Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2012 Volkswagen Tiguan

The compact SUV segment is one of the fastest growing vehicle segments in Canada, with 2011 sales up by 7.1 per cent, according to Desrosiers Reports. Sales of luxury compact SUVs, though much lower overall, are growing at an even faster rate, up 31.1 per cent in 2011. This trend hasn’t gone unnoticed by vehicle manufacturers which continue to introduce new and revamped models such as the redesigned 2012 Honda CR-V, the all-new 2013 Mazda CX-5 and the completely redesigned 2013 Ford Escape. In the luxury segment, there’s plenty of action too with the recent redesign of the BMW X3, the new Mini Cooper Countryman, and the upcoming 2013 Acura RDX and 2013 Buick Encore.

The Volkswagen Tiguan, first introduced in mid-2008, is viewed as a “premium” compact SUV, fitting in somewhere between regular compact SUVs and luxury SUVs. Ranging in price between $27,875 and $38,375, the 2012 Tiguan is priced on the high side of normal in its class, and can go for as much as $42,575 for a top-of-the-line Highline model with all the options – just like this week’s test vehicle.

Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline. Click image to enlarge

Our Tiguan Highline included the optional Technology Package which includes a navigation system with touch-screen and 30-GB hard drive, a Dynaudio 300-watt digital audio system, rear park distance control, and Sirius satellite radio ($2,300); and the newly available Sport Package which includes 19-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, Bi-xenon headlights with LED DRL and AFS, flared wheel arches, and sport suspension ($1,900).

The total price of $42,575 (plus $1,580 Freight and PDI) puts the Tiguan Highline squarely into luxury SUV territory. For comparison, a 2012 Audi Q5 2.0 Premium is priced at $41,200; a 2012 Acura RDX with the Technology Package is $42,490; and a Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 4Matic is $43,800.
Hm..would you rather have a VW or an Audi for your $43,000?

It doesn’t help that the Tiguan hasn’t changed much since 2008. For 2012, changes are mostly cosmetic: a new front end to make it resemble the current line-up of Volkswagen cars and SUVs, revised tail lights and liftgate, and new style alloy wheels. As well, there are some trim upgrades to the three Tiguan trim levels, Trendline, Comfortline and Highline. For example, Comfortline models add standard Bluetooth hands-free phone system and leatherette upholstery, and the Highline receives new 18-inch alloy wheels and roof rails, and a new optional Sport Package that includes low-profile 19-inch all-season tires and alloys, sport suspension, flared wheel arches, and xenon head lights that swivel.

Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline. Click image to enlarge

Inside, the centre screen and rear-view camera that comes with the optional Technology Package ($2,300) now displays a graphic of the rear parking sensors that beep loudly as you approach objects behind the vehicle.

Perhaps the most useful change for 2012 is an improvement in fuel economy, thanks to a revised six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive Tiguans show an eight per cent improvement in average fuel economy (9.7/7.6 city/hwy vs 10.7/8.0 city/hwy L/100 km) while 4Motion (all-wheel drive) Tiguans demonstrate a nine per cent improvement (9.8/7.4 city/hwy vs 10.9/7.9 city/hwy). However, the Tiguan’s turbocharged engine still uses Premium gas.

While 4Motion (all-wheel drive) is optional on Tiguan Trendline and Comfortline models, it is standard on the Highline. Other standard Highline features are the six-speed automatic transmission with ‘Tiptronic’ manual shift mode, leather seat upholstery, 12-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth phone and iPod connectivity, panoramic sunroof, and 60/40 folding rear seatbacks with centre pass-through.

Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline. Click image to enlarge

The Tiguan’s 200-hp 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes maximum torque at just 1,700 rpm, so you can feel the power almost immediately – it’s surprisingly similar to VW’s torquey 1.9-litre TDI diesel engine. The Tiguan’s 2.0-litre turbo even sounds a bit like the diesel at low revs with a low rumbling sound that seems to fade away when the car reaches highway speeds. Cruising on the freeway at a steady 100 km/h in sixth gear, the engine turns over just 1,800 rpm.

The six-speed automatic transmission changes so smoothly that you won’t notice it until you need to accelerate quickly. The transmission is generally lazy, preferring to stay in a higher gear to save fuel, but a firm push on the accelerator produces a sudden drop down one or two gears unleashing the strong torque and horsepower of the turbocharged motor.

If you feel like picking up the pace, you can move the gear lever back into “S” mode (Sport mode), and the transmission will change automatically at higher revs, providing faster acceleration but worse gas mileage. We found Sport mode to be noisier and unnecessary in typical suburban/urban driving. You can also change gears manually by slapping the lever over to the right and pushing forwards to change up and pulling back to change down. It’s nice to have the option, even if you don’t use it very often.

Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline. Click image to enlarge

We found the Tiguan’s highway ride stable and comfortable over smooth pavement, but the optional sport suspension produces a hard ride when travelling over broken pavement and road cracks. With the Sport suspension, high-speed handling is flat and stable with a high level of grip from the 19-inch Continental ContiWinter Contact tires on our vehicle, but with its tall ground clearance and heavier curb weight, the Tiguan is no GTI. Steering weight is medium effort but response is not particularly sharp.

