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2009 Volkswagen Tiguan

It Lacks The Go Anywhere Ability Of Its Big Brother, But It’s Much More Fun To Drive

    If you are planning on picking up a new Tiguan to serve as a smaller, more fuel-efficient alternative to your go-anywhere Touareg be prepared for a new experience: getting stuck. That’s because Volkswagen’s second SUV is far more Honda than Hummer. Yes, it can be equipped with all-wheel drive, but you’ll only have 6.9 inches of ground clearance to work with, same as our front-wheel drive tester. Exactly none of the more capable Touareg’s hardware (air suspension, three locking differentials, low-range transfer case) is passed down to the Tiguan. But that detail only irked us when the Tiguan got itself stuck—twice—during our late December test. That’s because the rest of the time we were driving the thing like it was a GTI in maternity clothes. A fact that took us by surprise even though Volkswagen’s own press materials refer to the Tiguan as the “GTI of compact sport utility vehicles”.
     The first thing we noticed about the little VW is how, well, little it is. That’s not a negative to us since it’s one reason engineers were able to keep the curb weight under 3,400 for our S model; the similarly sized Saturn VUE weighs in almost 300 pounds heavier. And while the cargo area may be on the tight side (23.8 cubic feet behind the 2nd row) passengers will have no problem thanks to a second row with reclining seat backs and six inches of fore and aft travel. Front seats are comfortable and feature manual 8-way adjustments, lumbar and the passenger seat folds flat for increased cargo room. Paired with the tilt and telescoping steering wheel and a great dead pedal an all-day comfortable driving position is easy to dial in.
     The dash is a model of simplicity, especially with our model’s basic stereo and rotary climate controls, but you’ll also be yawning before the odometer hits double digits. An all-new touch-screen navigation system is available and replaces the user-unfriendly version Volkswagen has offered the past several years, but it will set you back $1,950. The standard 8-speaker CD audio system is adequate although there’s a noticeable pause between reading MP3 tracks. The only thing we might ask for are slightly larger mirrors.
     We’ve sung praises to this engine time and time again, and we’re going to do it at least one more time. The 2.0-liter direct injection turbo gets our vote for engine of the decade. No matter what VW/Audi product we’re sampling we always contend it makes more than the 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque Volkswagen claims. It’s smooth, quiet, offers almost no turbo lag and simply makes every vehicle it’s in a joy to drive. A smooth 6-speed manual, perfect clutch and EPA mileage ratings on 19 city and 26 highway are just icing on the cake. It’s this drivetrain that lends credibility to Volkswagen’s claim that this is the GTI of SUVs. Of course it won’t corner like the legendary GTI but its straight-line squirt is enough to breakup even the most mundane commute and a responsive brake pedal rewards enthusiasts at every stop. In the various levels of snow and slush we contended with we more often than not gave the vehicle a healthy stab of throttle when pulling away from stops and let the standard ESP and traction control figure things out. Both electronic systems worked fairly well when called upon.
     Our biggest concern with the Tiguan is its looks. There’s just nothing noteworthy about it. We’re just estimating here, but in our humble opinion the new for ’09 buggy is going to look dated before the model year is up. It didn’t help that our base model offered black inserts where the fog lights would otherwise be, 16” wheels and a plain silver paintjob. Even dressed up with aggressive wheels and a pretty color the Tiguan will not win any beauty contests. At least you can order a giant $1,300 sunroof to show off to your friends.
     It seems to us Volkswagen has created a pretty inexpensive little runabout with decent room inside, a 2,200 pound towing capacity for hauling toys of the smaller variety and some poor weather capability that’s pretty limited in front-wheel drive models, but probably decent with power flowing to all four corners. For $24,240 as tested the Tiguan is a competent entry in the compact crossover segment. Just leave the rough stuff to your Touareg.

The Good:
Priced right, great engine, available 6-speed manual, 5-year powertrain warranty.
The Bad:
Easily outmatched in the snow and styled to cure insomnia.
The Verdict:
Another crossover in a crowded market.
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