VW's first small 4x4 is off to a good start, but the best versions are probably yet to come

What is it?

This is VW’s first compact 4x4, its first proper rival for the Toyota RAV4. Interestingly, the Volkswagen Tiguan is not the first Golf-based off-roader; that distinction goes to the short-lived VW Golf Country, produced at Steyr-Daimler-Puch in Austria during the early 1990s.

The Tiguan is, however, Volkswagen’s most determined attempt at muscling in on the rapidly expanding mid-size four-wheel drive market, following on from the success of the larger and more luxurious Touareg – a car VW is keen for the new Tiguan to be associated with, despite the two boasting wildly differing mechanical layouts and price tags.

Styled under the company’s former design boss Murat Gunak, the Tiguan is unmistakably a Volkswagen, flaunting a look that combines various styling elements from the Golf and Passat in a practical if rather undistinguished five door steel body that is claimed to boast class-leading levels of rigidity.

At 4427mm in length, 1809mm in width and 1683mm in height, the Tiguan enters a market dominated by the Honda CRV, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson. In a move Volkswagen hopes will see its four-wheel drive newcomer garner wider sales appeal, it offers the choice between two different front end styling treatments that aim to cater to differing buyers, depending on their driving habits.

In standard trim, the Tiguan sports a deep front bumper that provides a limited 18-degree approach angle clearly biased towards on-road driving. There’s also a so-called Escape trim that adds a higher front bumper offering a generous-by-class-standards 28-degree approach angle, along with a kick plate to safeguard the sump, hill descent control and a compass, to boost its off-road prowess.

When it arrives here in February, there will be a choice of two engines: a 150bhp version of Volkswagen’s supercharged and turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder direct injection petrol unit, and a brand new 138bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel - the latter set to replace the German car maker’s old pumpe duse engine right across the Volkswagen line-up.

UK prices have yet to be confirmed, but we'd expect this model to weigh in at a price level just above that of its Japanese competition, which would make for a starting price of around £21,000.

What’s it like?

It’s the diesel that we’re testing here; the new engine’s 236lb ft of torque combines well with the Tiguan’s standard six-speed manual gearbox. There’s a six-speed auto ‘box as an option, but oddly, no twin clutch DSG system until later in the model’s life, and only then with the larger-engined variants.

Performance is nothing to write home about, but it’s nevertheless up to class standards, Volkswagen claiming 0-62mph in 10.5sec and a top speed of 115mph. The class leading Honda CR-V 2.2 CTDI, by comparison, hits the same mark in 10.3sec and tops out at 116mph. Fuel consumption is put at 39.2mpg, providing a range of over 500 miles on the 64-litre tank.

But the Tiguan’s greatest asset is its handling. In fact, there’s very little separating it from a Golf in terms of overall dynamic competence. The electro-mechanical steering, a new in-house developed system geared at 2.7 turns lock-to-lock, offers a light but direct feel. Well chosen damping results in a comfortable ride in a wide range of terrain and excellent body control on winding roads given its moderately tall build.

Back to top

In typical Volkswagen fashion, the Tiguan’s dynamic limits are telegraphed well and, with its multi-plate clutch based 4Motion four-wheel drive system apportioning drive to front and rear axles, traction is never in doubt. It nominally directs 90 per cent of the drive to the front wheels, with the remaining 10 per cent going to the rear. However, it can reverse this distribution – or provide any manner of split in between – depending on the road conditions.

On the Escape version there’s a optional off-road package that alters the calibration of the standard ABS and ESP systems at the press of a button to extend the Tiguan’s ability in the rough stuff, while adding a handy hill holder function as well. An earlier test drive of the new Volkswagen in the wilds of Namibia proved that it copes remarkably well away from the bitumen. It’s not in the Land Rover Freelander league for off-road prowess, but we’ll be surprised if it doesn’t manage to hold its own against the rest of the mid-sized four-wheel drive competition.

Inside, the Tiguan’s high-mounted dashboard has a familiar look, being lifted from the Golf Plus with only minor changes. Soft textured plastics and additional chrome highlights on the upper section provide it with a sufficiently upmarket feel, but the bottom section and centre console are endowed with rather hard surfaced plastic that smacks of cost-cutting.

An elevated seating position with a generous amount of height adjustment provides good visibility up front, while the rear bench adjusts 160mm fore-and-aft to extend the luggage space from a nominal 470-litres (120-litres more than the Golf) through to 505-litres. It’s accessing that space, though, which proves diffictult. At 771mm, the loading lip is uncharacteristically high.

Should I buy one?

Standard equipment levels are high, with central locking, air conditioning, a CD/radio and electronically controlled handbrake all likely to find their way onto UK versions of the Tiguan. And if you’re in the market for a new compact 4x4 and you like the cut of this new VW’s jib, there are very few cautions to note. It handles and steers very tidily, it’s refined, it’s roomy inside, and it’s even pretty capable offroad; a smattering of flimsy dash plastics and a high loading lip are hardly reasons to run it down.

Back to top

All the same, though, you might want to wait until the more powerful engines arrive before taking a test drive in Wolfsburg’s first true compact off-roader. The launch engines are competent enough in their own right but they lack sparkle; the real stars of the range, we feel, are still to come.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
buddbudd 12 February 2008

Re: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI

Just had a test drive in the 2.0 diesel sport version. I am well impressed with the ride and pull of the engine. Noise levels were superb and cannot see where comments are coming from with regard to noise levels.

Currently drive a 2005 Jeep Cherokee with a 2.8 litre diesel auto - if you want noise go for one. Bearing in mind it is a Daimler Benz unit with common rail injection and turbo charghed then i would say the VW unit is far better.

Will place an order for the new VDub later this week. Try one and see