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Road test: VW Tiguan

2008-11-27 10:41

Wilmer Muller

It took VW a while to join the compact SUV gang, but it appears as if it was worth the wait as Wolfsburg’s Tiguan is a competent number.

So, was VW’s patience a matter of observe and learn? It seems so, as the Tiguan has all the right genes, and more, to rival established SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and the Land Rover Freelander.

And with good on-road capabilities as well as an upmarket appeal, the Tiguan is set to become a favourite among softroader fans (and of course VW brand loyalists).

Yes, all the usual SUV ingredients are part of the Tiguan’s mix, though the prized, oversized VW badge on the Tiguan’s nose will be a big drawcard, too.

Not everyone likes the Tiguan’s chunky, down-scaled Touareg look, but its muscular styling, which is dominated by a bold, chrome-finished VW grille and prominent Eos-style headlights, definitely adds to the vehicle’s appeal. One can’t deny that the Tiguan appears modern and trend-setting.

We tested the 1.4 TSI and the 2.0 TDI models with the Track&Field spec level.

On the inside

Any prospective (and current) VW owner needs to be aware that in recent years VW’s reputation for good build quality (as pioneered by the Golf 4) took a knock, while the carmaker’s reliability and after-sales service are also a hot topic.

But the Tiguan (and the forthcoming Golf 6) shows signs that the VW ownership experience might improve – but the proof will be in the pudding.

Our initial impression is that the Tiguan’s interior fit and finish is solid and that the perceivable build quality is good. It’s a pleasant vehicle to spend time in and front seats are comfortable, with decent support, while it is adjustable in every way too.

In typical VW fashion, the dashboard layout is straight forward with good ergonomics. All controls are straight-forward and easy to operate, while VW’s latest (optional) sat-nav interface deserves the thumbs up. This system, with its touch-screen functionality, is quite user-friendly and all steps are logically presented.

What is annoying is the number of air-vents in the dash – eight to be exact – which makes controlling air flow challenging.

Although the Tiguan is not the most spacious vehicle in its segment, interior room is acceptable and while the SUV can accommodate five passengers, it is more realistic to seat four.

The Tiguan’s versatility is seriously compromised by its small boot. Yes, the rear seats can fold down to create a load space of 1 510 litres, but for everyday use Tiguan owners will have to make peace with only 471 litres. 

Tiguan buyers can also spec the vehicle with a host of optional extras and unfortunately you even have to fork out money for items such as satellite audio controls.
Under the skin

The Tiguan isn’t just an oversized Golf. It has unique underpinnings and a custom axle and suspension design.

Suspension is a 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 200 mm and it comes with an electronic differential lock claiming to enable 100% torque distribution to a single wheel in adverse traction conditions.

In Track&Field guise the Tiguan gets hill-decent control, underbody gearbox and engine protection, and a reconfigured front bumper, giving the vehicle a 28-degree approach angle.

Perhaps the most interesting attribute of the Tiguan is VW's turbo stratified injection (TSI) and direct injection twin-charging.

The Tiguan 1.4 TSI basically has two forms of forced induction: super- and turbocharging. 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 a claimed fuel consumption of 8.4 litres/100 km in the combined cycle. However, realistically and in our experience the average petrol usage was about 10 litres per 100 km.

The Tiguan’s 2.0 TDI engine is a familiar unit, 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.

Driving it

Despite its custom underpinnings, driving the Tiguan feels as if you are behind the wheel of a Golf.
With a top speed of 192km/h the Tiguan 1.4 TSI goes from 0-100km/h in 9.6 seconds and the 2.0 TDI manual does it in 10.5 seconds.

Our choice of engine will be the turbodiesel unit as it offers better flexibility and more instant muscle power.

Despite its impressive engineering, the TSI unit has to work hard in the Tiguan – after all it is still a small engine for a vehicle of this size and weight.

In 1.4 guise the TSI engine makes more sense in VW’s smaller products such as the Polo and Golf. VW deserves credit for the TSI’s refinement and aim to prove that performance with lower emissions figures can be achieved, though.

As an everyday vehicle, no matter the engine option, the Tiguan is very easy to live with and well behaved. With excellent road grip, sharp steering and great body control, the Tiguan is capable on any road and it’s never tiresome to drive around town.

Thanks to good traction it is a composed vehicle, and its 4MOTION system varies torque between the axles for maximum grip.

Urbanites will love VW's parking assist system, which will especially help those who are usually left red-faced when it comes to parallel parking.

You trigger the system by pressing a button, activate the indicator and sensors will scan for an appropriate parking spot (at speeds below 30km/h). After it identified a bay the car will steer itself into a space at the correct angle. At first it is the weirdest sensation not to be in control of the vehicle, and you don’t want to trust it… But once you get the hang of it, it becomes a useful gizmo.

In terms of versatility the Tiguan isn’t a hardcore off-roader, but its 4x4 setup and high ground clearance makes driving on gravel and challenging road surfaces a breeze. 


The Tiguan’s generic VW design doesn’t quite excite, however, there is nothing intimidating about the vehicle and hatchback drivers will love its compact dimensions.

Also, VW’s first small SUV comes across as a solid vehicle complemented by good driving dynamics.

Furthermore, the Tiguan is a classy vehicle and its versatility, driveability, compact size and frugal engines make it a credible competitor.

Though the Tiguan’s base prices seem keen, it becomes a pricey vehicle once you start speccing it up and a top of the range 2.0 TDI with some extras will head for R400 000.

There are better priced small SUVs on the market, but the Tiguan will be a popular choice. It is a vehicle that feels the premium part, handles like a hatch, and offers the versatility of an SUV.

The Tiguan comes at a time where big gas-guzzling 4X4s are facing an uphill battle, and where smaller SUVs could become a substitute. And the Tiguan is perfectly positioned for this…

- Drivability
- Frugal engines

- Small boot
- Can get pricey



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