I enjoy difficult challenges. My day job involves using implantable medical devices to help paralyzed people walk and I race a 3-speed automatic-equipped 1982 BMW 633csi in the 24 Hours of LeMons. Now I find myself trying to write a review that someone might actually want to read, about a brownish grey front wheel drive crossover.
Luckily, if one has to write a review of a brownish grey front wheel drive crossover, the VW Tiguan equipped with the 2.0T engine is probably the best option.
Our Tiguan came in nearly the lowest spec available, featuring only a leather interior and automatic transmission for upgrades. Notably absent were the rear axle (i.e. all wheel drive) and navigation options within the touch-screen based infotainment system. Still, the interior feels a cut above its non-luxury competitors, a Volkswagen norm these days.
While the interior makes a great first impression, the driving dynamics do the opposite. Starting from a stop, the throttle tip-in is terrible. You get nothing for 1/3 of the pedal, then a huge, lurching surge forward. The net result leaves you looking like you fell asleep at the stop light, then floored it when you woke up. After a week with the car, I still hadn’t gotten used to it.
The root of this problem is VW’s incredible turbocharged 2.0L motor. How can an incredible motor be the root of a problem? Well, the 2.0T makes a hearty 207lb-ft of torque at just 1800 rpm, meaning you’ve got plenty of grunt available just above idle. My suspicion is that some combination of terrible electronic throttle control programming and a tiny bit of turbo lag combine to put the dampers on instant part-throttle response. When you break through that fog a second and a half later, you’re right in the power band. Chirping tires and spilled drinks ensue.
Off the line awkwardness aside, the 2.0T and six speed automatic do a great job of delivering power in the rev ranges where most of us spend our time. In the real world, the Tiguan will feel (and likely be) faster than any of its competitors in the crowded compact crossover market. Additionally, despite being down by about 30 hp, it actually feels peppier than my ’06 WRX wagon in day-to-day driving. Rest assured, a 2.5L boxer equipped WRX would stomp all over any 2.0T equipped VW, but you’ve gotta be in the angry zone of the tach to do so.
As long as we’re comparing the Tiguan to compact wagons (specifically my compact wagon), let’s talk about interior room. Most of us enthusiasts claim a wagon offers equivalent—or nearly equivalent—room to a crossover. In the picture below you can see four wheel-tire combos, a steering box plus shaft, two CV axles and the complete rear subframe from a BMW 6-series. The Tiguan carried all this and three adult males without issue. When it was time to throw new tires on those wheels, my WRX struggled to carry two wheels and two tires behind the seats. The point is, a well packaged compact crossover really does offer significantly more room than a compact wagon.
When they’re not folded down for hauling car parts, the Tiguan’s rear seats slide front-to-back and recline. The front passenger seat folds flat as well. This is a handy feature for transporting long items like surfboards or taking pictures of the rear seats for your review. Things are a mixed bag for the driver. While the seat is comfortable and well-bolstered, the seating and steering positions are much more upright than we’d prefer. The wheel doesn’t tilt low enough and you actuate the pedals more by stomping them into the floor than the firewall. It’s all very minivan-like, really.
That said, the Mazda5 taught us that not all minivans are unhoonable. We described the Mazda5 as having a great chassis in need of a few more ponies. The Tiguan might be the inverse. The power is there, but the suspension feels—please forgive me for this—boingy. While not uncomfortable or jarring, certain bumps seem to be amplified. The effect is worse while cornering. I have a theory involving progressive rate springs and poorly matched dampers, but the real root of the problem is that lifting a car chassis by eight inches doesn’t improve the handling.
And that’s where we come back to wagons. Tragically, VW’s chosen to offer the enthusiast-centric Jetta Sportwagen with the cool-but-not-fast TDI or the soulless 2.5L five cylinder. Meanwhile, they offer the mainstream Tiguan with the 2.0T as the only available engine. We suspect the typical Tiguan buyers’ daughters would be just fine with the 2.5L, while a Sportwagen with the 2.0T and a manual or DSG gearbox could easily take a slice out of Subaru and/or Vovlo’s pie.
So where does that leave us? Is the Tiguan a disappointment? Yes, but only because it’s not a wagon and it stole the good motor. The flipside is, it’s a dang good sporty option in a field of lame commuter appliances. Chances are, someone you know is shopping for a compact crossover
for their wife or daughter. If you’re going to spend any time behind the wheel, you might want to point them towards the Tiguan.