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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Tiguan - Diesel 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth, responsive diesel engine, ride and handling compromise
Room for improvement
Limited cargo space, space-saver spare

29 May 2008

DESPITE building a number of four-wheel drives very early in its history, Volkswagen is a latecomer to volume four-wheel drive production. Its four-wheel drive Beetle and the amphibious Schwimmwagen were WWII curios that were never sold to the public.

In 1984, with the advent of the Volkswagen Passat Tetra, Volkswagen was finally back in the business of building four-wheel drives, although the Passat was really a road car with Audi’s quattro four-wheel drive system underneath.

Volkswagen actually produced a soft-roader compact SUV 1989 Golf Country - well before Toyota even thought of the RAV4 five-door, which popularised the segment in 1995.

The first real off-road four-wheel drive production Volkswagen since WWII was actually the 1985 T3 Volkswagen Transporter syncro, sold here belatedly towards the end of its production cycle in 1990-1991.

The Transporter syncro employed a viscous coupling for on-demand four-wheel drive, optional front and rear differential locks and a low first gear in the single-range five-speed transmission. This ‘crawler’ gear dispensed with the need for a low-range transmission for most off-road situations.

It was only with the introduction of the 2003 Volkswagen Touareg that the company officially re-joined the four-wheel drive fold.

While it is primarily a luxury SUV, the Touareg’s high degree of technical off-road ability shows that Volkswagen - despite its relatively infrequent efforts - has not forgotten how to build off-roaders.

And so to its most recent four-wheel drive, the Tiguan. The Tiguan is certainly no off-roader but need not make any apology for that. The compact SUV segment has boomed without that quality in any of the major players.

The Tiguan has an interesting composite of styles, with the front-end vaguely reminiscent of Toyota's Aurion, the side profile’s squared-off wheel-arches a reminder of CR-V and the tail treatment paying homage, in a vague way, to its big-brother SUV, the Touareg.

It certainly looks like something different to the major Japanese players in the segment, which - to greater or lesser degree - have taken a safe, derivative approach to design, looking a bit like each other or the previous model.

The Tiguan’s cabin has that familiar Volkswagen Group feel mostly because much of its switchgear and instruments are used in such other products.

As you sit in the driver’s seat, the temptation is to crank up the height adjustment lever to make full use of the available headroom, because the dashboard is high and relatively close to the driver and makes for a slightly claustrophobic feeling, initially at least.

Access to controls and the driver’s view out are both very good. The major controls are where they should be, and the media ‘interface’ - the radio and (optional) navigation, rear-view camera and media player - is high up on the dash centre where it can be easily seen and the large, clearly marked buttons accessed.

The front seats are very comfortable and supportive, with a long seat base providing the firm underthigh support often missing.

Plenty of storage space has been given for bottles - in the door pockets and centre console - and there are three 12-volt sockets in the cabin and another in the cargo area. The deep centre console bin - which houses one of the sockets and an auxiliary input jack for the sound system - has a height-adjustable lid/armrest that was too far back for me to use.

The rear doors open usefully wide and the wheel-arch intrusion is minimal, making it a snap to get in and out of the back - really relevant to older people or those with children. The seat base is high relative to the front seats, giving rear passengers a ‘stadium’ seating position.

Three adults or three child seats abreast will be a very tight fit, but the centre seating position is not as uncomfortable as some and with the fore-aft sliding seat base the outer positions can be very comfortable and provide sufficient leg and headroom for even those of a 1.8m-plus height.

A fold-out twin cupholder is fitted to the lower rear centre console area and there are two additional cupholders on the back of the fold-down ski port.

The tailgate has a useful, low loading lip and what space there is can be maximised with no intrusions to the squared-off space. However, the actual space (395 litres) on offer is not a patch on competitors such as the X-Trail’s 603 litres. A space-saver spare wheel is fitted under the floor.

While the Volkswagen does not have the type of ‘lifestyle’ features such as a reversible cargo floor or slide-out drawers that feature in competitors’ cars, it does have cargo lashing points and small cargo sidewall storage pockets.

