2012 Volkswagen Tiguan SE 4Motion

Volkswagen Tiguan: Putting the Sport into Sport-Ute

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed driving Volkswagen’s restyled Tiguan, a small sport utility with the emphasis on sport.

The silver test ute was the mid-level SE with 4Motion, a giant sunroof and a navigation system, so it started at a very un-small price tag of $32,480.

Thing is, for that price I can find a lot of fairly sporty utes that don’t require premium fuel, get better gas mileage and frankly have better acceleration than this I4 turbo unit, at least during normal driving situations.

Here’s the deal. The German Tiguan is probably the best handling small ute out today, besides higher-end beauties like the BMW X3. Steering is moderately heavy, but extremely precise. You won’t find wheel play here, just stout turning ability and the ute feels well planted as it zips around corners and through sweeping turns. It’s a blast on the highway.

Traction is aided by the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, so this feels like it’s on rails. I didn’t see a drop of rain while driving the Tiguan, so couldn’t test it in the wet, but past experience tells me the 4Motion, along with traction and stability control will do a fine job.

And YES, there is that jazzy 2.0-liter I4 with a turbocharger on it to crank up the acceleration when needed. Tromp the pedal hard and BOOM, it kicks you in the seat of the pants.  The engine makes 200 horsepower with a 207 torque rating. But, and I know VW aficionados will not like to hear this, the shifting and gearing from this six-speed automatic makes the normal acceleration between 20 and 30 mph and again 30 to 40 mph seem anemic.

Press the gas pedal to get the Tiguan up to 40 mph and there’s a lull at about 25, then it perks up a bit then flattens out after 30 almost all the way to 40. It almost feels like there’s a notch in the gas pedal that won’t let you press it too hard to get power. Yet you CAN press it much harder and then the turbo kicks in and the ute rockets forward. This makes for an awkward city driving experience at times.

Tiguan feels substantial too and in fact at 3,591 lbs. weighs about 65 lbs. more than last week’s V6-powered Mustang. By way of comparison with another ute, the VW is about 200 lbs. lighter than a GMC Terrain I drove recently, but then the Terrain was larger and had a 264-horse V6.

Ride in Tiguan is well controlled, but sporty. There’s an independent front suspension with MacPherson struts and a multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bar. Most of the time it feels just fine, but our cement streets with their widening expansion joints can deliver pretty stiff jolts from time to time.

Braking is great with vented discs up front and solid discs in back. Stopping is sure and steady.

Here’s the other performance aspect though. For a smaller ute, the gas mileage seems average at best. The Tiguan is rated 21 mpg city and 27 highway. I managed 24.4 mpg on nearly a 100% highway drive and 23.3 mpg in about 60-70% highway driving. In the larger, heavier, horsier Terrain I got 22.3 mpg in 75% highway driving and 25.3 mpg in all highway driving, much on the same roads as I tested the Tiguan for its long highway stretch. The bigger problem, to me is that this prefers premium fuel. The V6-powered GMC took regular. Just sayin’!

Inside, the Tiguan is pleasant with soft black textured dash and doors and the SE features black leather seats that are extremely well formed with good back and hip bolsters. There’s a pump handle to raise the seat and manual for and aft controls, while the seat back is powered. The lumbar is a manual lever.

Most German vehicles are not real creative inside, preferring a fairly plain all black look with some chromed trim. This is no different. Trim around the 8 small air vents and on the center stack is a gray plastic. There is a matte chrome finish on the steering wheel’s bottom spoke, on the door releases and around the shifter. However, on sunny days that was crazy reflective.

The dash though is attractive and I loved how easy it was to position the tiny air vents. There’s a touchscreen mid-dash for the radio and navigation system. The actual knobs for volume and tuning are moderate sized and the three climate control knobs slightly larger. Those also include three-speed heat controls for the front seats.

Behind the tilt/telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel are simple white on black gauges and I like the large open bin below the center stack, convenient for cell phones and notebooks. VW offers two cupholders between the seats and a small coin box.

Overhead the visors slide and there is a monster panoramic sunroof extending over both sets of seats. That could be great when on a trip to the mountains or through a forest. However, VW just uses a dense mesh covering inside instead of a solid shade.So at times the sun gets pretty bright above you and can reflect on interior trim. The cockpit also seems to warm up quickly, so I found myself cranking up the air conditioning to higher settings than I normally would use.

Four adults fit comfortably in the Tiguan as rear set room is fairly generous. However, the cargo area pays the price. We put two suitcases in back and probably could have stacked two more modest sized ones. So if you’re carrying four adults and luggage you may want to pack light. The rear seat will split and fold down to extend storage if there are no more than three folks aboard.

Pricing? Well, the base S with a manual transmission and two-wheel drive begins at $22,840 while the S with 4Motion lists at $26,295. Going top shelf with the SEL Premium with navigation pushes the starting price to $34,995.

The test ute added only a trailer hitch for $500 and delivery fee at $820 to hit $33,800. That seems to be pushing the small ute envelope to me.

Fast Stats: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan SE 4Motion w/sunroof & navigation

Made in: Wolfsburg, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter I4 Turbo, 200 hp

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Weight: 3,591 lbs.

Wheelbase: 102.5 in.

Cargo: 23.8 cu.ft. (56.1 cu.ft. rear seat down)

MPG: 21/27

Base Price: $32,480

Dealer’s Price: $30,352

Major Options:

Trailer hitch, $500

Delivery: $820

Test vehicle: $33,800

Sources: VW, www.autos.yahoo.com

Hits: Sporty handling, fast at times, comfy interior, good looking dash with 8 small aiar ducts that rotate, tilt/telescope steering wheel, 3-speed heated seats, visors that slide, open bin below center stack and giant sunroof.

Misses: Shift points are awkward and sporadic with major flat spots between 20-30 mph and 30-40 mph so that acceleration feels flat, until turbo kicks in. Mesh covering giant sunroof lets in too much light and interior is warm. Black interior shows little creativity and this little ute drinks premium fuel.

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