As soon as somebody mentions SUV in the et office, a red flag pops up: gas-guzzlers, overweight, etc. We tend to forgive the BMW X6, Audi Q7, VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, but these vehicles aren't particularly affordable and appeal to a different group; probably not to us Euro performance junkies. However, VW may have changed our way of thinking with the Tiguan, its first compact SUV.
Just like the Touareg, Tiguan isn't the easiest word to pronounce. The name is derived from tiger and iguana and a cheesy use of symbolism draws similarities between the animals and this truck. Iguanas are versatile and adaptable, much like the Tiguan, which can be daily-driven like a passenger car with an impressive 26mpg (highway), but can also be driven like a sport utility having 2200 lb of towing capacity, an affordable 4Motion AWD option and 56cuft of cargo space with the seats folded down.
Tigers are considered courageous and aggressive. The Tiguan surprisingly shares these qualities with its distinct styling and 200hp and 207 lb-ft from its 2.0T FSI engine. The chassis is a melding of the Golf, Jetta and Passat, so it feels like a car, not an overweight SUV. The six-speed manual FWD model weighs just 300 lb more than a GTI at 3400 lb, while the 4Motion automatic comes in at 3600 lb, a tad heavier than a Mk5 R32.
VW claimed the Tiguan performed like a GTI, so we traveled to Boulder, CO to critique three different trim levels of the sporty SUV.
The weather for our Tiguan test drive included sun, rain, snow and hail, so we embarked on a tricky 200-mile hike through the Rocky Mountains with elevation changes up to 8000ft, numerous windy turns and variable weather. And yet the Tiguan didn't have a problem living up to its name.
The 2.0T provided enough power to accelerate up hills, out of sharp turns and when passing cars on a fiddly two-lane highway. Acceleration and braking resembled a stock GTI 2.0T; however, the Tiguan's handling was only adequate. It needed to be sportier for our taste, with less body roll and suspension travel - nothing a set of springs and sway bars couldn't cure
We couldn't complain about traction too much, especially when it hailed. But during aggressive cornering, the tires could have used more rubber. We drove with the optional 18" wheels with 235/50 tires and these struggled, so the standard 215/65-16 would be left wanting. However, most Tiguan owners probably won't attack corners like we do!
The ride quality was smooth and quiet, even when pushing triple-digit speeds. The manual transmission performed effortlessly, much like the GTI. It's just unfortunate the manual option isn't available with 4Motion
One highlight was VW's next generation nav system with a 6.5" touchscreen and 30GB hard drive to store map data and music. Files can be transferred via an optical drive or SD card slot. A special media interface also allows the integration of an iPod or USB stick.
The base Tiguan starts at $23200 but if you want leather, nav, 4Motion, panoramic roof and more, expect to pay around $33k. It's a great vehicle if you need the extra space. The performance falls a little short of a GTI but its versatility makes up for it.
Tiguan TuningThe GTI's 2.0T in the Tiguan means enthusiasts can expect software upgrades, exhaust systems, intakes, front-mounts and big turbo kits. There's even rumors VWoA might build a heavily-modified version for SEMA '08, so stay tuned.
To achieve the German tuner-look, check out Abt (www.abt-sportsline.com). Its aggressive front spoiler complements a new grille. Fender extensions make the Tiguan more brawny, while there's also a rear valance and wing. Abt offers 18-20" wheels, big brakes, sports exhaust and software as well.
European owners can opt for VW's own R-Line parts sold through dealers. The package includes body kit, seats, steering wheel, pedals and 19" wheels.
In the US, H&R (www.hrsprings.com) has sway bars, lowering springs and adjustable coilovers to lower and stiffen the Tiguan by up to 2.2".