The 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan is a refreshed model for this year. For 2012 the Tiguan has received a revised exterior and upgraded transmission bits that help it look more like the rest of its family and remain competitive in the pile of little SUVs. In a word, the little VW is adorable. The Tiguan wins the award for the car that I have driven that garnered the most approving looks from the women that it encountered. The Tiguan is easily likable, but like a lot of things little and adorable, it can do things that make you want to scold it and put it in a corner.
The Tiguan we sampled was the two wheel drive SE model with a sunroof and navigation. It comes with a sticker price of $30,525 plus $820 in destination charges. This makes it one of the more pricey entries into the compact SUV market. To give you an idea, these are just some of the models it competes against: Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Hyundai Tuscon, KIA Sportage, Toyota RAV4 and the Nissan Rogue. The factor that would get you sign for the VW is its refinement and perceived build quality. (Noticed I said perceived there; more on that later) The interior of the VW is finished with high quality materials. Everywhere you touch, you are met with something upscale. The dashboard is covered in a rubberized material that just feels good. The steering wheel is just the right diameter and all of the buttons pressed meet your fingers with just the right amount of resistance.
For my six foot frame, the seating position was more compact than ideal, but I would imaging that shorter drivers would find themselves quite comfortable. The oddest piece of the interior ergonomics was a large disparity between the height of the door arm rest compared to the height of the center console lid. Also, the drivers seat is unnaturally far away from the door. As I noted in the video, this may be due to striving for the highest crash rating possible, but it was surprising in something so small. Rear seat room is as good as can be expected given its compact exterior dimensions, and details like adjustable rear seats do a good job of using all of the space available.
The little VW also drives quite nicely. Much of the quality of its locomotion is thanks to the robust little 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder under the hood. The little engine provides such powerful and elastic motivation that it is clearly understandable why small naturally aspirated V6s are following to dodo to extinction. The updated six speed automatic transmission also does a nice job. As I also noted in the video, I found the normal drive setting to be a bit to quick to search for fuel economy, but in sport mode it is as good as an automatic box gets in this segment. The other list of things that are pluses are suspension tuning, steering feel, and braking. All fall into the range of very good for a compact SUV. The only competitor that could be considered more sporty is the RAV4 with its beast of a V6, but when it comes to ride quality, the Tiguan is years ahead.
All good then? That is what I was thinking until the end of my time with the Tiguan. You’ll notice that other than the seating issue the video review is full of positive feedback. Such is the reason it is important to spend more than just a day with a car. The EPA rates the two wheel drive Tiguan at 22 MPG in the city and 27 MPG on the highway. We finished our week with an on-board computer calculated average of 24.1 miles per gallon. I put a little over 45o miles on the Tiguan and at the end of my stint the VW needed some more fuel. This is when I discovered that the Tiguan “recommends” premium fuel. Why? Why would something that makes 200 horsepower and 206 ft/lbs of torque require premium gas? I understand that 100hp per liter is quite a bit of power for the size of the engine, and a few years ago I might have found it acceptable, but here is the problem. Hyundai makes the same size engine with 74/63 more horsepower/torque and it does it on regular fuel. I think I know what you may be thinking, they do it to ensure reliability.
I thought the same thing until the little ute decided to go into “limp” mode during a merge onto a busy highway and could only be motivated to gain speed very gradually. I did manage to make it to the next highway exit, shut down the engine and do some searching on my phone. On the dash, the “EPC” light was lit, and after a brief search I discovered that EPC stands for Electronic Powertrain Control. What was actually wrong with the car could have still been more than a dozen things. I rechecked the gas cap, checked the oil and restarted the car. On restart the light went away and everything seemed to be fine, then about an hour later it happened again. The Tiguan never left me stranded, but it did tarnish what would have been a very nice week.
I’m not saying that the Tiguan is unreliable or that the limp-home mode phenomenon was more than just a fluke, but perhaps there is at least a modicum of truth behind VW’s reputation for building engaging, desirable vehicles that just seem to have more than their share of reliability issues. The company seems to have turned a corner over the past few years, but it might be that all is not yet perfect on that front.
For more insights into our experience with the Tiguan, take a look at our video reviews:
In car navigation and electronics (infotainment):
Volkswagen provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas for this review.