By on September 21, 2015

The new Tiguan. Picture courtesy VolkswagenLong before Volkswagen tasked itself with overcoming the expenses of a developing dirty diesel scandal and the harm it caused to the brand’s already lackluster image in the United States, Volkswagen Of America was struggling to sell its small SUV during a small SUV boom.

Incidentally, that vehicle – the first-generation Tiguan – was never available in the United States with a diesel engine, a rarity in a Volkswagen lineup that provides diesel options to buyers of the Golf, Jetta, Passat, Beetle and Touareg.

Perhaps the option of a diesel would have made the original Tiguan more popular in the United States, but there were other profound problems that Volkswagen hopes to resolve when a stretched version of the second-generation Tiguan eventually arrives in North America late next year or in early 2017. Yes, Tiguan Mk2 is still a ways off.

Even if the Tiguan was constructed by a more accepted automaker and wore a more mainstream badge, consumers still would have taken issue with the vehicle’s tiny cabin, the high sticker price, the thirsty engine — and the thirsty engine’s preference for premium fuel.2017 Volkswagen TiguanIn 2009, the Tiguan’s first full year of U.S. sales, the Tiguan was the same length as the Ford Escape, but the Escape’s cabin and cargo area were 4 percent and 23 percent larger, respectively.

Yes, the Tiguan’s 2-liter turbo produced more standard horsepower than many competitors, but it was rated at 18 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. The far more powerful V-6 in Toyota’s 2009 RAV4 was rated at 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

As for pricing, all-wheel-drive Tiguans were priced just a hair below $30,000 at a time when all-wheel-drive Honda CR-Vs topped out a hair below $30,000. Sure, Tiguans had a premium air about them, and the Tiguan’s excellent on-road behavior made it the hot hatch of small SUVs, but it clearly didn’t matter to consumers.

Time marched on. Volkswagen now markets a Tiguan — still the same Tiguan — that’s a few inches shorter than the latest Ford Escape, which also offers 44 percent more cargo volume behind the rear seats.

The all-wheel-drive Tiguan is rated by the EPA at 20/26 mpg for MY2015; Nissan’s Rogue AWD is rated at 25/32.

The Tiguan requires premium grade fuel, and competitors do not.

All-wheel-drive Tiguans are priced from $27,730. All-wheel-drive CR-Vs cost $2,155 less.

Tiguan chartThe result? The Tiguan, not very popular even during its peak, is on track for fewer than 30,000 sales in calendar year 2015, having topped the 30,000 mark only twice in the nameplate’s U.S. history. American Honda Motor Co. currently sells 29,000 CR-Vs per month. Overall SUV/crossover sales are booming in the United States.

In 2012, the Tiguan’s best sales year, the CR-V outsold the Tiguan by nearly 9-to-1. The list of small utility vehicles which easily outsold the Tiguan in 2012 is a long one: Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, RAV4, Rogue, GMC Terrain, Dodge Journey, Subaru Forester and Hyundai Santa Fe were all, at least, more than twice as common. The fleet-only Chevrolet Captiva Sport generated 5,204 more sales in the U.S. in calendar year 2012 than the Tiguan.

Only 175,606 Tiguans have been sold in America since its 2008 arrival. While a vehicle like the Nissan Rogue managed to consistently produce year-over-year improvements and bolster its brand in a quest to restore Nissan’s market share – the Rogue accounted for 11 percent of Nissan USA’s 689,014 sales in 2009 but 20 percent of the brand’s 915,358 year-to-date sales in 2015 – the Tiguan has been an afterthought in Volkswagen’s U.S. showrooms. Only 7 percent of Volkswagens sold in America last year were Tiguans, on par with the Tiguan’s performance in its best sales year of 2012 when overall VW of America sales rose to a 39-year high.

Setting aside the hugely consequential difficulties that now beset Volkswagen, the new Tiguan would be far more likely to succeed in the U.S. market. Competitive sizing could find the Tiguan on the radar of more consumers. More efficient engines that don’t require premium fuel, combined with presumably lower sticker prices based on its Mexican build location could help the Tiguan foster greater interest on financial terms alone. A lighter body may cause the Tiguan to appeal even more strongly on the dynamic front.

But even if Volkswagen finds a way to overcome what could turn out to be a dramatic turn against its TDI “Clean” diesels — even if Volkswagen injects one of those engines into the second-generation Tiguan and even if the next Tiguan is twice as popular as the current Tiguan, this still wouldn’t be a common vehicle.

