2012 Volkswagen Tiguan – Best in Class Driving Fun

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Volkswagen’s Tiguan was first introduced to Canadians in 2008.  Now, approaching the end of its production cycle, the German compact SUV receives useful upgrades for 2012 – the front end is ‘freshened’ with a new quartet of horizontal chrome strips, giving the Tiguan a fresh ‘face’ that’s now consistent across the VW family.  Volkswagen engineers have tweaked the engine and transmission to improve fuel economy.  Compared to 2011, fuel consumption has been reduced by a solid 10-percent in city driving and 6-percent in highway use.  The Tiguan’s fuel economy rating is now 9.8/7.4l/100 km city/highway compared to 10.9/7.9 in 2011.

It’s no secret competition in the compact SUV class is plentiful, and while the Tiguan’s facelift is an improvement, the VeeDub is conservatively styled.  Its short overall length and tall roofline give it a slightly ‘stubby’ look and lacks the slickness of Honda’s new CRV or the sizzle of the Kia Sportage.  But get behind the wheel and the Tiguan immediately wins you over with its autobahn-designed roadholding.

I’m a staunch fan of Volkswagens because they typically deliver a remarkable European driving experience, and the Tiguan easily ranks as best of breed in its price group.  It has communicative steering and suspension ‘goodness’ that North American and Asian manufacturers can’t replicate.  Steering is precise and the CUV’s chassis is tight and sporty.

Our Tiguan tester arrived in mid-range Comfortline trim, with a very good assortment of standard equipment (2.0-litre turbocharged engine, 17-in. alloy wheels, panoramic sun roof) and optional 4Motion full time all-wheel-drive matched to a Tiptronic six-speed automatic transmission.

Volkswagen’s 2.0-litre turbocharged DOHC four-cylinder engine is a workhorse that’s graced everything from the sporty GTI hatch to a host of Audis.  When testing a GTI (with the same engine), we were impressed with its silky smooth, refined power.  Inexplicably, our test vehicle’s engine exhibited an oddly coarse demeanour, emitting at idle a rattle reminiscent of a diesel engine.  But the clatter disappears and the engine smooths out as revs pick up.  The 200 horsepower engine is responsive, delivering punchier acceleration than any of the four-cylinder competition, according to my seat-of-the-pants accelerometer.

While the turbocharged engine gives the Tiguan a solid horsepower and torque advantage over its four-cylinder rivals, there’s a cost.  Although VW has improved fuel economy for the turbocharged 4Motion Tiguan this year, it uses more fuel than the four-cylinder Honda CRV, for example, (9.2l/100 km respectively in city driving), and requires pricier unleaded premium fuel to boot.  But there’s no denying the turbocharged engine-Triptronic automatic transmission is a sweet combination that pushes all the right buttons for those who enjoy the feel of a lively vehicle.

Slip into the Tiguan and the cabin is impressively luxurious.  The cornsilk beige ‘leatherette’ upholstery on our demo unit is beautiful to look at; perforated and soft to the touch, it’s virtually indistinguishable from leather.  The beige headliner unifies the interior, and with light flooding through the panoramic sunroof, the cabin feels bright and airy, exuding quality one might expect in an Audi or BMW.

The instrument cluster and the HVAC/audio/seat heater controls on the centrestack are classic Volkswagen, large, clean and easy to read.  From the driver’s seat, the whole ‘look’ has a minimalist design ethos which I prefer to the ‘busier’ control panels of other manufacturers.

The front seats are heated and comfortable with adjustable lumbar support, and rear seat passengers have good legroom and the benefit of a fore-aft adjustable bench.  Folding down the 60/40 split rear seats requires pulling a loop located at the outside edge of the seat bottom and a bit of muscle to fold down the seat – it’s not the elegant mechanism the Honda CRV has where pulling latches on the cargo wall automatically flip down the rear head restraints and seat backs.

Overall, the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan excels as the best ‘driver’s’ car in the $30-$40,000 compact SUV segment.  With the best handling and spunkiest four-cylinder engine in its price class, the 2012 Tiguan is the most driving fun you can have in a CUV at this price point.  If you’re a VW loyalist and have outgrown your beloved GTI, the Tiguan will undoubtedly win you over.  If cargo carrying and fuel economy are of paramount importance, check out the new-for-2012 Honda CRV, which has a larger cargo hold and slightly better fuel economy rating.

The Specs

2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline 4Motion

Type of vehicle:  Compact all-wheel-drive SUV

Engine: 2.0-litre DOHC turbocharged inline four-cylinder

Power: 200 horsepower at 5,100 r.p.m; 207 pound-feet of torque at 1,700-5,000 r.p.m.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with Tiptronic and sport mode

Brakes: Front ventilated disc brakes, rear solid disc brakes. ABS with brake assist, electronic brake force distribution (EBD), hill hold assist, traction control, electronic stability control

Tires: Winter P235/55R17, temporary spare

Price: $34,775;  As-tested:  $36,130 (includes Connectivity Pkg. $675, AC excise tax $100, Frt. & PDI $1580.)

Transport Canada fuel economy (L/100 km): 9.8 city, 7.4  highway (premium unleaded)

Selected standard features: Trailer hitch preparation, halogen headlights, halogen projector lens fog lights, power heated side mirrors, rear window wiper, manual climate control, front adjustable arm rest, rear arm rest with pass through, cruise control with active display, front/rear floor mats, remote locking, power door locks, automatic locking feature, 8-speaker AM/FM/CD MP3 readable audio, remote release tailgate, 8-way partial power adjustable heated front seats with lumbar support, 17-in. alloy wheels, electronic differential lock, heated washer nozzles, panoramic sun roof, roof rails, leatherette seating surfaces, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter.


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