Volkswagen has entered the burgeoning small SUV market locally with its new Tiguan, featuring direct-injection twin-charged power.
Continuing VW's market expansion into previously untapped niches, Tiguan is a first foray into the 'soft' off-road market for the German manufacturer.
Although the name - a blend of Tiger and Iguana - is odd, the technology is not, and the minute 1.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol has both super- and turbocharged forced induction.
Three engine derivatives power the five-door, all-wheel drive Tiguan, with the 1.4 TSI and 2-litre TDI to be joined in the third quarter this year by the familiar, GTI-sourced, 147kW 2-litre TSI engine.
A two-wheel drive 1.4 TSI should arrive locally first thing in 2009.
Off- and on-road options
Beyond the three engine derivatives the range is further distinguished by three trim packages: Trend&Fun, Track&Field and Sport&Style.
The Trend&Fun is an entry level model only available in 1.4 TSI, whilst the Track&Field denotes an off-road trim bias, although carrying the same premium as the Sport&Style.
Track&Field models feature standard hill-decent control, underbody gearbox and engine protection, and a reconfigured front bumper, improving the approach angle from 18- to 28-degrees compared with Trend&Fun and Sport&Style models.
For a more urban-biased driving environment Sport&Style features slightly firmer sports suspension and does without all the aforementioned off-road goodies.
Plenty of options
Standard specification is hardly exceptionally comprehensive, with only the 2-litre models featuring a power driver's seat, leather trim and cruise control.
Satellite controls on the steering wheel is a R2 020 and R1 000 option on the 1.4 TSI and 2-litre versions respectively, whilst the six-disc CD charger and 30 Gig navigation infotainment system (with a neat touch screen interface) will set you back R4 190 and R24 900 respectively.
In mitigation you do get a clever inverter as standard throughout the range. It can provide both 12V and 230V power outage, enabling converter-free, two-prong plug powering for mobile phones and battery chargers.
The overall interior ambience is familiar to the VW family and of a high quality. Four practical roof-mounted stowage bins are placed between the driver and passenger, whilst the centre console features two convenient, deep stowage spaces.
Unfortunately the rear luggage compartment, at only 471-litres, is simply too small compared with the RAV4 at 608 litres and Hyundai Tucson at 644 litres.
Perhaps the key selling point of the new Tiguan is under the bonnet, as this is the first contact South African customers will have with VW's turbo stratified injection (hence the TSI moniker) and direct injection twin-charging.
VW has equipped Tiguan's 1.4 TSI engine with two forms of forced induction; super- and turbocharging. Logic dictates this would be a strained state of affairs as the supercharger would rob the small capacity engine of power low-down as it spins off the drivetrain and induces supercharger drag.
Conversely having it run in sync with the turbo would contribute to a high-pressure, high-stress coefficient on the small engine and its internals.
Best of both
Fortunately VW has been typically German in its engineering synergy of the twin-charging system.
The supercharger runs from idle, providing the 1.4 TSI with a strong 240Nm of torque from 1 750 r/min right through to 4 000 r/min.
When there are sufficient exhaust gas volumes to spin the turbocharger to action, the supercharger disconnects via a solenoid-activated clutch.
The net result is a 1.4-litre engine capable of 110 kW and 8.4 l/100 km combined cycle fuel consumption. Diesel orientated buyers will be familiar with the 2.0 TDI engine, which does duty across a wide variety of VW products locally, producing 103 kW and 320 Nm whilst returning 7.2 l/100 km.
Both engines drive all-four wheels, with the 1.4 TSI only available in six-speed manual, while a six-speed tiptronic can be specified as an optional transmission on the diesel.
Impressively all 2-litre Track&Field derivatives have a 2.5 ton towing capacity.
Suspension is a typically road-biased SUV set-up with McPherson struts featuring triangular wishbones up front and a four-piece multilink set-up at the rear.
Ground clearance is class average at 200 mm, yet all trim levels feature an electronic differential lock claiming to enable 100% torque distribution to a single wheel in adverse traction conditions.
On the road
VW set us about some winding coastal roads between Port Elizabeth and East London for the launch, and the Tiguan impressed as a keenly balanced road-biased SUV with high levels of refinement and low noise, harshness and vibration levels.
The 1.4TSI was actually an underwhelming experience as it dismissively powered up inclines past slower moving traffic with a simple sixth-to-fourth downshift from the typically notchy VW six-speed manual transmission. One tends to forget you are only being powered along by a 1.4-litre engine.
Refinement is very impressive with the twin-charging action seamless and devoid of turbine whine; occasionally when using large throttle openings at low revs you're reminded of the supercharger by some audible gargling under the bonnet.
In all, it's an impressive technology application, showcasing how emission targets and engine performance can be achieved in unison. During a bout of mildly enthusiastic driving, with climate control working overtime we averaged 9.5 l/100 km, an entirely reasonable SUV class figure.
Buyers who prefer compression ignition will find the 2.0 TDI a willing performer, also featuring impressive refinement, whilst those yearning for a more performance orientated option should be appeased by the 147kW 2.0 TSI arriving third quarter this year.
Across the range the Tiguan chassis yields neat handling characteristics with predictably understeer-biased steering responses at the limit and nearly no body roll.
If there is one option prospective Tiguan buyers simply should not do without, especially those who live in the larger cities, it's the R5 000-park assist. A first for this segment, it takes the embarrassment out of parallel parking.
Using front sensors to scan for an appropriate parking spot at speeds below 30km/h - you depress the button and activate your indicator to set the system in motion.
Once an appropriate parking bay has been identified, a centre instrument binnacle display will indicate whether it is safe to engage reverse.
Engage reverse, let go of the steering wheel, simply modulate the throttle and brakes and the steering wheel rotates, allowing you to seamlessly glide into said parking spot. It's a neat and worthwhile option.
VW is venturing outside its traditional product portfolio with the Tiguan, entering the SUV market as the last of the established manufacturers to do so.
With a neat chassis, advanced powerplants and flowing styling it makes a compelling choice, although interior space is not class leading and the options list expensive.
1.4 TSI Trend&Fun 4motion Manual - R265 500
1.4 TSI Track&Field 4motion Manual - R273 500
2.0 TDI Track&Field 4motion Manual - R312 500
2.0 TDI Track&Field 4motion Tiptronic - R324 000
2.0 TDI Sport&Style 4motion Manual - R312 500
2.0 TDI Sport&Style 4motion Tiptronic - R324 000
Models available fourth quarter 2008 & early 2009
1.4 TSI Trend&Fun 4x2 Manual - R247 500
2.0 TSI Track&Field 4motion Manual - R335 500
2.0 TSI Man Track&Field 4motion Tiptronic - R347 000
2.0 TSI Sport&Style 4motion Manual - R335 500
2.0 TSI Sport&Style 4motion Tiptronic - R347 000