Volkswagen's Tiguan crossover had been a smart idea since its launch in 2008, but its slightly smaller size and a pricing disadvantage kept it from the comparison lists of many motorists. But six years later in a field of at least eight competitors, the compact Tiguan is almost a value statement. It has some uniqueness and a level of refinement not found among all the competitors.
Tiguan (tiger-iguana) is among the older offerings in the group and due for a complete makeover soon (it had a mild redesign in 2012), but for 2014 VW sweetened the ride with a sportier looking R-Line model. And the killer Fender audio system can now be added to the more basic models and there is the new Car-Net connected vehicle services.
There are five models in front- or all-wheel drive, each with a 200-horsepower, turbocharged and direct-injection four-cylinder engine and six-speed transmissions, manual or automatic. Starting prices range from $24,170 to $39,700, including the $865 freight charge from Wolfsburg, Germany.
My R-Line front-drive tester started at $37,745 and was $37,990 with one $235 option for the four Monster Mats with a heavy-duty trunk liner and the nifty CarGo blocks, which are very handy to barricade grocery bags and boxes.
The R-Line treatment includes aerodynamic side skirts, roof spoiler, steering wheel paddle shifters, sport-tuned suspension and 19-inch "Mallory" wheels with lower-profile 255/40 all-season tires.
The six-speed Tiptronic may seem under-geared when some crossovers have moved on to more speeds. But a second overdrive gear drops engine revs at cruising speeds and stretches fuel economy. The EPA rates it 21 mpg city, 26 highway and 23 mpg combined, on premium fuel. I was getting 24.7 to 25.7 combined, according to the trip meter.
The top sellers in this segment (Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4) trounce Tiguan in mileage by several mpgs in both categories, on regular unleaded.
But Tiguan bites back in its drivability. Acceleration is brisk, the chassis is taut and the ride quality is forgiving over rough surfaces. Dive into a cornering maneuver and there is excellent control — for a crossover — with no front-tire push and squeal — within reasonable speed limits. But its turning circle is wide at 39 feet.
The functionally perky exterior creates an upright cabin orientation with open views over the hood and fenders. There is a simplistic arrangement to cabin controls and a modest-sized touchscreen with tabs left and right of the screen to access radio/media/phone and navigation/mute/setup. It's a quick read.
There is an electric parking brake, several places in the center console to place a phone and plug-in, but with an old-style iPhone cable. Large visors slide to better block sun and there is smart placement of window switches and door locks high on the door panel. Front seat-belt receivers are taller than most and provide an easy click and fit. The locking glove box has usable space.
An uncommon feature is a front passenger seatback that folds forward and flat. It creates a cargo slide-in length of 98 inches or enough to carry an 8-foot board — surf or lumber. Also nice is the height-adjustable passenger seat.
The back seat has good foot clearance on entry and exit and supportive seats, at the windows. There is a modest center tunnel hump and just a pillion of a center seat. But there is good use of available space, including seatback pockets, door storage, coat hooks, lights and a hefty, pull-down center armrest with can holders and a hard surface for homework or note taking. The seatbacks recline, which can stretch cargo space or enhance comfort.
The panorama sunroof, with a power sunshade, is an engaging daydream window.
The cargo area has an opening of 38 inches wide by 30 inches tall and 65 inches of length with the back seats folded. There are cleverly engineered features that have good fit and snap to their function. The pieces and panels are sturdy and well fitted.
Tiguan may be a little small and a little overthought as a German "car" that must do all things well, but its attention to detail makes it a little more "premium" than its mainstream competition.
2014 Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line
—Body style: compact, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive crossover
—Engine: 200-horsepower, turbocharged and direct-injection 2.0-liter 4-cylinder; 207 foot-pounds torque at 1,700 rpm
—Transmission: 6-speed auto with manual mode
—Fuel economy: 21/26 mpg city/highway; premium
—Fuel tank: 16.8 gallon
—Cargo space: 23.8-56.1 cubic feet
—Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.1/40.1/56.2 inches
—Rear head/leg/shoulder room: 39/35.8/55 inches
—Length/wheelbase: 174.5/102.5 inches
—Curb weight: 3,404 pounds
—Turning circle: 39 feet
—Standard equipment includes: keyless entry with push-button ignition, rearview camera, dual-zone climate control, leather-trimmed upholstery with heated front seats, 12-way power adjusted front seats, electric parking brake, panoramic power sunroof, navigation with touchscreen, Fender audio with satellite radio and iPod port, Bluetooth phone and audio connection, front-folding passenger seat, bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, fog lights, roof rails, power (heated) side mirrors, 4-wheel disc brakes
—Safety features include: Six air bags, stability and traction controls, brake disc drying, brake-force distribution, brake assist
—Base price: $37,745, including $865 freight charge; price as tested $37,990
—Options on test vehicle: Monster Mats (4) with heavy-duty trunk liner and CarGo blocks $235
—Where assembled: Wolfsburg, Germany
—Warranty: 3-years/36,000-miles bumper to bumper with roadside assistance; 5-years/60,000-miles powertrain; free scheduled maintenance for 2-years/24,000-miles
Mark Maynard is online at [email protected] Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage. To find out more about Mark Maynard and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.