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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Tiguan - 118TSI

Our Opinion

We like
Brilliant engine well-matched to manual transmission smooth, quiet and refined driving experience fuel economy all-round ability
Room for improvement
Can struggle to put the power down in wet conditions no parking sensors

2 May 2012

COMPACT SUV sales in Australia keep on booming and Volkswagen is helping itself to a decent wedge of this ever-growing pie with its Tiguan, one of this country’s favourites among buyers and VW’s second-best seller after the Golf.

Like others in the segment, VW recognised that buyers of this type of car do not necessarily require the benefits of an all-wheel-drive system and decided to offer a front-wheel-drive entry-level variant in the shape of the 118TSI tested here.

A $5500 cost saving over the pre-facelift base model broadens the Tiguan’s net, maintaining its semi-premium status by keeping prices a little aloof of Japanese and South Korean competitors but still enabling customers to cross-shop against them.

Even in this low-spec variant we found enough standard equipment inside the typically spartan but comfortable, spacious and functional VW interior that we hardly find ourselves wanting – although standard parking sensors would be a worthwhile addition.

It comes with electric windows and mirrors, cruise control, Bluetooth, a decent audio system with various inputs, a multi-function steering wheel, air-conditioning, an electric park brake with auto-hold and an adjustable centre-front armrest.

Safety is also well catered for, the Tiguan holding a five-star ANCAP crash test rating and coming with six airbags, electronic stability control with roll-over mitigation, anti-lock brakes and so-on.

The only option fitted to our test car was metallic paint, which costs $700.

Height- and reach-adjustable steering and a height-adjustable driver’s seat make finding the perfect driving position a doddle and occupants sit in a lofty position with commanding views over the road, while the high seating also makes getting in and out a cinch.

The instruments are easy to understand and the controls are intuitive, with simple cruise control functions, straightforward Bluetooth setup and a handy multi-function display between the dials that can show a digital speed readout, outside temperature, fuel consumption data and cruise control speed.

It can also be used, via the steering wheel buttons, to control the audio or telephone systems without taking eyes too far off the road plus monitor maintenance information such as fluid levels and service intervals.

Plenty of storage nooks, crannies and cubbies are dotted around the cabin to complement the generously-sized glovebox, while cup holders in the front (located a bit low down for our liking) are supplemented by handy one-litre bottle holders in the front door bins.

In addition to the plethora of dashboard vents, rear passengers get their own air outlets plus a central armrest that provides further storage compartment, cup holders and load-through boot access.

VW even thought to include a flap below the rear air vents that reveals an extra set of cup holders in case the arm rest is unavailable due to the middle pew being occupied.

The split-fold rear bench can slide fore and aft and has a variable recline setting, providing a choice of greater legroom for rear passengers or larger boot space.

We found it to be a great practical feature that enables the Tiguan to grow with a family for younger children legroom is less important than boot space for pushchairs and paraphernalia.

What’s more, older children or adults – of which all but the abnormally tall will find enough space – can coexist in the rear with babies and toddlers because the two sections of the split rear bench slide independently.

It all adds up to this being one well thought-out car, with a boot that is easy to load (although we found the hidden release button irritating to use) with a basic 395-litre capacity that grows to 1510 litres with the seats folded down, easily enough to accept a pile of fully-assembled bicycles.

The perky 1.4-litre 118TSI engine – not to be confused with the identically-named 1.8-litre version found on other VW Group cars – employs both a supercharger and a turbocharger to force-feed its combustion chambers, resulting in performance usually expected of a far larger unit but small engine fuel consumption.

Fuel economy is further aided by VW’s Bluemotion Technologies, including an alternator that only tops up the battery when the engine is not burning fuel under deceleration and idle-stop, which turns off the engine when the car is stationary, neutral is selected and the clutch pedal released.

The procedure sounds like a chore but for the sake of this test we forced ourselves to become accustomed to it and found it quickly becomes second nature, with the engine firing up and ready to go as quickly as we could dip the clutch and engage first gear for a swift getaway.

Talking of swift getaways, we found the punchy little engine easily overcomes the grip afforded by this Tiguan’s front tyres, but a smooth and gentle driving style is rewarded by ample progress around town.

A light clutch and slick six-speed transmission are a pleasure to use – we prefer it to the seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic found on other variants – and even round town, the impressively grunty engine (with 240Nm of torque available between 1500 and 4000rpm) means frequent changes are seldom required.

On the open road the 118TSI is no cause for complaint either, providing relaxed, peaceful, comfortable highway cruising and impressive levels of refinement, with little external noise entering the cabin.

The official 0-100km/h time is a respectable 8.9 seconds and in-gear acceleration can be surprisingly brisk – for example an uphill freeway entry ramp is dispatched with ease – and the base Tiguan can offer confident overtaking.

Despite plenty of time spent exploring – and enjoying – the surprising capabilities of the 118TSI’s 118kW (hence the name) engine in our mixture of urban, suburban and freeway driving, we saw average fuel consumption of 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres.

That is not far off the official 6.9L/100km rating, but VW stipulates that you must feed the Tiguan 95 RON premium unleaded.

A higher centre of gravity and the extra weight of the SUV body style mean the Tiguan does not handle as deftly as the (183kg lighter) Golf hatch on which it is based but it feels respectably nimble for this type of vehicle and is about the best you can get for the money.

The brakes are confidence-inspiring (although the initial bite is a bit sharp), the steering is pleasantly weighted and body-roll is well controlled, so we have little to complain about concerning how this Tiguan handles twisty roads.

A facelift conducted in October 2011 gives the Tiguan an assertive look that brings it bang up-to-date with the rest of VW’s range, so it gives little away to rivals in terms of style.

While it lacks the confidence-inspiring abilities of the all-wheel-drive Tiguans on wet or gravel roads, the 118TSI is a superb all-rounder that doesn’t lose out on the practicality merits of more expensive variants.

Whether stepping up from a small hatchback, downsizing from a mid-sized car or replacing an existing SUV, the Tiguan 118TSI represents great value for money and deserves a test drive – especially if you are initially turned off by the manual transmission.

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