I had the Volkswagen Tiguan over the weekend, and it's difficult not to be impressed with German engineering. The big stuff -- like engine mating to transmissions, suspension tuning, and even seat choices -- you expect to be well done, but even the little details -- like where the various materials meet, how clean the wiring is underneath the dash, or how close the tolerances are between sheetmetal forms -- are also impressive. And this new compact SUV, called the Tiguan (half Touareg and half Iguana?), will do VW well in a market of dull contenders. Everyone is looking to raise their game with the prices of fuel climbing and where prognosticators are expecting future buyers looking for good choices to downsize.
Not so surprisingly, the best feature on this rig is the transmission (a common attribute with other VW and Audi vehicles). The six-speed is smart at predicting where and when you're looking to shift. You can't be too quick for it when downshifting, and the sport and normal modes offer two significantly different personalities. In a lot of ways, it almost feels like a DSG transmission in that the gears are so delicately controlled by the computer, shifts feel like a CVT that's trying to feel like a traditional geared trans.
Not sure that's what VW is going for, but I got 22 mpg over the course of our 278-mile jaunt to the beach and back, then back to the beach and back again the next day (daughter had a soccer tournament near Santa Barbara). From a styling point of view, the Tiguan is pretty much invisible, as it bears a strong resemblance to the Saturn Vue. I was impressed with the huge skylight roof that allows tons of sun in when the shade is open; however, one drawback is that when the shade is closed, it still lets in a good amount of sunlight. Certainly not something buyers in Phoenix or Lake Havasu will want to contend with, especially if they have park their littlest VW SUV in the sun.
My biggest criticism is the cost. Because of the value of the dollar, it's no secret that any company looking to import vehicles into the U.S. is having a rough time. Not sure the timing for VW could be worse, with a small SUV starting just under $30 for a base model and climbing from there. Our in-house models listed for over $37,000. For a compact SUV. That certainly makes this a premium-priced compact SUV, partnering it with the likes of the Land Rover LR2 and Lexus RX 350. Ouch. We've heard VW was originally hoping for 80,000 units sales in the U.S. but has since downsized that number several times. We're guessing it'll be happy with 30,000 sales at this point -- somewhere under 20,000 may be a better number shoot for. Still, there will be people who will find this a good fit for them, wanting all the responsive handling and power a German vehicle will offer and won't be too concerned about paying for their mpg-stretcher with a harsh up-front cost. It may take some time to retrain the buying public to pay a bit more for better fuel economy, but if more products come to market like the Tiguan, it might actually come sooner rather than later. It happened with diesels once before, so maybe we can do the same in a different segment. Regardless, we're hoping they keep the Tiguan around long enough to get a 2.0L turbodiesel manual AWD model for sale. That one might be worth the extra money.