BOULDER, Colo. — Volkswagen is finally filling the small crossover void in its model lineup with the all-new 2009 Tiguan. This mini ‘ute, hitting dealerships now, is a meld between the Golf and Passat platforms. But think of it more like a beefed-up Golf than a downsized Touareg. While nestled on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in this outdoorsy town recently, we were curious whether we’d want to sneak in some extra time on-road or off. So we checked the specs before sliding behind the wheel. And with a 20-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four from the GTI, we anticipated the soul of this vehicle would lean toward performance over off-road utility. Turns out, we were right on the money. —Brittany Marquis
VW is keeping it simple by only offering the 2.0L turbocharged engine. So regardless of model, you get 200 horses and 207 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm. It also means you’ll have one of the most powerful small crossovers on the block. The Tiguan really is small—with an overall length of 174.3 in., it comes in at 4 in. shorter than the Honda CR-V. It’s also the skinniest among its competition. You can order a Tiguan with front-wheel or all-wheel drive, but unique to this class—and true to its European roots—the front-drive model is available with a manual transmission. And for those of us who enjoy the sport of driving, that’s quite good news. The VW all-wheel drive (known as 4Motion) only comes with automatic—boo.
4Motion is a full-time system that distributes power electronically to all four wheels, all the time, at any speed. The Tiguan’s suspension is a mix of McPherson struts with lower wishbones up front and four-link independent steel springs in the rear. In terms of ground clearance, this little one comes up short with only 6.9 in. That only beats out the Golf (a car) by 1.2 in. At the other end of the spectrum, the Subaru Forester has an impressive 8.7 in.. The 12.28-in. front discs and 11.26-in. rears are sized well, as expected for a European rig. And you’ll get standard 215/65 R16 all-season tires on the front-wheel-drive Tigs and the 235/50R18 all-season tires on 4Motion models.
With the infamous, ever changing weather of Colorado’s front range, we got a chance to test out the 4Motion system in snow, sleet and rain. The vehicle provided confidence and steady control on the road. And as much as we like real 4X4s, we enjoyed the convenience of never having to shift a lever or push a four-wheel-drive button. Once we got to some dry, open roads we let the Tiguan show off a bit—pushing triple-digit speeds on some stretches. No doubt, there’s a potent motor under that hood. The Tiguan was responsive as we whipped through the curvaceous mountain roads, and we appreciated the sporty suspension. And those deft moves were a bit surprising considering, as the tyke of its class, this vehicle weighs in at 3,433 pounds. On side streets, the suspension muted all the Colorado potholes and uneven pavement patches we could find. And once we hit the highway, the ride stayed smooth.
The fuel economy won’t embarrass a Toyota Prius—or a VW Jetta TDI for that matter. But 18 mpg (city) and 25 mpg (highway) ain’t too shabby. So what about a diesel version? “A TDI version is under investigation,” says VW of America’s Keith Price, “but as of now having a diesel Tiguan in the states is not economically justifiable for Volkswagen.” Price said the stringent U.S. emissions standards make a TDI an unlikely candidate for the Tiguan until at least 2011. So why not just drop in the TDI motor from the aforementioned Jetta? Maybe that’s the 2011 plan.
The interior is simple yet, like quite a few VWs these days, luxurious as well. All four windows have a one-touch express up/down function, and all four roll down completely, too. A valuable option is the touchscreen navigational system. With a 6.5-in. screen, 30GB hard-drive, SD memory card slot, DVD capabilities and rearview camera, this multimedia system is great—for those of us that like to crank indie tunes from our own SD card. We dug the panoramic sunroof, which gives you a massive 13 sq.-ft. hole for upward gazing—although the mesh-like material that covers the sunroof window could use improvement, since it doesn’t really provide any true sun protection and actually made the interior pretty hot. The backseats have reclining and sliding capabilities, but in their most reclined position they felt more like a normal seat. Once you move the seats forward or out of the “reclined” position, an average size passenger’s legs can get a bit squashed. But don’t get us wrong, the seat adjustments are great if cargo—not passenger hauling capacity—is your main goal. When we folded the seats flat, we had 56.1 cu.-ft. at our disposal. And we were able to load all the camping gear we needed for an overnight fly-fishing trip (with room to spare). What’s more, we found nine tie-down hooks that were well placed and very useful for securing all of our equipment. The Tig does offer flexibility, with factory accessories like a roof rack, bike holder and ski/snowboard racks to boot. So there are options to blend passenger comfort and cargo carrying capacity.
The Bottom Line
With Tiguans starting at $23,200 and sprawling all the way into the low $30,000s, VW is covering a wide swath of the crossover price spectrum. In short, like most crossovers this petite ‘ute is a compromise. It’s a spunky ride with some great features, but in order to haul a lot of gear and people, you may have to check a few option boxes.