Volkswagen is calling the Tiguan, it's newest baby, the GTI of CUVs (crossover utility vehicles), because, the say, its performance is similar to that of the iconic Volkswagen GTI. But it will hold a lot more stuff than a GTI ever could, and it's got a lot more style.
Volkswagen says the Tiguan (the name comes from a combination of tiger and iguana) is based on the same chassis elements already used on the Rabbit, Jetta and Passat. That means front strut suspension, four-link rear suspension, aluminum subframes, electric power steering and the full complement of safety gear: ABS brakes with Brake Assist, electronic stability control, traction control, tire pressure monitoring and six air bags.
Inside, standard equipment includes power windows, power locks, cruise control, four 12-volt power points, an AUX jack for music players, and an electronic parking brake. VW pointed out that all of its 2009 models, including the new Tiguan, will have ESP (Electronic Stability Program) standard, a first in the non-luxury category, and three years ahead of the federal mandate.
Volkswagen says the Tiguan -- the first compact sport utility vehicle Volkswagen has ever built -- will occupy a sweet spot right in the middle of a large pool of competitive compact CUVs, the so-called "cute utes."
According to Volkswagen marketing officials we talked to, the primary competitors for the Tiguan are: the BMW X3, the Saturn Vue, the Honda CRV, the Acura RDX, Ford Escape, Toyota RAV 4, Mazda CX-7, the Mercedes-Benz GLK that will arrive later in the year, and the Land Rover LR2. The Honda CR-V is considered the main competitor, with the Ford, Toyota, Land Rover, Mazda and Saturn models secondary, and the luxury brands, Acura, Mercedes-Benz and BMW a slight reach.
While many of these competitors have thirstier V-6 engines, the Tiguan is powered by the award-winning 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder 16-valve engine. In this vehicle, it is rated at 200 horsepower at 5100 rpm and 209 foot-pounds of torque from 1700 rpm to 5000 rpm. The little dynamo of an engine is coupled to the buyer's choice of a standard six-speed manual or an optional six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. Volkswagen of America officials say that the future may hold a Tiguan with a diesel engine.
Volkswagen's optional 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, now using a Swedish Haldex coupling with an oil-filled clutch to transfer power to the rear wheels on demand, is set to deliver 90 percent of engine torque to the front tires and 10 percent to the rear tires for stability, but it can vary the torque up to 100 percent rear if driving conditions demand it.
The Tiguan will be sold in S ($23,200), SE ($26,925), SE 4Motion ($28,875). SEL ($30,990 and SEL 4Motion ($32,940) versions;,the S version will be restricted to front-drive only. The major options for 2009 will be a panorama sunroof with three times the usual opening size, about 13 square feet, with a power shade, touch-screen navigation with an integrated back-up camera, Sirius satellite radio, rear side air bags, a towing package, and alloy wheels.
The nav system uses a 6.5-inch screen, and includes a 30-gigabyte hard drive for map data and audio files, files that can be downloaded through either the optical drive or an SD card slot. The optical drive is capable of reading CD, DVD and DVD audio formats. With the media device interface (MDI), the system can interface with an iPod or USB stick. The system offers available Sirius satellite radio audio and real-time traffic service.
In terms of size, the Tiguan is a bit less than 175 inches long, on a 102.5-inch wheelbase, 71.2 inches wide and 66.3 inches tall with 6.9 inches of ground clearance. Inside, EPA rates its passenger volume at 95.3 cubic feet, with 23.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second seat, and 56 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down. The second row of the Tiguan square-back features sliding and reclining 60/40 split-fold seats with a full six inches of travel.
Driving the Tiguan at altitudes of more than 7,000 feet in and around Boulder, Colo.. presented no problems for the little engine, because the turbocharger system easily compensates for the lack of oxygen in the air at those altitudes. The six-speed Tiptronic is one of the best automatic transmissions going, and its ratios were perfectly matched to the torque characteristics of the engine. Volkswagen says this combination is good for a 0-60 time of only 7.9 seconds, with an electronically regulated top speed of 129 miles an hour. Chassis, suspension and brakes were all superior, and made the Tiguan a joy to drive hard through the corners.
Our test vehicle was a loaded SEL with 4Motion, the heaviest model available at 3631 pounds, and the power train's performance was exemplary (the base front-drive, manual-transmission model weighs 234 pounds less, with about the same EPA mileage rating, 18 city and 24 highway). We found the suspension system to be compliant without body roll, soaking up and counteracting bumps and potholes with ease. The 4Motion all-wheel-drive system helped the Tiguan to scoot around many an uphill corner with the surefootedness of a mountain goat, aided by the ESP and traction control programs. Akin to a GTI, but with a steamer trunk bolted on the back to carry your stuff. Soon after, we drove a cloth-clad S model with manual transmission and front-wheel drive a lot closer to sea level, and it only confirmed our high-altitude findings.
It may be German, but the Tiguan is screwed together like a Swiss watch, with very tight body and door gaps, excellent paint and plating finishes inside and out, and good quality leathers, plastics and plating inside. Overall, it is a very good combination of price, performance, mileage, comfort and space, with free maintenance thrown in. And, it's cute.
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