Driving Impressions

By June 2, 2008

The Tiguan offers a pleasant and sporty driving experience, more so than most compact crossover SUVs.

Tiguan comes with front-wheel drive or 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. Volkswagen's 4Motion sends 90 percent of the power to the front wheels in normal driving conditions, but when conditions dictate it can send up to 100 percent of the power to the rear wheels. Generally, this system is made for on-road use in slippery conditions. It's an all-weather all-wheel-drive system with no low-range set of gears, though Volkswagen says the Tiguan has some modest off-road capability. 4Motion uses a Haldex coupling and a multiplate internal clutch.

The Tiguan's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine is one of the best on the market. Direct injection helps it churn out a lot of useable power for its size, while also delivering decent fuel economy. The 2.0 TSI makes 200 horsepower from 5100 to 6000 rpm and 207 pound-feet of torque from 1700 to 5000 rpm.

Car guys will like the fact that that engine comes mated to a six-speed manual transmission, but most will choose the six-speed automatic with a manual shiftgate. It's a good choice. Both give Tiguan a leg up on the competition, the manual because so few manuals are offered in this class and the automatic because it has six gears while many competitors are offering four- or five-speed automatics.

We drove both and found that the power was easier to tap with the manual, aided by the fact that the manual is only offered on the lighter front-wheel-drive S model. The manual is easy to shift, though not particularly sporty, with longish throws.

The automatic has a tendency to upshift quickly for better fuel economy, which means drivers have to get on the throttle pretty hard to coax the downshifts necessary for maximum power. This can be remedied by using the automatic's manual shiftgate, but most drivers will just let the transmission do the work. Steering wheel shift paddles are not provided.

Volkswagen says the Tiguan is capable of a 7.8-second 0-60 mph run with front-wheel drive and the automatic transmission; 4Motion all-wheel drive adds only 0.1 second to that time. Numbers weren't available for a front-drive Tiguan with the manual, but we would expect the time to be a half-second faster. Front-drive or all-wheel drive, automatic or manual, the Tiguan is a sprightly vehicle that will have no problem passing on two-lane roads or merging onto the freeway.

The 2.0 TSI is a fairly fuel-efficient engine, but fuel economy suffers a bit in the Tiguan due mostly to weight: An SEL 4Motion weighs more than 3600 pounds. EPA fuel economy numbers range from 19 mpg City and 26 mpg Highway for a front-drive model with a manual transmission to 18/25 mpg for a front-drive automatic to 18/24 mpg for Tiguan 4Motion automatic. That's pretty good for an SUV, but the 3.5-liter V6 in the Toyota RAV4 is rated at 19/26 mpg with all-wheel drive making the RAV4 both more powerful and more efficient than the Tiguan. Also, Volkswagen recommends premium fuel for the Tiguan.

Towing capacity for the Tiguan is just 2200 pounds, which is okay for the class, but you won't want to use it to tow your 20-foot boat. That's sufficient for a couple of snowmobiles or personal watercraft or ATVs or a lightweight boat or pop-up camper.

Handling is the other part of the Tiguan's sporty driving experience. We wouldn't categorize it as a performance SUV, but its car roots are obvious. The feeling behind the wheel is that of a raised car, and a fairly sporty one at that. The Tiguan leans in turns more than your average sedan, but the steering is communicative, though not overly quick, and the vehicle tracks nicely. We didn't get bored after a few miles in the twisties like we might in a RAV4 or CR-V. The brakes felt competent at all times.

Balance the handling with a comfortable ride and you can see why the Tiguan is a pleasant vehicle. We found that the