2014 Volkswagen Tiguan (vw.com)
When Volkswagen released its year-end sales figures this month, it tried to put a happy face on some pretty abysmal news. While its clean diesel models now account for 23.5 percent of all VW sales — the best in company history — overall retail was down for each of its 13 models except for the Beetle convertible. VW's U.S. sales were down 6.9 percent overall last year while the rest of the market grew by 7.6 percent.
Chalk it up to European pricing, stiff competition and names that are downright odd; freaky-sounding models such as the Touareg SUV got clobbered last year.
The Tiguan, which shares the same linguistic affliction, was least affected. Sales of the midsize crossover were still down, but only by 5.4 percent in 2013, due to the popularity of the small SUV segment and a 2014 model refresh that added a subscription safety system and made the Tiguan available with VW's R-Line sport trim.
Driving the Tiguan R-Line one recent week, I played the usual guessing game with my 10-year-old, who has co-piloted everything from a Nissan Versa to a Ferrari 458 Italia. When I asked him to name its price, he hesitated before offering, "$40,000?"
He was close. The Tiguan starts at a reasonable $23,305, but the price quickly ratchets up as customers add options that upgrade the cloth seats and 16-inch wheels of the base model to add more substantial rims, navigation, a backup camera, heated seats, keyless entry, push-button start and other features that are increasingly standard on vehicles from other manufacturers. The R-Line, with its panoramic roof, premium audio, emergency telematics and sport styling, is the top-of-the-line Tig and has pricing to match: $36,880.
Named after a nonexistent animal _ a tiger combined with an iguana _ the Tiguan is in a pricing No Man's Land as a marginally exotic five-seater whose primary competition is American, Japanese and Korean and lower-priced for the same equipment. Lacking the cache of Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen needs to offer more than it does for the thousands extra it charges piecemeal.
If only it cost $10,000 less. Then VW might have a contender on its hands, since the overall driving experience of the Tiguan is quiet, comfortable, intuitive and versatile.
Like any crossover worth its name, the Tiguan can be had with an all-wheel drive option, but that, too, costs extra _ $1,955. Front-wheel drive is standard. Surprisingly for a German and, specifically, a Volkswagen, the Tiguan is not available as a more fuel-efficient and fun-to-drive diesel but with the same perky turbocharged, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine used in the GTI.
It's a terrific and punchy little engine that offers a lot of driving satisfaction, especially when paired with the six-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters. For an even sportier drive, there's also a sport mode that doesn't feel substantially more responsive when pressing pedal to metal, though it does make the engine scream a little louder with higher shift points.
Sprite and satisfying as the GTI engine is, it has a couple bugaboos for the price-conscious. It runs most efficiently on recommended premium fuel, but doing so yields fuel economy that is merely average: 23 mpg combined.
Despite its sporting R designation, the R-Line offers no engine enhancements — just a stiffer suspension working in concert with the trim's low-profile 19-inch alloy wheels and a leather-wrapped, squared-off steering wheel.
At least the ride quality is smooth, and the sound inside the cabin is pleasantly quiet — the better to hear the premium Fender audio streaming a Pandora playlist or an emergency alert through VW's new Car-Net telematics system. Free for six months, after which, like everything else on the Tiguan, it costs, the subscription service works similarly to GM's OnStar and offers automatic crash notification, roadside assistance, stolen vehicle location assistance and remote vehicle access, among other things.
Most of what makes the R-Line sporty is cosmetic, such as the leather seats, metallic finish door trim and aluminum sport pedals. It's unlikely the baby-sized spoiler extending from the slightly sloped roof over its rear liftgate produces any down force whatsoever, even if the Tiguan's driver was game to indulge its (largely empty) sporting premise. Weighing 3,400 pounds and offering a fire-trail-capable 6.9 inches of ground clearance, this small SUV just isn't that kind of car.
The Tiguan is, however, quite practical. Like a lot of people in the days following the new year, I've been juggling various home improvement projects, most of which have involved the usual hauling of giveaways to Goodwill and oversized replacement items.
With the rear seats in their upright position, the cargo hold was large enough to carry two ceiling fans (in boxes), even without scooting the rear seats forward 6 inches, as they're designed to do. Those seats collapse easily in a 40/20/40 configuration using pull tabs for the seatbacks and buttons that flip over the headrests so the seats fold flat. The Tiguan also has the option of a front passenger seat that folds all the way forward. And if that still doesn't provide enough interior space for all of one's toys, a towing hitch option can haul up to 2,200 pounds.
With its Tiguan, VW claims it's putting the sport in SUV. If only it would truly do so without nickel and diming customers for everything extra.