That’s how rare the current Tiguan has turned out to be. Even 60,000 annual U.S. sales — rather than the sub-30,000 annual U.S. sales the Volkswagen Tiguan is managing now — may be sufficient to rank the VW 12th, but no better than 11th, in its own segment.

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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37 Comments on “First-gen Volkswagen Tiguan Was Officially a Flop in America – Can New Tiguan Undo Damage?...”

  • avatar

    Oh, God! If that were a Honda! Forest green, even.

    • 0 avatar

      It is a nice color, especially for something square like a Range Rover. Green is experiencing a resurgence! I still maintain dark greens go out of fashion quickly, so it’s best not to buy a durable good in said color.

      Think of all the Grand Cherokees in that color. And Cavaliers.

      What I’m MORE happy about is the resurgence of use in two-tone, as we see in the Tiguan V2 there. Bring it on! I want large luxury cars to be two-tone as well. There’s something dignified about it.

      • 0 avatar

        “Think of all the Grand Cherokees in that color.”

        Man, can you ever deflate a Happy!

        Geezer secret: sometimes memory loss ain’t so bad. Like those GCs and their inadvertent two-toning with rust.

      • 0 avatar

        Hate the two tone, belongs on 1980s Buicks.

        I spent several months finding a good used monotone first generation Lexus RX . Eventually found a Silversport, just like coach edition they came that way.

        If I hadn’t found one I might have just repainted the lower part of the truck.

        When I sold it, was gone in 24 hours.

      • 0 avatar

        *clears throat

        I’d say my 20 year old forest green over anthracite 4Runner looks quite nice thank you very much! Polishes up real good and man Toyota used to lay on a nice thick, durable coat of paint. Not like my parents’ ’09 RX350 that scratches if you look at it wrong, or my gf’s ’12 Camry that gets rock chips all to easily.

        • 0 avatar

          Generally I give the 4Runner a pass in the green department. It wasn’t as 90’s-ized as the GC or a Trooper in that color. Blockier things take green better, like a 94 Range Rover for example. But the smaller 96, not so much.

          Toyota and Lexus had to start thinning their paint around 98 I’m guessing, with the newer generation of cars. My 01 GS seemed to have pretty thin paint, and it had lots of rock chips on the front of it. It was silver, so that doesn’t help. My dad feels very strongly that silver paint is always thinner and less durable than other colors. I think I’d tend to agree.

  • avatar

    I was shopping for a stick shift CUV in 2013. The Tiguan was one of the few in existence at that time. At least in theory. The VW website said it existed. said it existed.

    I went to the local VW dealership, where the salesman told me he’d never seen one with a manual transmission, and if I wanted one, he would have no idea how to find one.

    I’m pretty sure I dodged a bullet.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t you love car dealers?

      Customer: “I want to give you money!”
      Dealer: “Nah, can’t be ar$ed.”

      • 0 avatar

        Those VW dealers may now have a bit more time on their hands.

        The general public doesn’t listen to “2009-2015 TDI emission problems”, they hear OMFG VW and Audi are poisoning my children.

        • 0 avatar

          Absolutely. And while they weren’t at all to blame in the Audi 5000 unintended acceleration debacle (unlike the TDI mess), it might just have the same effect in poisoning the entire brand(s) for a long time to come.

  • avatar

    I look forward to this newer, larger Tiguan. It is the Tiguan I always wished for…along with a less expensive one.

    I have an Escape with ecoboost. I have an 09 Tiguan.
    The Tiguan is the most difficult to understand and use as a CUV.
    My daughter loved it and I said OK since it was such a cool running and comfortable car back in 09. The back seat was great. A really solid CUV in 09.
    Plus it looked perfect.
    But that cargo area is just plain fake. It holds nothing. Put anything in and nothing else can join it.
    The other issue I have is compared to the 2.0 ecoboost, the turbo lag is irritating. I never seem to get a handle on it, especially after driving the Escape for awhile.

  • avatar

    If it remains as horrifyingly overpriced as the current one is, then the fail will continue unabated.

  • avatar

    Making it roomier inside than a Golf would be a good start. Making it price-competitive with at least the upper trims of the big players in the segment would be even better.

    The current version is tiny inside and very expensive, so there’s no wonder it sells poorly. This is an *extremely* price-sensitive segment, which is why only a few of the players have uplevel engines and none of them has a trim level comparable to the full-boat ones on larger CUVs.

  • avatar

    I have a neighbor that has a tiguan. It’s biggest problem was always the fact that compared to the competition, it’s cargo hold is laughably small. For the people who are buying a compact CUV, this is arguably one of the biggest selling points, so to skimp on is sales suicide.

    The 2.0T is a capable powerplant, their haldex AWD systems are pretty darn good, and their interior fit and finish is as good as anything else in the segment. What I think they should have done is gone a size bigger, added cargo space, and focused more on the ignored mid-size segment where the Edge and Santa Fe Sport sit relatively alone. The cost difference wouldn’t be too much, and then they have an argument for the premium price they’re asking as well.

  • avatar

    Have a relative who owns a Tiguan and it performs relatively well though it’s pricey, fuel efficiency isn’t great considering it’s AWD and could use some more room.

    It’s a base model that has the ‘basic’ options like power package (windows/door locks) and auto transmission, AWD and basic stereo that was sitting on the dealer’s showroom.

    The ride could be better (less stiff) and more roomy is needed.

    It also costs more than as the lower/midtrim Tiguan costs MORE than the higher trims from Honda/Toyota’s CUVs!

    Many dealerships do “say” that Mid-grade gas is adequate enough instead of using Premium gas, but Premium is needed for better performance and the engine runs relatively smoother.

    It’s more than adequate for the roads in New England esp. during winter :)

    If only VW could put in a feature that will turn AWD to FWD. You don’t need AWD as much in warmer months than during the winter, at least in New England. FWD is more than adequate for daily driving!

    Now, it does seem small as it’s not that roomy and not fuel efficient and the dealership’s service experience is Not that well… very arrogant and somewhat condescending!

    It meets the owner’s needs which is what the vehicle does.

    But buy an upgraded model… probably not.
    Time to look elsewhere!

    • 0 avatar

      They do have that. VW’s AWD system in the tiguan is a haldex-based one. These are slip&grip systems, meaning they’re FWD 95% of the time, only sending power to the rear when the fronts run out of grip. That is unless the center diff is programmed differently than the rest of their haldex systems and I’m not aware.

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, if it’s anything like the Haldex system on my Volvo, it’s 95% torque to the front, 5% to the rear, in normal use.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          It depends which generation and specification of Haldex system is used, and how it was tuned.
          The later ones have more brains and will pre-tension under certain conditions (outside temp, road temp, wiper use, stability data, wheel angle, incline, etc).

      • 0 avatar

        Didn’t know that.

        Too bad it didn’t help the fuel economy…

        2014 rated (very similar to 2013/2015 AWD versions) :
        City 20/Hwy 26/Comb 23 MPG per VW


  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    I’d like to say that criticism of the Tiguan is as old and rehashed as the vehicle itself, but VW insists on selling it and dragging its feet on the replacement, so have at it.

    If they biggify it, cheapify it, promotify it (and, until two days ago, TDI-ify it) as they did the Passat and Jetta, they can probably earn midpack sales rank for awhile before slipping. The VW brand is in no position to take on Ford, Honda, Toyota, and GM for sales in this class.

  • avatar

    Since VW really hasn’t figured out how to sell cars in the U.S., the new new Tiguan will be overpriced again. It’ll be so overpriced buyers would probably cross shop the Audi Q3. As I stated before the Tiguan is for VW fanboys or those who think “German engineering” is superior.

  • avatar

    Why would anyone trust VW? What else have they cheated on? Regardless of how good the new Tiguan is, buyers have every reason to believe that VW cuts corners and makes claims that aren’t accurate.

  • avatar

    My sister-in-law has one (purchased new 2009) but she’s a VW fangirl. First new car was a manual trans Jetta (late 90s) and she drove that till she could by the new Tiguan. Kept the Jetta for her daughter who has learned to drive on it.

    The driveway looks a little funny with 2 VW and my brother-in-laws old beast of a F250 Powerstroke which is over a decade old itself. Especially when you see the sheep corral next to the house. Not many VW lovers in ranch country of NM.

  • avatar

    I had a Tiguan. It actually leased quite well. The cargo space was too small, the interior was straight out of a Pontiac, and it was priced above the competition. It wasn’t as boring as the usual CUV appliance, but boring sells. It could have used the optional diesel available overseas though…../runsandhides.

