The Tiguan, says Volkswagen, represents the transfer of the globally successful Touareg philosophy to the compact sport-utility class. Images of travel, adventure and excitement are what should spring to mind. So does best-in-class, once a more powerful engine arrives…
The only advantage in coming last in any kind of race is that you get to observe the techniques and tactics of those finishing ahead of you. And assuming that Volkswagen is a company of people who see the glass as being half-full (rather than half-empty), that’s how they probably view the Tiguan.
Not that it comes last in the segment, but rather that their first compact soft -roader arrived in South Africa aft er most rivals had introduced second-generation models.
In a room full of guys in dinner jackets, think of the Tiguan as the one with a suit that is obviously tailor-made, rather than the one that has to wear a brightly coloured bowtie to get noticed.
It has an understated elegance that is typically Volkswagen – a relatively conservative shape uplift ed by some discreet but striking detailing for items such as the light clusters.
The Tiguan is very definitely at the compact end of its class and is around 50 to 70mm shorter overall and in the wheelbase than most rivals. It has a chunky look that is appealing, with subtle design links to the Touareg.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★
Making the job of the testers more challenging was the fact that our 2.0 TDi Track & Field with Tiptronic shift was fitted with a host of features that pumped the price up by some R50 000, for an “as tested” figure of R374 700.
Optional equipment included the R24 900 RNS-510 Satellite Navigation system which includes CD/DVD/ MP3/WMA playback, 30GB hard drive (download MP3s or navigation info to free up CD/DVD-drive); touch-screen functionality; 6.5-inch wide VGA colour display with 800 x 480 pixels and outstanding brilliance; a specially developed off -road navigation system that can record up to 500 route points during a journey, even in non-digitised areas (includes compass). It was also fitted with a multi-function steering wheel (R1000).
If you’re going to arrive late for a party you need to make a grand entrance and the Tiguan manages that in some ways. Specifying the Track & Field package gets owners a palette of feature that provides more off -road ability. The most obvious change is a new face and the chin carved away to improve the approach angle by 10 degrees to a claimed 28 degrees (we measured a little bit more). But the model also gets electronic differential locks to go with hill descent control and a gear pre-select function that holds onto the desired gear.
The Tiguan also mixes in elements of MPV-like practicality. The 60/40 split rear seats can slide through a 160mm range and there are also flip-up tray tables for rear occupants. As you’d expect, there are 12V outlets galore but VW has gone one bett er by fitting a 230V/150W outlet – just the thing for wives who need to blow-dry their hair en route to work.
Less innovative is what’s under the bonnet. The TDi is powered by the venerable (and thus by definition fairly old) 2,0-litre oil-burner that does duty far and wide in the VW empire. It makes just 103 kW and 320 Nm, but we hear an uprated version with about 125 kW will be available – at least overseas – by late this year.
Drive to all wheels is handled by the 4Moti on system, with a capability of sending all torque to a single wheel. On firm surfaces and when travelling in a straight line, 90% of it goes frontward, but when conditions change and there is a rotational difference between the front and rear wheels, an electronically controlled Haldex multi-plate clutch will adjust this split.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The cabin of the Tiguan makes an exceptional first impression, thanks to the use of materials that qualify as distinctly upper crust. Very few of the plastics are not of the soft -touch variety and the harder components are largely titanium-coloured panels that are used to frame the hangdown centre section, and for the door pulls.
There are no less than eight air vents in front and another two in the rear compartment, and the Climatronic automatic air-conditioner does a good job of keeping the cabin at the right temperature. Controls are clear and concise and include a butt on enabling individual temperature settings for front occupants.
Seating is sumptuous and yet supportive, with a commanding driving position and the ability to fine-tune it, thanks to an electrically adjusted driver’s seat and a steering column that can be manually set for height and reach.
The rear compartment leaves little to be desired and there’s a sense of spaciousness enhanced by the use of light grey fabric for the headlinings and the B and C pillars, contrasting nicely with the black leather furniture.
The amount of legroom can obviously vary from a little to a lot thanks to the sliding seat, while the backrest angle can also be changed. A generously padded removable armrest can be lowered between the seats, but to get to the cup-holders in the armrest the padded secti on must fi rst be removed.
With the seats pushed rearward the luggage space is unexceptional, though of a regular shape. But where the Tiguan scores is in its versatility, and as well as being able to slide the two sections of the rear seat separately, you can fold them forward — an action that causes them to simultaneously sink into the floor to create a low and flat loading platform.
The Tiguan has a fairly short rear overhang, so the maximum length of an object that can be loaded is in the region of 1,6m.
★ ★ ★
The powerplant is not exceptional in terms of numbers and nor is it, as we’ve noted in the past, the quietest or most refined. Yet in this application it is obviously extremely well insulated from the cabin and it seldom makes its presence felt or heard.
With the option of Drive, Sport and sequential modes for the automatic gearbox, the driver has plenty of options on how to put the engine to work. And while it doesn’t ever feel especially athletic in the way that current-generation turbodiesels do, it still feels lively and adequately responsive.
There is some discernable lag on pull-off , but our main criticism of the drivetrain pertains to the occasionally harsh downshift s and there’s a jolt as the gearbox swaps cogs – an occurrence oft en caused by the driver’s first brush of the brake pedal on a descent.
Despite its age the engine is still reasonably frugal. On our steady 120 km/h run it weighed in with 7,6 litres per 100km and had settled down to around 8,5 per 100km as an average after its 10 days in the Leisure Wheels fleet.
Despite a strong smell of hot friction material after half a dozen 80km/h to standstill runs, the stopping ability of the Tiguan proved to be both exceptional and undramatic, the pedal retaining a firm feel throughout. It obviously has the full array of electronic aids, and with a relatively modest 1730kg to stop, it hardly seemed over-extended in this department. In fact it got progressively better.
★ ★ ★ ★
Compared to the X3 that had just passed through our hands, the Tiguan at first felt a little soft and mushy but that isn’t really the case. It benefits from a reasonable amount of suspension travel and while the 55-profile 17-inch rubber (an option, standard fare being 215/65/16) makes its presence felt on the pockmarked tarmac of the suburbs, the ride smoothes out at higher speeds.
Steering is keen, with a moderate amount of feedback through the thick rim and there’s seldom any ambiguity as to where the vehicle will be heading next. The onset of understeer can be quickly sensed, and can be equally quickly quelled with a lift of the throttle.
With its excellent approach and departure angles, the Tiguan copes nicely off road and the underbody is exceptionally well protected for this class of car: there’s little than can get damaged in the conditions to which this kind of vehicle will be subjected.
Pressing the Off-Road button ahead of the gear lever activates a host of systems, including the hill descent control, and also results in a slightly different torque delivery that makes the throttle easier to modulate.
Because its all-wheel-drive system and traction/ stability control hardware is all electronically controlled, like most soft-roaders the Tiguan requires a leap of faith when tackling obstacles. Keeping the right foot firmly planted on the accelerator gets the best results, and trying to finesse it by modulating the throttle simply results in a loss of momentum. In this regard the Tiguan seemed even more reliant on its electronics than most rivals.
★ ★ ★ ★
Thanks to its class-leading cabin quality (with the exception of the slightly flimsy bonnet release in the passenger footwell) and ambience (no one has yet matched VW for interior lighting) the Tiguan has tremendous sensory appeal irrespective of where you’re sitting.
On a more practical level, the versatile seating and accomplished if slightly underwhelming powertrain make it a serious new addition to a segment that is full of talent.
If the more powerful version of this engine does arrive here before the end of the year it’ll make the Tiguan a real contender for the best-in-class prize.