Volkswagen Tiguan review
by Richard Dredge (31 January 2008)
Despite Ken Livingstone's best efforts, sales of 4x4s are booming. It seems the choice widens further with each passing week, and the latest arrival is this baby SUV from Volkswagen, the Tiguan.
If you haven't seen one of the cars in the metal, it's easy to think of the Tiguan as little more than a Golf on stilts, but it's rather more than that. Indeed, if anything, it's more like a jacked-up Touran thanks to the extra dose of practicality, but more of that later.
The first Tiguans will be delivered with a choice of just two engines. Those who must have petrol can tick the 1.4TSi box; this is the unit already offered in the Golf GT, and it's both turbocharged and supercharged, to give a healthy 148bhp.
However, by far the most popular unit will be the equally excellent 2.0 TDi oil burner, initially available in 140bhp guise only, but from later this year there'll be a 170bhp option too. While that's likely to remain the pick of the bunch, it's also going to be joined by a further pair of TSI powerplants, offering 170 and 200bhp.
Opt for a petrol car and you have to swap ratios yourself; choose diesel and as standard you get a six-speed manual gearbox as in the TSI, but you can also select a Tiptronic automatic if you prefer the car to swap cogs for you. At first, all Tiguans will have Volkswagen's 4Motion four-wheel drive system, but a two-wheel drive edition will reach these shores later this year.
It's not just engines and gearboxes that you can choose between; there are also four trim levels on offer. S, SE and Sport are as you'd expect, but there's also one called Escape, which is for the more enthusiastic off-roader who needs a car with a little bit more green-laning capability.
With its shorter overhang, the Escape's approach angle is set at 28 degrees instead of the standard car's 18, ensuring you're less likely to bash the car's underside when crossing uneven terrain. Available only with the 2.0 TDi powerplant, the Escape is priced between the SE and Sport.
Having tried petrol- and diesel-engined Tiguans, including an Escape edition in the rough, the Tiguan is as thoroughly engineered as you'd expect a Volkswagen to be. However, in a bid to make the car handle like a conventional hatch, the ride has been stiffened up to reduce roll in the corners. On that score the VW engineers have succeeded brilliantly, but they've taken things too far; on typical UK roads it's too harsh.
I didn't get to try a Tiguan in Sport trim, and this has even stiffer suspension so enthusiast drivers can thrash it mercilessly without fear of scraping the door handles on the Tarmac as the car tackles extreme bends. If you have a lot of fillings, I'd suggest you try a Sport before ordering one.
Other than the firm ride there aren't really any downsides; the Tiguan works as efficiently as any other VW product, which means it's not exciting but you know you can rely on it. It's practical too; with rear seats that slide backwards and forwards individually, a useful 1510 litres of stowage capacity available and oodles of safety kit such as ESP, curtain airbags and Brake Assist, the car will look after you in more ways than one.
If the Tiguan so far sounds rather conventional, there are a couple of USPs which might make you warm to it a bit more, especially if you do much towing or a lot of urban driving. Anyone who pulls a caravan will love the integrated towbar that VW offers on the Tiguan; I'm not sure I can admit to getting excited about a towbar, but it's such a neat solution that it really does warrant a closer look if you're intrigued.
Pull a cord in the rear bumper, and the towbar pops down before you lock it into place. Pull it again and it pops back up behind the bumper, complete with the electrics; there's even an LED to show you that each stage is complete. VW hasn't put a price on the system yet, but I'd expect it to be £500-600 - and worth every penny.
The other USP - at least in this segment - is a £450 Park Assist system, which manoeuvres the car into a parking space. Just press a button on the dash and the car scans gaps in the cars parked along the road. When it spots a space big enough (it needs to be at least 1.4m longer than the car), it flags up that it's found something. Then you simply engage reverse gear and let the car take over the steering.
It's eerie but it works brilliantly. You still have to control the pedals and gears (it's available with manual or auto transmissions), but getting the steering right when parallel parking is always the trickiest bit. Not any more.
VW is pitching the Tiguan against the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Land Rover Freelander. But to my eyes they've all been designed to look like off-roaders, whereas the Tiguan comes across as an on-roader that looks a bit more butch than usual. If you like, it's VW's attempt at making the 4x4 more acceptable, not least of all in the urban environment in which it's likely to proliferate. As is par for the course, though, few owners are expected to venture off the road.