  • avatar

    I have a wild a$$ theory about why the Tiguan flopped – I blame the MK4 VWs.

    Hear me out.

    My wife and I owned two MK4 VWs while we were in college. They were awful pieces of crap that simply disintegrated before our eyes. The list of stuff that went wrong is far too long to list here.

    Many, many of our friends also owned MK4 VWs as they felt like a lower end BMW for Honda money. They also had terrible experiences that mirrored ours.

    Fast forward a few years when everyone we know is getting married, having kids, and buying CUVs. What did all these new parents buy? Toyota RAV 4s and Honda CR-Vs. Every single person we knew that had a MK4 VW did not buy another VW when the time came to buy their CUV. Many of our friends swore off VW forever.

    Car companies never learn. If you screw up your reputation, it takes a very long time to fix it.

    VW and GM should have a talk about that someday…..

  • avatar

    “…made it the hot hatch of small SUVs, but it clearly didn’t matter to consumers.” I knew two people who actually loved how it drove, but were talked out of it by their husbands who made them buy the CRV, because they were afraid of having to work on them. They both lived far from the dealer.

  • avatar

    Both the Golf and the Sportwagon offer higher degrees of “utility” than does the Tiguan. Funny that as the SUV/CUV craze completely dominated the car scene, VW slogged along with a vehicle that was something less than a Golf on stilts. The price premium didn’t resonate with enough buyers to translate into actual “premium” so the thing never sold. I test drove one a few years back (mit Ganggetrieb) but came away with the feeling that it just wasn’t enough to justify over either the Golf or Wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      When living in Germany I actually rented (twice) a Golf on stilts, kind of. It was the Golf Plus, a very tall Golf basically with masses of room. Although my car enthusiast German teacher said anyone driving one was assumed to be a senior citizen I quite liked it and was very impressed by the interior space. The exterior looks like a guppy. They tried to change the name to the Golf Sportsvan but it didn’t stick, apparently. Some German friends visiting Canada recently got a rental car from Hertz in Montreal and were a bit surprised to get a Tiguan rather than the minivan they expected. All the criticisms posted here–lack of space, crummy interior, poor fuel economy–seem to be fair. Compared to a CR-V this effort is pretty sad indeed.

  • avatar

    I am looking forward to the next one. Even if its based on the cheap current Jetta/Passat platform. That might actually be better for its value; CUVs don’t need elaborate chassis’.

  • avatar

    I will buy this car if Volkswagen offers the optional emissions override switch. F the EPA.

  • avatar

    When shopping for new SUV for the wife the first place we looked was VW. Oddly for a German vehicle, she couldn’t get the seat back far enough to get her legs into a comfortable driving position.

  • avatar

    I like European cars and VWs in particular. A few years ago, I test drove both the Tiguan and the Rav4 Sport (V6, firmer suspension, etc.).

    The Rav4 blew the VW away in every way. It was kind of sad.

    Given VWs history here, I suspect this newer, larger version will be priced higher, thus helping assist failure.

    Diesel emissions (it had to be included).

  • avatar

    I recently spent 10 hours as a front passenger in a 2015 Tiguan. My impressions:

    Either the driver had a twitchy driving style or the steering is very quick.

    Power and ride seem fine, engine noise isolation is very good.

    Some places you touch all the time, like the door armrest pull, are hard smooth shiny plastic.

    Seat was uncomfortable. The back had hard parts that stuck out too far, so there was very uneven contact. Got a sore ass after a couple of hours.

    Automatic wipers deployed for two swipes after the car ahead sprayed their windshield. This left us with extensive smeared bug mess.

    Cargo area is very small, forcing use of roof rack for a lot of utility use. Which negates any fuel savings from the small size.

    Seating area is too narrow for three adults in the back.

    Infotainment gizmos seemed extensive, but required taking the driver’s eyes off the road to use it.

    Despite being quite new, there was a rattle in the front passenger door.

    Clearance was very good on a steep unmaintained gravel mountain road. Awd and traction control was very good.

    Front door armrest was mounted too far away, too high and too far forward. At the same time, the console armrest was much lower and farther back. Remarkably awkward.

    Factoring in the premium fuel requirement, I don’t see why anyone would buy one except if they’re a VW fan or they are happy to sacrifice so much for the snappy handling.

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