vote. These syllables, they say, come from “tiger” and “iguana.” Sort of an exotic animal theme, I guess.

    VW brought a bunch of us out to Boulder, CO for the Tiguan launch to demonstrate its competence on the scenic, twisty mountain roads that wind up to substantial elevations where the turbo will mitigate any tendency to wheeze at altitude. Boulder and Fort Collins are also both up-scale college towns reflecting a major demographic to which this vehicle is targeted.

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    As we arrived a couple of examples of the Tiguan were on display in the courtyard of the headquarters resort, one in white and one a dark red. Tiguan is visually akin to the BMW X3, in my subjective view, particularly from the rear. The front is an unmistakable iteration of VW’s fresh styling language which to me suggests a youngster with a goatee. Styling is clean, graceful, modern and attractive.

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    Tiguan’s interior is attractive as well with fine materials, impeccable fit and finish and clean, efficient layout. Gauges, controls, and everything we interact with are thoughtfully placed with the exception of the clock in front of the driver. I think the clock should be in the center of the dash where the passenger can see it as well.

    An optional panoramic sunroof floods the rear area with filtered light. The rear seat has an amazing six inches of travel to accommodate larger passengers. Even then it would be a bit crowded with three big guys back there. Cargo capacity is 23.8 cubic-feet behind the second seat and 56.1 cubic-feet with the second seat folded, and the front passenger’s seat folds flat as well. You could tow a small boat and trailer if you like with the 2,200-pound capacity.

    After a tech briefing at the oldest building on the University of Colorado campus our fleet of Tiguans was line up along the curb on the lush college grounds. We mounted up and headed out of town for the high and windy roads. My driving partner was a young TV production guy named Craig who had not experienced these mountains before, so his enthusiasm was infective. I have been in the mountains many times but as a flatlander I never get complacent about the spectacular views and that beautiful mountain environment.

    First impressions of the Tiguan’s driving dynamics as we eased out of town into the mountains were very good. Tiguan is exceptionally quiet inside. Obviously great care was taken to create its auditory ambiance. I’m wondering if the same acoustic attenuation technology used in the GTI is used here. The engine sounds that make it through the insulation into the cockpit are more than just pleasant, they virtually sing at higher rpms.

    Tiguan is powered by one of the sweetest engines out there, in my view. This efficient, quick-revving TSFI 2.0-liter I-4 is turbocharged, intercooled, direct injected and makes just 200 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque. By today’s standards those are not particularly impressive numbers but the feel is of smooth sophisticated power, the equal of any of the German small engines. Premium fuel is recommended. Zero-to-60 time is listed as an impressive 6.7 seconds with top speed electronically limited to 131-mph. It feels just a tad slower than the GTI but it’s pulling an extra 600 pounds, of course.

    Tiguan is rated at 18-mpg in the city and 26 on the highway. With a 16.8-gallon fuel tank we can expect around 350-mile range in conservative driving. A curb weight of 3,433 and a coefficient of drag around .37 (a pretty good number for a CUV) contribute to that respectable mileage.

    One of my favorite features of this engine is the gentile rev limiter. Wind her up to redline where the sound and feel are like a muffled opera singer in full voice. Then about 500 rpm past the red mark on the tack the revs just unobtrusively and graciously fall away – so unlike the harsh rev limiters that stutter or jerk while cutting off the revs. Pushing Tiguan to its rev limit felt not like flogging or abusing, rather just allowing her to find her voice.

    Two transmissions are available to get that horsepower to the road, a six-speed manual and a six-speed Tiptronic (manual mode) automatic. That’s not the smooth, quick-shifting DSG transmission from the GTI and GLI, though. The DSG will be used later, we’re assured.

    Despite limited approach, departure and breakover angles the VW folks claim the Tiguan, with optional 4Motion (think Quattro) all-wheel drive system, can handle pretty intense off-roading. Ground clearance at 6.9-inches is nothing to brag about either. We did not take any off road excursions though we were tempted by an open gate along one of the mountain two-lanes that led into a dirt road winding up the side of a ridge. The sign on the gate that said “Trespassers will be shot – survivors will be shot again” sort of dissuaded us from that plan.

    Otherwise we had a glorious drive through the mountains. Though the suspension design and geometry are conventional (McPherson struts in front and multi-link in the rear) the ride and handling are beautifully balanced. Swinging and swaying at brisk speeds along the mountain roads, following rocky streams and occasionally dodging wildlife, including one big black bull hanging out on the roadside, we felt comfortable and confident. We could even push harder with no drama. The electromechanical power steering felt firm and precise with a rather soft on-center feel.

    The entry-level Tiguan S with six-speed manual (the only level where the manual is available) and front-wheel drive starts at $23,200. The top-of-the-line SEL with Tiptronic and 4-Motion starts at $32,940. An SE mid-level starts at $26,925. This makes Tiguan substantially pricier than most of the small CUV field and a tad below the premium entries like the BMW X3. Though I’ll reserve final judgment until I’ve had a little more time with Tiguan but at first blush it appears to just about as competent as the more expensive brands.

    Even the entry-level car is very well equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, lots of airbags, standard ABS, traction control and ESP, plenty of power features and nice trim.

    The inspired marketing folks at VW have produced a series of great ads featuring an old black original Beetle as sort of a talk show host. You’ve probably seen them. They have also come up with a great tag line for the Tiguan . . . “The people want to play, but they want to play nice.” (Shouldn’t that be ‘nicely’?)

    Regardless of the semantics, whether you play, work or just buzz around in the Tiguan I think you’ll find it very nice.

    Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved