Volkswagen is trying hard to emphasize the duality of its new compact SUV. First, the name. Tiguan is a combination of tiger and iguana. Presumably, one represents a strong, fast, ruthless predator, while the other's natural habitat is desert, implying the ability to withstand harsh conditions.
For the European market at least, the Tiguan comes in two packages: one designed specifically for off-roading, the other for the everyday function of running from the school to the shops to soccer practice.
The Tiguan is a capable off-road vehicle. The all-wheel-drive system can slog through mud and sand without hesitation. Climbing 28-degree inclines is a cinch, while its descent control keeps it from careening out of control on the opposite side.
In the city, the Tiguan drives very much like a tall version of the Golf. The suspension displays typical VW characteristics. A firm ride and responsive steering adds some entertainment to driving. On winding country roads, it's stable and predictable. Dive, squat and body roll are all magnified by the higher center of gravity, but the motion is well controlled and never feels uncomfortable.
The Haldex 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is completely transparent. There is no binding or squealing tires as found in similar systems. The six-speed manual gearbox has a first gear low enough for off-roading and a sixth gear comfortable for highway cruising. This transmission can handle first gear as low as 1000 rpm without stalling, so it's easy to creep along at just under 5 mph, similar to a reduction box.
The interior is designed for maximum utility. Every seat except the driver's has a fold-flat option. Apparently, the designers used the longest box from IKEA as a benchmark for interior space. With the front passenger seat folded flat, there's just over eight feet of length available for cargo. For towing, the Tiguan has an ingenious hitch that pivots down from behind the bumper. It's completely hidden when not in use and deploys with the pull of a cable.
Possibly the most exciting aspects are the two engines tested: a 1.4-liter TSI engine-equipped with both a supercharger and a turbocharger-and the extremely impressive 2.0-liter TDI. The gasoline-powered TSI engine works surprisingly well in this fairly large platform. The car isn't fast, but certainly quick enough for its intended use.
The 2.0-liter turbodiesel is really impressive. Great torque at low revs, no smoke and it even sounds good. This is the future of engines for VW. With common rail direct injection and meeting new Euro-5 emissions standards, it provides similar performance to a 2.0T while returning nearly 40 mpg. The redline is a couple thousand rpm less than the gasoline engine, but that doesn't detract from the driving.
The Tiguan takes the small SUV market to a whole new level in terms of quality and luxury. For those who insist on having an SUV, this is going to be one of the best choices. It's loaded with useful features, has huge amounts of space and provides the comfort required by mainstream SUV buyers who want a car's performance while desiring an SUV's utility and lifestyle statement.
2008 Volkswagen Tiguan (European spec)
Transverse front engine
Haldex all-wheel drive
2.0-liter twin super- and turbo-charged in-line four, gasoline
2.0-liter turbocharged in-line four, diesel
Six-speed manual; optional six-speed automatic
MacPherson strut (f)/four-link (r)
Four-wheel discs, ABS
Peak Power: 197 hp
Peak Torque: 207 lb-ft
Peak Power: 167 hp
Peak Torque: 258 lb-ft
Why we love it:
Great interior, phenomenal engines, good off-road ability
Why we don't:
People will buy this over a Jetta wagon with no intention of ever going off-road
The Price Tag: