The styling is revised for 2012, sleeker than before, while maintaining the Volkswagen family resemblance; in fact, if you look at a picture of all Volkswagens made, the noses all look the same, a smooth horizontal line of grille and headlamps, that stretches into a small smile.
All 2012 Tiguan models use a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with direct injection and variable valve timing. This engine has been around a long time and it's brilliant, now making 200 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque at a low 1700 rpm.
We found acceleration snappy and silky, while the engine is smooth and silent at high speeds, where the chassis is stable. In the Tiguan, 80 miles per hour feels like 60. In fact it's the smoothest four-cylinder we can think of. The Tiguan SE delivers a nice balance between smooth ride quality and stability at high speeds. Volkswagen says Tiguan is the GTI of compact SUVs.
Tiguan comes standard with front-wheel drive, but we highly recommend opting for the excellent 4Motion all-wheel drive.
Fuel mileage is decent, earning an EPA-rated 21/27 mpg City/Highway, an increase of 2 mpg over the previous (pre-2012) Tiguan, thanks largely to a taller sixth-gear ratio in the 6-speed automatic transmission, and lower-rpm shift points. These things are possible because of the engine's excellent torque, while making the driving dynamic smoother. We got 22.7 mpg running the Tiguan hard on the freeway, and easy around town.
The instrumentation is beautiful, and the clarity and simplicity of the touch screen and controls is outstanding. The interior materials are of a high quality, especially the V-Tex leatherette, which we couldn't tell from real leather. We recommend the optional Navigation system for its clarity and ease of use.
Volkswagen says that the Tiguan's main rivals are the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4.
In addition to about 400 miles on the road, we drove the Tiguan at an event in the Northwest called Mudfest, where it competed in the compact SUV class against a Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke, and Subaru Impreza. The CX-5 won overall, but the Tiguan proved superior on the autocross course with its wonderful handling, and out on the highway with its smoothness at high speed. And in the mud, with the Tiguan's 4Motion all-wheel drive, only the sporty Mazda CX-5 could keep up.
The 2012 Tiguan earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in front, side and rear crash test evaluations.
Tiguan S ($22,840) is equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission. Tiguan S with 4Motion all-wheel drive ($26,295) comes with the 6-speed automatic and alloy wheels. Tiguan S comes standard with cloth upholstery, reclining front seats with driver's lumbar adjustment, 40/20/40 folding rear seats, Bluetooth, intermittent wipers, eight-speaker sound system with in-dash CD player, full power, cruise control, 16-inch steel wheels, and tow hitch prep. Alloy wheels come with the Tiguan S automatic ($24,340), and there's a Tiguan S Sunroof model ($25,940) with a power tilt/sliding panoramic glass roof and tinted windows.
Tiguan LE ($25,175) and all other models come standard with the automatic. LE upgrades to V-Tex leatherette upholstery, tinted windows, heated front seats, and a Media Device Interface (MDI) with iPod cable.
Tiguan SE ($28,635) and SE 4Motion ($30,590) upgrade with a leather-wrapped steering wheel with controls, manual height adjustment for the front seat, fog and cornering lights, premium satellite radio, roof rails, heated front washer nozzles, and 18-inch alloy wheels. A Sunroof and Navigation model ($30,525) adds the power tilt/sliding panoramic glass sunroof, and a navigation system with five-inch color touchscreen. With 4Motion all-wheel drive it's $32,480.
Tiguan SEL ($33,975) and SEL 4Motion ($35,930) come with the sunroof and navigation, leather upholstery, and a sport suspension with 19-inch alloy wheels and 255/40 R19 all-season tires. It also adds silver-metallic interior trim, power adjustable driver seat with memory and power lumbar, Climatronic air conditioning, intermittent front windshield wipers with rain sensor, keyless entry with push-button start, power foldable/adjustable/heated exterior mirrors, Bi-Xenon headlights with low-beam assist, and LED daytime running lights. Tiguan SEL with Premium Navigation ($34,995) includes an upgraded navigation system with a 6.5-inch color high-resolution touchscreen display, integrated 30GB hard drive, and voice control. There's also an SEL with Premium Navigation and Dynaudio ($38,080) that adds standard 4Motion all-wheel drive and a Dynaudio premium sound system.
Safety equipment includes frontal and side-thorax airbags, airbag curtains, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, tire pressure monitor, and Volkswagen's Intelligent Crash Response System that automatically shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and switches on the hazard warning lights if the vehicle is involved in certain types of collisions.
The windshield is lightly raked, the beltline creeps up almost imperceptibly. The side windows that appear bigger than they are because of black frames. There's not much shape at the rear, with a thick C-pillar that's nearly vertical; meanwhile, the rear glass tapers a bit toward the roof, where there's a small spoiler, mounted on the glass not the roof, so it doesn't look like the Tiguan is trying to be racy.
Unlike many SUVs, even compacts, the tailgate doesn't look big and flat, because it's not. A ridge runs back from the squared-off rear wheel arches, and wraps around the tailgate; imagine rainwater rolling down the rear glass, shooting off that ridge and flying rearward. The teardrop taillights add to the tidy back end, by not being blocky or radical; plus, hooray, they're totally red: no clear, no white, no chrome.
The front overhang is short, and there's one clean horizontal swipe that makes up the grille and headlamps, sweeping slightly upward around the corners onto the fenders. Compared to that big dumb grin that the Mazda3 has tapered down (but will never live down), the Tiguan bears a forced stretched smile. The 14 LEDs at the corners of the smile are daytime running lights, and look cool.
Under the bumper there's a honeycombed opening in the fascia, and beneath that a gray panel like a skid plate, with three more openings. Integrated into the new bumper at each side are honeycomb panels housing foglamps. Volkswagen calls it a tough new look for the urban jungle, forgetting that the days of the Hummer are over.
The Tiguan SEL features bi-xenon headlamps and 10-spoke 19-inch alloy wheels that can also be found on the high-performance Golf R.
The speedometer and tachometer are big and beautiful. Between them is a multi-function trip computer that easily presents the information you use on a trip, especially fuel mileage and distance to empty. Bluetooth is standard.
Interior trim is soft plastic and faux brushed metal. Our Tiguan SE had the V-Tex leatherette, and you could have fooled us. The doors open wide for easy ingress and egress. There's only fair headroom and legroom for five adults, however. And there's an over-the-shoulder blind spot with the large C-pillar.
In the rear of the Tiguan there's 35.8 inches of legroom, considerably less than the competition, for example the Chevy Equinox (39.9), Mazda CX5 (39.3), Honda CR-V (38.3), and Subaru Forester (38.0).
The 40/20/40 folding rear seat might make up for the lack of legroom, especially for a young couple that's into outdoor activity, even if they have a kid or two. The cargo-carrying options of a 40/20/40 are many. There's a modest 23.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat; more if the rear seats are slid forward by their adjustable six inches.
Cargo space with the seats folded flat is 56.1 cubic feet, which is a bit light compared to the competition. At an event called Mudfest, held by the Northwest Automotive Press Association, the Tiguan got beat by the winning Mazda CX5 in the compact SUV class, mostly because of its limited cargo space (however the Tiguan smoked 'em on the autocross course, which we'll get to). However, like the Honda Fit, the Tiguan's front passenger seat folds almost flat to accommodate, say, a kayak or a stack of 8-foot-long two-by-four boards.
The liftgate is wide, and opens with the key fob on most models. Inside there are cargo hooks and a 12-volt outlet.
Our Tiguan SE was equipped the panoramic sunroof, which is massive: triple the size of some others, including the VW Golf. One panel opens and another is fixed, it has a shade, and, according to Volkswagen, it's aerodynamically and acoustically optimized. It's sweet but it's not cheap. And it's the closest thing you can get to a convertible in a compact SUV. The Tiguan SE is a good choice with or without the panoramic sunroof.
Besides some models of the Escape, the Acura RDX is about the only compact SUV that feels as sporty as the Tiguan; and the RDX has a V6 and costs much more. If you want a compact SUV that can handle off-road (with 4Motion) but feels like a sports car, the Tiguan is for you. The 2.0-liter Volkswagen/Audi intercooled turbocharged engine has been around a long time, and it keeps getting better, now with direct injection and variable intake timing. It makes 200 horsepower and 207 foot-pounds of torque from a low 1700 rpm. We've never felt a four-cylinder that feels this amazingly smooth at 90 mph. You'll never think its acceleration is too slow.
Tiguan is EPA-rated at 21/27 miles per gallon City/Highway. We got 22.7 mpg overall, running it hard on both freeway and around town for a week.
The 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode that comes on most models is a dream. It's got a Sport mode and Dynamic Shift Program. Its sixth gear, as with a growing number of new cars, is a double overdrive, which helps raise the government's Highway rating to 27 mpg, an improvement of two miles per gallon over the previous model. Also in pursuit of fuel mileage, the transmission has been re-programmed to shift at lower rpm, which it easily can do because of the strong torque. We like it.
Not all all-wheel-drive systems are the same, and the Volkswagen 4Motion is one of the best, along with Audi quattro and Subaru's all-wheel drive. Acura SH-AWD is good, but the 2013 Acura RDX does not use SH-AWD, only the bigger and more expensive Acur MDX does. It's Volkswagen's electro-hydraulic 4Motion that leads to the super handling that enabled our Tiguan to its big win on the autocross course. Tiguan's 4Motion Haldex center differential continuously varies the torque between the front and rear wheels, from 90-10 to 0-100, depending on where it's needed for traction. No spinning wheels means no lost traction and quicker acceleration performance, particularly when turning sharply at the same time.
The Mudfest event is appropriately named. We blasted the Tiguan around in the mud, including through deep ruts, where the Tiguan's 28-degree approach angle came into play, although the chassis did drag. When you have the opportunity to compare awd systems back-to-back like this, you can clearly feel the difference. For surefootedness in the slime, the Subaru Impreza and Mazda CX-5 held up to the Tiguan, the Honda CR-V wasn't too bad, while the Kia Sportage and Mini Countryman spun their wheels far behind, the city slickers.
Mounted in a lightweight, one-piece aluminum subframe, the Tiguan's strut-type front suspension has long-travel coil springs and lower control arms, with a beefy four-link system at the rear, mounted in a high-strength steel subframe with a broad lower wishbone on each side.
We found the freeway ride in the Tiguan to be smooth. On the same roads, the Acura RDX transmitted uncomfortable jolts. The 1.6-liter Ford Escape felt jouncy, but the 2.0-liter Escape was smooth like the Tiguan.
We haven't gotten a chance to drive the Tiguan SEL with its sport suspension and 19-inch wheels with low-profile 255/40R19 all-season tires, but we've heard that it rides rough, and we don't doubt it, because of the tires. There is a price to be paid for short sidewalls. SUVs work better with taller tires.
The brakes keep up with the Tiguan's sporty character, using 12.3-inch vented discs in front, and a feature that wipes water from the discs in wet weather. The brakes stay applied for a couple seconds when starting off on an incline.
Sam Moses filed this report after his test drive of the Tiguan SE in the Pacific Northwest.