Volkswagen Tiguan isn’t practical, but it’s a fun drive


The 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan is perhaps one of the most impractical of compact crossover utility wagons sold in the United States. (Volkswagen)
Warren Brown
Columnist April 27, 2012

Had I actually paid for it, I would’ve been kicking myself while loading up the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan SE, or trying to load it up, for a trip to the Fairfax County Recycling Center.

It was a thing of marginal utility, perhaps one of the most impractical of compact crossover utility wagons sold in the United States.

Warren Brown is a columnist who writes about autos for The Washington Post. View Archive

Utility vehicle load floors, for example, should be flat. But that design cue apparently escaped notice of the people who developed the Tiguan SE. Lower the wagon’s rear center cushion (the “pass-through door” for skis and similar items). Drop the 60-40 split rear seats. Instead of a flat floor, you get a partial valley rising to the foothills of some undesirable mountain.

That’s bad enough. But the Tiguan’s designers also ask you to remove and store (someplace other than inside the wagon) a wide, rear cover panel before you load anything larger than a few bags of groceries in the cargo bay. Where’s the utility in that?

The wagon’s name should have been a warning. Tiguan (TII-gwan) is a combination of tiger and iguana. Can you imagine a tiger getting together with an iguana? Matches of that kind would put eHarmony.com and other mating services out of business.

But Volkswagen was not thinking of romance any more than it was considering utility when it first brought forth the Tiguan as a 2009 model. The company just wanted to get its zoom on.

It seemed a logical business strategy. The market for compact wagons was crowded with practical haulers of people and stuff, which is what most people want when they buy a wagon. You had your Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe and more. They were and remain high-quality, reasonably efficient movers of people and stuff.

But until recently, and certainly in 2009, they were universally boring.

Along came the Tiguan, a wagon determined to “give the people what they want” — fun and excitement in driving and handling in tandem with utility and practicality.

Volkswagen missed out on utility in this model. Most of the Tiguan’s rivals beat it in cargo capacity and ease of loading. But the company got fun and excitement right.

The truth is that the Tiguan, available with front-wheel drive and one of the best all-wheel drive systems in the business (the latter as the 4Motion), drives and handles better than almost everything in its class.

Credit here goes to the Tiguan’s standard 2-liter, turbocharged, inline four-cylinder engine (200 horsepower, 207 foot-pounds of torque). That torque, engine twisting power, consistently is delivered to the Tiguan’s drive wheels from the lowest to the highest speeds. There is no zoom and sputter. It’s more like zoo, zooo, zooooh, zoooohmm, with the last note lasting a deliciously long time.

It is hard not to fall in love with that, to want more of it every time you experience it. It is equally difficult to avoid being seduced by the Tiguan’s handling. It simply does not feel like a crossover utility vehicle, a wagon or anything in that genre. It feels like a sports car.

Credit here goes to Volkswagen’s suspension work. The company gave the Tiguan a suspension system that is truly independent at all four points. If, for example, the left rear wheel dips into a rut, the right rear wheel maintains its balance, instead of lifting and tilting to left as it might do with a solid beam or leaf-spring suspension in the rear. The drive feel is unruffled, confident.

I drove the SE 4Motion model for this column. It proved a loyal friend in the chilly rain and slop of an uncertain spring and reluctant winter. There was steady, reliable traction everywhere I wanted it on slippery roads.

What can I say? I want it all — utility and fun to drive. With the Tiguan, I get lots of one and not much of the other. That’s too bad, because I would love to love this wagon unconditionally. I can’t.

brownw@washpost.com

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