The Tiguan’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system is the fourth-generation Haldex system, which is also used in other VW and Audi vehicles. On dry pavement, one-hundred per cent of the power goes to the front wheels, but it can send all the power to the rear wheels if necessary. As well, if the 4Motion system senses that the road is icy when starting off, it allocates power evenly to the front and rear. Together with its winter tires, 200 mm (7.9 in.) ground clearance and higher frontal clearance, the Tiguan is well-equipped for winter driving.

Other winter-friendly features of the Tiguan include heated mirrors, heated windshield washer nozzles, windshield washer level sensor, heated front seats, variable intermittent rain-sensing front wipers, intermittent rear wiper/washer/defroster, keyless entry, outside temperature gauge, fog lights, and puddle lamps.
The driver sits up high and has good visibility. The optional rear parking sensors are very useful when backing into a parking space – a graphic of the rear bumper appears in the centre screen and flashing lines turn from yellow to red as you approach an obstacle, accompanied by warning tones.

Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
Test Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline volkswagen car test drives reviews
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline. Click image to enlarge

The Tiguan’s interior is attractive and well-finished with soft-touch plastic dash materials, titanium-coloured trim around the radio, and aluminum trim around the shift lever and door handles. The bright, white-on-black speedo and tach are easy to read, and using buttons on the steering wheel, the information display between the gauges can be scrolled between useful info such as average fuel economy, compass, telephone, bluetooth audio, servicing information, digital speedometer, outside temperature and odometer.

Sound from the optional 300-watt DynAudio sound system is full and rich with deep base tones and plenty of scope for loud tunes. Sirius satellite radio with its 100-plus channels is included in the Tiguan Comfortline and Highline (limited subscription).

The colour touch-screen in the centre dash can be used for navigation, audio functions, settings, and phone. It will also display climate functions operated by the manual controls below. The illuminated screen is easy to read except when the sun shines on it at certain angles, and operating it doesn’t require reading a manual first. But you won’t find the screen as touch-friendly as an iPhone.

Below it, the automatic climate control features driver and front passenger temperature adjustments but only a single fan speed. We did like the fact that it offers a choice of any or all vent openings rather than the preselected combinations found in most vehicle heaters.

Interior storage options are adequate but not generous: there’s a lidded slot in the centre stack with a 12-volt outlet and a larger open bin below it, plus four large door pockets and a glovebox, but the centre armrest/storage bin is small. Inside is an iPod connector, auxiliary port and 12-volt outlet.

The 12-way power driver’s seat in the Highline model will adjust to just about any body size. The seat cushion is height-adjustable at the front and rear, the power lumbar adjusts up and down and in and out, and the seatback is power recline-able. The front passenger seat has manual height, lumbar and reclining functions.

The rear seats provide adequate legroom and headroom for two adults, and each side can slide forwards or backwards to increase legroom or create more cargo room behind the seats. As well, a fold-down centre armrest reveals a pass-through between the rear seats.

The Tiguan’s power “panoramic sunroof” consists of front and rear glass panes; the front one slides back while the rear one is fixed. Inside, a power sliding fabric sunshade covers both sunroofs but it isn’t opaque and some light is always filtering through.

The Tiguan’s trunk is fully lined and the opening is large, but like most SUVs, the floor height is rather high and the cargo volume behind the rear seats of 674 litres is smaller than most of its competitors. Still, with the split rear seatbacks folded down, there’s a lot of room available, although the seatbacks don’t lie flat.

Competitors for the 2012 VW Tiguan Highline ($38,375) include the Toyota RAV4 Limited V6 4X4 ($37,300), Honda CR-V EX-L AWD ($33,090), Ford Escape Limited 4X4 ($34,049), Subaru Forester 2.5XT Limited AWD ($35,995), and Kia Sportage SX navi ($36,995) and Hyundai Tucson Limited Navi ($34,349).

The Tiguan’s 200-hp turbocharged engine still has more power than many of its competitors, but it’s interesting to note that the RAV4 V6 offers 69 more horsepower, the Kia Sportage 60 more horsepower, and the Subaru Forester XT 24 more. As well, the Tiguan has the smallest passenger cabin volume, and apart from the Sportage and Tucson, the smallest trunk volume.

An argument could be made that the Tiguan is overpriced for what it is, but like the Touareg and GTI, it has a certain appeal that transcends price. It’s something to do with the design, the perception of quality, and the driving experience – qualities that Volkswagens have and other vehicles do not.

Pricing: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Highline
  • Base price: $38,375
  • Options: $4,200 (Technology Package: RNS 510 Navigation system with touch-screen and 30-GB hard drive, Dynaudio 300-watt digital sound package, rear park distance control, Sirius satellite radio $2,300; Sport Package: 19-inch alloy wheels and all-season tires, Bi-xenon headlights with LED DRL and AFS, flared wheel arches, sport suspension $1,900)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,580
  • Price as tested: $44,255

    Specifications
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan

    Competitors
  • Buyer’s Guide: Buick Encore
  • Buyer’s Guide: Chevrolet Equinox
  • Buyer’s Guide: Ford Escape
  • Buyer’s Guide: Honda CR-V
  • Buyer’s Guide: Hyundai Tucson
  • Buyer’s Guide: Kia Sportage
  • Buyer’s Guide: Mazda CX-5
  • Buyer’s Guide: Nissan Rogue
  • Buyer’s Guide: Suzuki Grand Vitara
  • Buyer’s Guide: Toyota RAV4

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
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