The 2.0-litre engine fires up quickly and settles to a quiet, smooth idle - gone is the more audible rattle of the pump-duse system used previously. The surprise is not that the 2.0-litre has a hefty mid-range, but that it has so little turbo lag and a willingness to rev smoothly to 5000rpm.

It is like a petrol engine, and while Volkswagen’s claimed 0-100km/h acceleration figure of 10.5 seconds feels about right, it only tells part of the story - it’s the now well-known current-technology diesel engine's abundant mid-range torque that makes the Tiguan such an easy vehicle to roll along.

While the Tiguan’s quoted average fuel consumption is 7.5L/100km, we saw a figure of 5.9L/100km over mostly flowing secondary roads and freeways in the 103TDI manual.

The six-speed automatic transmission (the high temperatures of off-road work such as sand driving are too much for the DSG to handle, so therefore it is not used in the Tiguan) is smooth enough, with only the occasional non-silken shift. Unless in Sport or manual mode, the six-speed starts in second gear.

The six-speed manual is a little clunky and can be hard until you’re accustomed to the neutral plane’s stiff spring-loading to find second gear in a quick three-two downshift, but otherwise is an enjoyable transmission to shuffle gears with.

The Tiguan handles very well, with high levels of adhesion, a flat cornering stance and only a gentle front-end push when really trying hard. The only downside is the light steering that lacks in feel and feels a little vague on-centre. Overall, though, the Tiguan goes straight up towards the sharper end of the compact SUV class for its handling ability.

Ride quality is best described as firm yet supple on the standard 16-inch wheels. The optional 18-inch wheels, also sampled at the launch, certainly let you know more detail about the sharper ridges and potholes on the road but we did not experience any crashing though on any bumps.

The centre piece of the Tiguan options list is Park Assist ($1390 on the 125TSI and 103TDI, and $890 on the 147TSI).

This system employs bumper-mounted sonar sensors to assist in a reverse parking situation and can park in a space with 70cm to spare at each end of the Tiguan.

The system has to be activated as the driver approaches a parking spot (at no more than 35km/h), when Park Assist assesses the steering angle required to safely park in the space. While the driver has to control foot pedals (and not exceed 7km/h while reversing), the Park Assist does all the steering control.

The system downsides are that it does not ‘see’ tall objects such as tray tops on utes (so will try to gauge distance from the ute’s back wheel and cut-in too early), street signs and other street furniture such as gutters.

There was little chance to really test the Tiguan’s off-road ability but the short burst on farm tracks and the one chance to get bogged in some river sand did show a hint of what is on offer.

The ride over tree-roots and rough track surfaces did not induce any cabin booming or rattling, any unwanted suspension noise or any threats to the underbody suspended 195mm from the ground.

Given the often heavily supervised ‘off-road’ sections on launches, we relished the chance to climb an incline on which there was a short section of churned up river sand. While colleagues ahead of us romped though easily with some momentum, we approached slowly, more interested in the technical merits of the 4Motion all-wheel drive system and standard traction control.

We learned that it was surprisingly easy to modulate throttle and avoid excessive wheelspin, and that the traction control does make a concerted effort to maintain motion - despite, in this case, a hopeless bogging in effort underway.

Though it obviously needs more thorough testing, if this exercise is anything to go by, the Tiguan may be one of the better vehicles in its class for mild off-roading and sand driving.

And this was without the $290 Off-road Technology option, which would give the Tiguan an even better opportunity to extract itself from such a situation.

If we were unable to easily back out of the bogged down sand as we did, there are at least screw in recovery/tow hooks that Volkswagen says are able take a 1600kg pull loading.

The Tiguan is offered in other markets with a front bumper bar that has a 28-degree approach angle, while Australia gets only the 18-degree front-end.

Volkswagen may introduce the better (for off-roading) front-end in coming years but sees no reason to introduce it from the beginning, given the studies that show a distinct lack of interest in off-roading by compact SUV buyers generally.

The Tiguan is a surprise package in that is offers good value, provides a useful diesel option and is a more dynamically interesting package than most of the opposition.

While its cargo area could be bigger and the lack of a full-size spare will dull the enthusiasm of potential country buyers, it would appear the Tiguan is an interesting and fresh approach to the compact SUV, which has every chance of meeting Volkswagen’s ambition of 5000 sales a year.

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