If you're torn between a budget-minded compact SUV and the plusher, premium model you'd really like, then Volkswagen's Tiguan could be the ideal solution. Jonathan Crouch looks at the improved version
Ten Second Review
Volkswagen's improved Tiguan targets compact SUV and Crossover customers alike with a high quality, well priced package that's smarter and more efficient in this revised first generation form. All the 4x4 you'll ever really need? Many see it as just that.
If you're planning to spend somewhere in the £20,000-£25,000 bracket on a compact SUV or SUV-like Crossover, you'll certainly not be short of choice. But choice can sometimes be a compromising thing - and so it is here. So for the premium badge you'd like on a car of this kind, you have to compromise on equipment. For the practicality you'll need, you have to compromise on trim and build quality. And for the all-wheel drive ability you'll maybe sometimes want, you've to compromise on tarmac driving pleasure. Volkswagen understands this, which is why in 2008, they brought us this car, the Tiguan, a contender in this class that's arguably less compromised than any other. Especially in the rejuvenated guise that arrived here in the middle of 2011, the model we're testing here.
It's been a hugely successful car for Volkswagen, one of its four big sellers in the UK, having accounted for nearly 600,000 global sales by the time this facelifted version arrived. And the reasons aren't hard to fathom. Here, you've all the class of a Land Rover Freelander or a Toyota RAV4 at a significant saving in cost, pricing being not too much more than Far Eastern budget brand models in this segment. The dynamics strike an appealing balance too, with tarmac travel to a standard not too far off a Qashqai or Kuga-like pretend-SUV Crossover model matched with off road ability far in excess of what cars of that kind could ever consider. So, not too much being broke, there wasn't a great deal to fix when the time came for this facelifted version. A smarter look, a range of slightly pokier more efficient engines and some useful splashes of high technology about cover it. But will that be enough in a sector now brimming with ever-toughening competition? Let's find out.
When this Tiguan first arrived on the market, it was one of the few compact SUVs you could switch into from an ordinary family hatchback without noticing much difference. Today, almost all cars in this sector are like that, but this one remains an appealing choice, still one of the keener models in its class on tarmac. Even if you kit your car out with the optional XDS electronic differential from the Golf GTI, it's still not quite as sharp through the bends as a Kuga or Qashqai-class Crossover, but then these cars can get little further than a muddy carpark when it comes to going offroad. Likely Tiguan owners won't be looking to cross the Namibian wilderness but they do often need their cars to tow and deal with the kind of gnarlier muddy tracks you'd hesitate to attempt in a Crossover. And this Volkswagen can do just that.
I'll get to the muddy stuff in a minute. First though, you'll want to know how this car will feel on the school and shopping runs where it'll spend most of its time. Pretty good is the answer. Bodyroll is well controlled and the electric power steering's responsive, though even without the optional sports suspension, the ride might be a little firm and springy for some tastes - why is perhaps why some owners apparently christen their cars 'Tigger'. If that's an issue for you, there's the option of specifying an extra-cost ACC Adaptive Chassis Control system via which 'Normal', 'Comfort' and 'Sport' modes enable you to tailor the suspension to suit the mood you're in and the road you're on.
It's an easy car to drive in-town thanks to good all-round visibility and reasonably a tight 12m turning circle. And this self-parking system's a real boon in such an urban environment, effortlessly steering you into the tightest spaces. On the open road, as I've already suggested, there's nothing especially memorable about the driving experience, but it is pleasantly refined, with a slick feel to the six-speed manual gearbox, or as an option Volkswagen's silky-smooth DSG twin-clutch 7-speed semi-automatic.
Right from the beginning of its life, all the Tiguan's engineware has been turbocharged and nothing's changed on that front in this revised version. Nine in every ten Tiguan buyers opt for a diesel and these days there's a choice between three 2.0 TDI units developing 110, 140 or 170PS. Both the two lower-powered units come with the option of either 4MOTION 4WD or a simple 2WD front-driven set-up but I can't really see the point of buying the lowest powered variant since it isn't much cheaper and saves you nothing in running costs. Most buyers then understandably plump for the 2.0 TDI 140 variant, which makes sixty from rest in 10.2s on the way to a top speed of close to 120mph, regardless of your choice of two or four wheel drive. For this test, we opted for the pokier TDI 170 4MOTION variant which manages 8.9s and 125mph.
