Reviews

2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Driving Impressions


On the autocross course at Mudfest, a tight course defined by pylons, the Tiguan blew away the competition; not just handling, but engine and transmission too. The compact SUV entries were Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke, and Subaru Impreza. We wish the all-new Ford Escape (with the 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine) had been there, because it might have challenged the Tiguan on the autocross and the Mazda CX-5 for overall. The CX-5 got our vote on the strength of its value, fuel mileage, and cargo space; it won the compact SUV category, so the other 24 Northwest automotive journalists apparently mostly agreed.

Besides some models of the Escape, the Acura RDX is about the only compact SUV that feels as sporty as the Tiguan; and the RDX has a V6 and costs much more. If you want a compact SUV that can handle off-road (with 4Motion) but feels like a sports car, the Tiguan is for you. The 2.0-liter Volkswagen/Audi intercooled turbocharged engine has been around a long time, and it keeps getting better, now with direct injection and variable intake timing. It makes 200 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque from a low 1700 rpm. We've never felt a four-cylinder that feels this amazingly smooth at 90 mph. You'll never think its acceleration is too slow.

Tiguan is EPA-rated at 21/27 miles per gallon City/Highway. We got 22.7 mpg overall, running it hard on both freeway and around town for a week.

The 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode that comes on most models is a dream. It's got a Sport mode and Dynamic Shift Program. Its sixth gear, as with a growing number of new cars, is a double overdrive, which helps raise the government's Highway rating to 27 mpg, an improvement of two miles per gallon over the previous model. Also in pursuit of fuel mileage, the transmission has been re-programmed to shift at lower rpm, which it easily can do because of the strong torque. We like it.

Not all all-wheel-drive systems are the same, and the Volkswagen 4Motion is one of the best, along with Audi quattro and Subaru's all-wheel drive. Acura SH-AWD is good, but the 2013 Acura RDX does not use SH-AWD, only the bigger and more expensive Acur MDX does. It's Volkswagen's electro-hydraulic 4Motion that leads to the super handling that enabled our Tiguan to its big win on the autocross course. Tiguan's 4Motion Haldex center differential continuously varies the torque between the front and rear wheels, from 90-10 to 0-100, depending on where it's needed for traction. No spinning wheels means no lost traction and quicker acceleration performance, particularly when turning sharply at the same time.

The Mudfest event is appropriately named. We blasted the Tiguan around in the mud, including through deep ruts, where the Tiguan's 28-degree approach angle came into play, although the chassis did drag. When you have the opportunity to compare awd systems back-to-back like this, you can clearly feel the difference. For surefootedness in the slime, the Subaru Impreza and Mazda CX-5 held up to the Tiguan, the Honda CR-V wasn't too bad, while the Kia Sportage and Mini Countryman spun their wheels far behind, the city slickers.

Mounted in a lightweight, one-piece aluminum subframe, the Tiguan's strut-type front suspension has long-travel coil springs and lower control arms, with a beefy four-link system at the rear, mounted in a high-strength steel subframe with a broad lower wishbone on each side.

We found the freeway ride in the Tiguan to be smooth. On the same roads, the Acura RDX transmitted uncomfortable jolts. The 1.6-liter Ford Escape felt jouncy, but the 2.0-liter Escape was smooth like the Tiguan.

We haven't gotten a chance to drive the Tiguan SEL with its sport suspension and 19-inch wheels with low-profile 255/40R19 all-season tires, but we've heard that it rides rough, and we don't doubt it, because of the tires. There is a price to be paid for short sidewalls. SUVs work better with taller tires.

The brakes keep up with the Tiguan's sporty character, using 12.3-inch vented discs in front, and a feature that wipes water from the discs in wet weather. The brakes stay applied for a couple seconds when starting off on an incline.

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