Unlike other VW vehicles, the Tiguan is not named after a type of wind or a nomadic tribe. Instead, the name Tiguan is a composite of Tiger and Iguana, and it was chosen as the winning entry in a naming contest. The Tiguan looks nothing like a tiger or an iguana. We're not sure what a cross between a tiger and an iguana would look like, though we're pretty sure it would not be an attractive creature. Nevertheless, the Tiguan is a good-looking vehicle.
Built on a platform that combines elements of the Jetta/Rabbit and Passat, the Tiguan is shorter than the Jetta by almost five inches and shorter than the Passat by 13.6 inches, though it is almost 10 inches longer than the Rabbit. The Tiguan's 102.4-inch wheelbase is 0.9 inch longer than that of the Jetta/Rabbit and 4.3 inches shorter than that of the Passat. All this adds up to fairly efficient compact SUV packaging, though as we'll see, the Tiguan doesn't have the cargo room of most vehicles in its class.
Up front, the Tiguan features another take on Volkswagen's corporate face, with a trapezoidal grille whose shape is reflected in a lower air intake. Fog lights flank the intake on SE and SEL models. The look is reminiscent of the Jetta and Passat, just raised a bit higher off the ground.
The shape of the grille flows into the hood and those lines flow directly into the A-pillars. Along the sides, the Tiguan has black plastic wheel arches and rocker panels, as well as flared and squared off wheel cutouts with a character line connecting the two. Chrome trim around the side windows on SE and SEL models adds a look of quality. Compared to the visually aggressive concept vehicle that was shown at the 2006 Los Angeles Auto Show, the production model has much smaller wheels, ranging in size from 16 to 18 inches from the factory (though 19-inch wheels can be purchased as accessories at the dealership). The effect is a less imposing vehicle than the concept, but an attractive one nonetheless. (This is often the case with concept cars.)
The Tiguan's best angle may be from the rear. On the road, it looks like a beefed up GTI, and that's not a bad thing. The taillights are split between the rear fenders and rear hatch, and the VW logo is featured prominently at in the center of the hatch. Unlike the GTI/Rabbit, however, the VW logo does not act as the handle for opening the hatch. Instead, that is located lower in the license plate frame. Unfortunately, the Tiguan does not have separate opening hatch glass to ease loading groceries.
The large panoramic sunroof has a 13 square foot opening (about three times the size of an average sunroof), and includes a power retractable shade to let the air in but keep the sun out.
Like other Volkswagens, the Tiguan exists somewhere between standard line and luxury. That is most evident inside, where the Tiguan has more soft-touch solid materials than most compact SUV competitors. The dash is padded, and the remainder of the materials are solid and well assembled. The only competitors with comparable interior materials come from Acura and BMW, and they cost quite a bit more.
Once inside, the driver is presented with a hooded instrument panel that features a large speedometer and an equally large tachometer flanking small fuel and water temperature gauges, as well as a digital vehicle information center readout. The instrument panel is black, as are the gauges, which are set off by silver raised surrounds, white numbers, and red needles. The gauges are always easy to read and are quite attractive.
The center stack features the radio set high. It is flanked by four air vents, two on each side. The radio and vents are surrounded by silver plastic material that looks so nice that we had to touch it to be sure it wasn't metal.
The optional navigation system takes the place of the radio and it incorporates the radio controls. It's an attractive unit and it comes standard with a 30-gigabyte hard drive, 20 gigs of which are devoted to music storage. Music can be loaded via an SD card slot, a USB interface or straight from CDs. The navigation system also has a 6.5-inch touch screen, and DVDs can be played on the screen when the transmission is in Park.
Three easy-to-use climate control knobs are located below the radio. Below that is a small cubby. A larger, very useful cubby sits at the juncture of the center stack and center console. A shallow open tray is found at the top of the dash. There are two cup holders behind the shifter. And the center console has a useful storage bin. All this adds up to fine small items storage, but we are annoyed that the available six-disc CD changer is located in the center console bin, eating up most of its space. We'd prefer an in-dash changer.
It's easy to get in the Tiguan, and the driver also has plenty of room. Head room is impressive and the seat moves back far enough to allow big guys to fit. While the seats don't have very many controls, the tilt/telescoping steering wheel and general seat geometry allow for a natural driving position. In about six hours of driving we found the seats to be comfortable, and we felt just as fresh when we got out as we did when we got in. Visibility is good to all corners, but the side mirrors are somewhat short, making the blind spots a little bigger than we'd like.
Road, engine and wind noise are well muted, adding to the Tiguan's pleasant demeanor.
The rear seats can move forward and aft up to six inches, which allows owners to optimize the Tiguan for either rear cargo room or rear passenger comfort. Fully back, the rear seats have good leg room even with taller drivers up front. Move them up to increase carrying capacity and that room disappears unless the front passengers are short. Comfort in the rear is pretty good, and it's aided by a fold-down center armrest with two built-in cup holders. The seats also recline, but not very far. Like the front, getting in and out is a breeze.
Cargo space adds to the utility of the Tiguan though it's below the class average. The second-row seats fold flat to open up 56.1 cubic feet of cargo room. That beats the Saturn Vue's 54.3 cubic feet, but is less than just about everything else in the class. For example, it is considerably less than the Honda CR-V's 72.9 cubic feet of space. While the Tiguan loses to its competitors in this area, it has a low liftover height, making it easy to load and unload cargo into the rear. Also, the front passenger seat folds flat to allow loading long items, such as a small ladder. In short, the Tiguan is far more practical than a sedan.