If you are one of the few Tiguan customers considering petrol power, then the choice lies between a couple of TSI units. There's a 1.4 with 160PS and optional 4MOTION drive and a 2.0-litre powerplant developing either 180 or 210PS, the latter Golf GTI engine capable of powering this unassuming little contender to sixty in just 7.8s on the way to 134mph. Standard on all the most powerful Tiguans is a full-time 4MOTION four-wheel drive system that most of the time, with fuel saving in mind, diverts only 10% of drive to the rear axle. Should the rear axle-mounted Haldex electro-hydraulic clutch detect wheelslip however, the system is capable of directing as much as 100% of torque rearwards, the proportion adjusted to suit the conditions.
These mechanicals won't be tough enough to facilitate really extreme off road use, but then the 195mm of ground clearance wouldn't really allow for that anyway. But this will all be quite sufficient to get most owners a surprising distance off-tarmac.
Design and Build
The Tiguan has always been smartly but inoffensively styled. Hardly 'powerful and muscular', apparently the qualities that the design team were aiming at. You couldn't really apply those adjectives to the look of this revised version either, but it is an improvement, Klaus Bischoff and his stylists neatening up the front end with the same kind of horizontally-lined grille used on the larger Touareg luxury SUV. Double-chromed louvers and daytime running lights in these optional bi-xenon headlamps complete the more up-market look.
Moving towards the rear, there are some thoughtful touches. Like the small plastic surrounds on the squared-off wheelarches that can be unclipped for off-road use and, if necessary, replaced afterwards. Most models have classy chromed roof rails and there are sharply-lit LED lights at the rear. Under the skin, as before, it's all Golf hatchback-based, but uses a tougher modular sub frame that's partly steel and should be better able to withstand off road buffeting.
At the wheel, you'd certainly think you were in a Golf were it not for the slightly raised driving position. The leather-trimmed wheel feels good to hold, is adjustable for both reach and rake and perfectly positioned for quality switchgear that falls nicely to hand. It's a practical cabin too, with door bins that can accommodate sizeable drinks bottle, a cooled glovebox, plenty of cupholders and most models featuring under-seat drawers for both front seat passengers.
At the rear, Volkswagen has built in some of the flexibility you'll find in its Touran mini-MPV. So the back seat bench can slide fore and aft by up to 16cm and recline by up to 23-degrees for greater comfort on longer journeys. If you're not using the middle part of the seat, it can be folded down to make an armrest with cupholder. As usual in this class of car, three adults would be a little squashed on the back seat but two will have decent standards of head, leg and shoulder room and three kids will be fine.
Out back, there's 470-litres of total boot space and the option of a ski-hatch for longer items. If that's not enough, pushing forward the 60:40 split-folded rear bench frees up a total of 1510-litres. You can carry quite heavy loads too, thanks to a payload capacity of 670kg. And there are neat touches like extra under-floor storage, a 12v power socket and an optional luggage net to stop your eggs mixing with you Iron Bru.
Market and Model
Whichever two or four-wheel drive Tiguan model you choose - 1.4 or 2.0-litre TSI petrol or either of the 2.0-litre TDI diesels - you should find your car to be decently equipped. All models come with alloy wheels, 'Climatic' semi-automatic air conditioning, a trip computer, all-round electric windows, an alarm, power heated door mirrors and an 8-speaker MP3-compatible CD stereo with DAB digital radio and an AUX-in socket. There are the usual plusher trim levels if you want more kit than that, plus in the (admittedly unlikely) event that you'll be regularly taking this car off road, you might want to consider paying the £2,500 premium necessary to order this Volkswagen in 'Escape' trim. Offered only with the volume 2.0 TDI 140 4MOTION model, this package gives you a shorter front overhang, side, front and underbody protection, hill descent control to help on steep slopes, a compass and various off road-orientated engine settings to aid smooth progress in really mucky conditions.
