2009 VW Tiguan SE 4Motion Review

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

First impressions last. And many are formed by the appellation given a child at birth by well-meaning parents. Guys named Percival, Chauncey and Marion know the answer to “what is in a name?” And now, Tiguan. Pronunciation? Is it TEE-gwan? TIG-yoo-wahn? Tig-WAHN? Any way you say it, Tiguan sounds more like some species of sub-Saharan reptile than a girlie soft-roader. Like that boy named Sue, Smuckers or Huckabee, any vehicle with a bizarre name better be able to stand up for itself. So is VW’s new mini-ute good enough to compensate for its cumbrous cognomen (stupid name)?

The Tiguan may be ten years late to the cute-ute makeover party, but it’s like, so adorable. The shrunken-Touareg look is user-friendly, modern and brand appropriate. Park it next to a Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V and the Tiguan looks like an Armani suit on a rack next to Men’s Wearhouse’s best. Without exception, everyone who saw my Sapphire Blue tester wanted to take the car home, microwave some popcorn and watch the O.C.

On the inside, it’s not quite as buttoned down. Overall the materials are first-rate, but some of the trim looks out of place (e.g. the obligatory aluminum trim around the high-mounted radio/nav system and the vents in the end of the dashboard). There are a total of eight AC vents in the dashboard, but they’re each about an inch and a half in diameter and you can never seem to get them adjusted to blow where you want (steady guys). The AC could barely handle the heat from the Georgia sun beating down on the $1300 “Panoramic” roof.

Other than the climate, the interior was comfy, quiet and surprisingly roomy. The seats are firm and supportive. Back seat drivers wil appreciate the theater-style raised rears. Unfortunately the elevation cuts into the rear headroom, restricting the back row to Hollywood action hero height. My mid-range SE’s tester’s upholstery was wrong for young families and active singles; the off-white (“Sandstone”) cloth was a blank canvas just waiting for spilled soda, dog hair, french fry grease, crayon, mud, baby drool and dirt. It’s either that or funereal dark charcoal gray.

Under the hood, you’ll find VAG’s increasingly ubiquitous though most excellent turbocharged 2.0-liter mill, which churns out 200 hp and 207 lbs-ft of torque (though only on premium go-juice). Channeled through a six-speed slushbox, it’s enough power to motivate the Tiguan to 60 mph in just under eight seconds. It’s no Cayenne, but it’ll surprise you with its quickness. If you’re the do-it-yourself kind, the front-wheel-drive version is available with a shift-it-yourself six-speed gearbox.

VW advertises the Tiguan as the GTI of CUVs; something to do with the fact that they share a platform. While TTAC’s Best and Brightest may be tempted to diss the claim as total marketing bullshit, the Tiguan handles better than you’d expect from a tall wagon. On twisty roads, it remains well planted; you never feel like you’re on the ragged edge. The sprogs in the back seat will be screaming for you to slow down long before the Tiguan’s tires do.

There are only two things that detract from the Tiguan’s overall excellence. First: the gas mileage. VW’s GTI-on-stilts manages 18 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway. That’s worse than the V-6 powered RAV4 or Tucson. VW made noises about offering a TDI version, but the price of diesel gave them pause. (It now looks like the oil-burner will only come wrapped in the Jetta.)

The other downer: price. The unfavorable exchange rate means even the basest FWD Tiguan S model starts at $23,200. My tester was the mid-range SE model with 4Motion, nav system and the aforementioned hole in the roof. It listed for $33,165. If you go all-out with the SEL you’ll be pushing the $35k button before you know it, even if you stick with FWD. In contrast, the base VW SportWagen starts at $18,999. Throw everything you can from the option list at the SportWagen SEL and you’re still under $31k. True, you don’t have the 4Motion option on the SportWagen, but how often do you really need AWD?

The Tiguan is cute, fun to drive and comfortable. Factor price and fuel efficiency out of the equation and the Tiguan’s basic goodness more than makes up for the strange name. But the high price of admission and the non-PC mpgs will drive VW’s core customers to find something a bit more affordable, reliable and pronounceable.

[VW provided the car, insurance and a tank of gas.]

Frank Williams
Frank Williams

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  • Gforce Gforce on Sep 15, 2008

    Romanjetfighter says "And I must say, I think the Toyota badge is more prestigious than the VW one". I didn't know that VW had a badge, all I have ever seen labelled on their cars is, well "VW".

  • Kurtamaxxguy Kurtamaxxguy on Apr 23, 2010

    Looks like the Audi version of the Tiguan will be the Q3, due here sometime late 2011. No idea yet what differs, or what will justify the higher Audi price.