Volkswagen Tiguan — A pleasing personality

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

It's lively, agile, and excitingly fun to drive making the compact Volkswagen Tiguan crossover a driveway delight. It's no mystery why it's popularity has steadily grown over nearly four years on the market.

Tiguan sales nearly doubled from its first full year of production in 2009 when about 14,000 units left showrooms to 2011 when  sales hit 26,000. Growth continues in 2012 after a mid-cycle refreshening. Through the first four months of 2012, the Tiguan is on track to hit between 35,000 and 40,000 sales.

Granted, this is small potatoes compared to the big
boys of the small crossover segment led by the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape, which each sold nearly eight times as many copies in 2011. But the CR-V, Escape, Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester can't show a doubling in sales in just three years.

The heart and soul of the Tiguan is Vo
lkswagen's award-winning silky smooth 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque through with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive — called 4Motion — is available for about $1,100.

The Tiguan feels good especially in stop and start driving and in accelerating say from 20 mph up to 50 to negotiate pesky situations. This is due to a good measure of low-end torque, which peaks out at a very useable 1,700 rpms. Although on paper, the new Volkswagen has good if not standout numbers — 0-to-60 in 7.7 seconds and 15.9 seconds at 91 mph in the quarter mile — it feels good at all time. Throw out the paper and get behind the wheel. You may find yourself amazed at the real-world performance

What makes the Tiguan such a complete package for those who enjoy driving is its confident and poised cornering ability and accurate steering. It can put a smile on your face while carving up some rural twisting roads on the weekend.

Volkswagen has managed to wring a bit more mileage out of its turbocharged engine. The front-wheel automatic is now rated at 22 city, 27 highway with a combined 24. All-wheel suffers only slightly at 21/17. The manual, which is not available in the all-wheel model, is rated at 18/26.

The Tiguan is attractive, looking like a smaller version of its larger Touareg brother, with a sculpted high-riding rugged look. The exterior styling has been freshened for 2012 with a new two-horizontal chrome louvered grille (the new face of VW), and revised taillights with an L-shaped illuminated portion now common to all new Volkswagens.

Top-of-the line SEL models get new 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlight and LED daytime running lights.

A new LE trim level that slots between the base S and SE trims might prove a popular choice for buyers providing a fair amount of standard equipment at a starting price of $25,995 including destination charge. The Tiguan starts at $23,660 for manual S version and tops out at $36,750 for the SEL 4Motion.

The Tiguan is on the small size, a rather diminutive 174 inches in length with a 102.5-inch wheelbase. But we think the Tiguan's size is part of its tossable charm, and don't be put off by these proportions.

We found after about 200 miles with three adults that not only can the front two passengers sit comfortably, but two rear seaters can relax with stretch out room, a reclining seatback, seats that can be slid fore and aft, and scads of headroom. This small crossover is very passenger friendly if you hold your load to four people.

The seats in all four positions are firm and well-shaped and offer ample support. We think passengers would be pleased with seat comfort after a long day on a cross-country trip.

What suffers from the vehicle's small size is the cargo area, but then again if your hauling needs are on the normal side of modest, there's plenty of room, certainly more room than any sedan on the planet. With the seats in use, luggage capacity is 23.8 cubic feet and with the second-row folded flat capacity increases to 56.1 cubic feet.

Perhaps the standout aspect of the Tiguan is its premium-looking cockpit. Excellent fit and finish and high-quality materials are pleasing and befitting a luxury brand. The gauge package is well done and easy to read. The typical Volkswagen/Audi message center that sits between the tachometer and speedometer dispenses much useful information including instant gas mileage, outdoor temperature, clock and trip odometer.

Our SE with sunroof and navigation test car was outfitted with the standard eight-speaker audio system that included Sirius satellite radio that we found to out liking. Learning the audio setup in the navigation screen is a bit tedious at first, but once you gain just a bit of experience, it becomes easy to use.

And what about the name? Volkswagen likes to slap African-tinged names on its vehicles. The larger crossover Touraeg is named after a tribe of aboriginal Africans. And the scirocco is a desert wind. It's also the name of a Volkswagen sports coupe.

So of what African origin is the Tiguan? Actually none. It's a made-up word combining tiger and iguana — the tiger for agility and the iguana for its adaptability in all climates. It was chosen in a naming contest that drew responses from more than 350,000 people in 10 European countries.

One of our frequent riders decided throughout the week to call it the "Wigwam." Well, it rhymes with Tiguan, and actually we kind of liked it. We also liked the newest Volkswagen.

If you are in the market for a small crossover you should put the "Wigwam" on your shopping list.

Base price: $23,660: as driven, $31,345
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 200 @ 5,100 rpm
Torque: 207 foot-pounds @ 1,700 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 102.5 inches
Length: 174.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,404 pounds
Turning circle: 39 feet
Luggage capacity: 23.8 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 56.1 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 2,200 pounds
Fuel capacity: 16.8 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 27 highway, 22 city
0-60: 7.7 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester

The Good
• Lively turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
• Excellent handling traits
• Premium cabin

The Bad
• Cargo space not up to some of the competition

The Ugly
• Pricey for segment