All of which will be a bit pointless in the urban jungle that better represents this car's preferred habitat. Here, a more useful option is the Park Assist system I have here, able to automatically locate, then steer you into the tightest roadside space. Other popular options include a keyless entry and start system, a vast panoramic glass roof, bi-xenon headlamps and touchscreen sat nav. Tarmac driving aids include the XDS electronic differential lock to improve handling when driving quickly though bends. And the ACC Adaptive Chassis Control system able to adjust the suspension to suit the mood you're in and the road you're on.
Safety kit includes six airbags (with rear sidebags an option) and an ABS system with emergency brake assist for sudden stops instantly advertised to following motorists by hazard warning lights that automatically flash as you screech to a halt. There are also isofix childseat fastenings, anti-whiplash head restraints and the usual electronic assistance for traction and stability control. Most models also include an innovative fatigue detection system that focuses on your steering and driving behaviour for the first 15 minutes of every journey, then periodically monitors it thereafter. If your reactions seem sluggish and indicative of tiredness, the system will bleep at you until you take a break.
Cost of Ownership
Despite an increase in power for many Tiguan models in this facelifted guise, CO2 figures are either the same or better than before. Most variants are badged 'BlueMotion Technology', which as you've probably guessed, heralds an approach of optimum efficiency. So all such models get a Start/Stop system fitted as standard to cut the engine when you don't need it, for example when you're stuck at the lights or waiting in traffic. There's also a battery regeneration system to recover the energy that would otherwise be lost under braking. As a result of all this, the 2.0 TDI 140 4MOTION variant most customers buy returns 48.7mpg on the combined cycle and puts out 150g/km of CO2, figures you can improve still further if you order your car with a DSG semi-automatic gearbox.
Order it with 2WD and those figures improve to 53.3mpg and 139g/km, the same as those achieved by the feebler 2.0 TDI 110PS model. At the other end of the diesel scale, the pokier 2.0 TDI 170 4MOTION variant does without the BlueMotion Technology tweaks, but still manages 47.1mpg and 158g/km. All these diesel variants record fuel and CO2 figures 10-15% better than a rival Land Rover Freelander.
When it comes to running costs for this Volkswagen though, it's best not to dismiss the petrol option entirely, especially if, like many Tiguan owners, you're a low mileage motorist. The entry-level 1.4 TSI 2WD petrol model will save you around £1,200 on its 2.0 TDI 140 counterpart, is significantly faster and will still manage 42.2mpg on the combined cycle and 156g/km. At the other end of the scale, both the 2.0 TSI petrol models will manage 33.2mpg on the combined cycle and put out 199g/km of CO2.
What else? Well residual values will be strong and insurance costs are reasonable, ranging between 14-19E on the 1-50 groupings scale. And servicing costs can also be kept to reasonable levels thanks to a choice of servicing regimes - 'Time & Distance' for low mileage cars or a 'LongLife' programme for those regularly covering over 25 miles a day. Go for the latter approach and it can be possible to drive for up to 20,000 miles or 24 months without a major service.
It's not hard to see why the Tiguan is such a popular choice in its sector here in the UK. You get pretty much all the quality of premium-badged compact SUV for the price of a budget brand contender. You get pretty much all the tarmac handling ability of a Qashqai-like Crossover with virtually all the off road ability of something more capable. And it all comes with the enduring appeal of that Volkswagen badge and the enduring residual values that'll go along with it.
Such has always been this car's appeal and not much has changed with this revised version. It's not a car for driving enthusiasts or those who live halfway up Snowdon - but then such people are unlikely to be shopping in this sector anyway. What it does offer in this improved form are running costs from an ever-more efficient range of engines that make the transition to a car like this from an ordinary family hatch less painful than ever. And an extra dash of polish in everything it does that'll make you feel as good when you open the bedroom window as you will when you're at the wheel. A sensible choice then, but one you'll enjoy making.