2013 Volkswagen Tiguan SE 4Motion

Tiguan shows VW still struggling in U.S.

Ever since Volkswagen lost its way in the U.S. market, about the time it phased out the old Beetle, it has been struggling to regain its footing.

vw1Nowhere is that struggle more evident than its small sport-utility offering, the Tiguan. VW’s small ute was restyled and remade a year ago and certainly showed improvement. It feels lighter and more fun to drive. The steering is among the sportiest of all small utes. Plus it offers a 200-horse 2.0-liter, I4 with a turbo. That SHOULD make it rock.

But there were issues with the silver mid-line SE 4Motion that I tested.

Mainly its engine and 6-speed automatic DSG transmission with the clutchless manual Tiptronic system did not work smoothly. Certainly the engine has the ponies. Flatten the gas pedal and it’ll jump to highway speeds like a champ.

But most of us drive in that 30-45 mph range a lot as we trundle to and from work. In that bracket the transmission gets balky, especially from 35-40 mph. It feels as if it’s holding the engine back, the car hesitates and transmission noise increases. I found myself languishing as I pulled away from stoplights and getting frustrated as the ute bogged as I approached 40 mph on suburban 4-lane roads. Some shifts even felt a bit jerky at times.

Tiguan also requires premium fuel to boost that turbo, yet the ute gets modest gas mileage. I got just 22.1 mpg while the EPA rates this at 20 mpg city and 26 highway. Consider, for instance, its competitor, the Mazda CX-5 with its efficient SkyActiv engine that boasts 24 mpg city and 30 highway. I got 27.3 mpg in the Mazda. That’s a big difference.

Looking at Kelly Blue Book, the Tiguan is ranked in the lower half of small sport-utes for gas mileage and about the same in 5-year cost of operation. Buick’s new Encore is tops in gas mileage while the Honda CR-V leads cost efficiency. The Mazda CX-5 also is near the top in both categories.

The VW offers decent ride with a 102.5-inch wheelbase. On the highway it was a good handler and rider, but on city streets its ride could become choppy. Again, the Mazda has four additional inches of wheelbase to help smooth its ride.

Handling though is where the Tiguan takes charge. There is a sporty, responsive agile feel that few other small utes in the $30 grand and under range deliver. Tiguan had just slight lean in turns and was easy to park with its small turning radius.vw2

The 4Motion model includes full-time all-wheel-drive to give the ute better traction when the winter’s snows arrive. There’s also a hill-holding control that helps the VW stay put on inclines as you first start up, particularly helpful in manual transmission equipped models. The base 2.0T S model that lists at $22,995 comes with a manual.

Traction and stability control are standard on all Tiguans and four-wheel disc brakes help it stop quickly too.

Inside, Tiguan is comfortable with a dash that is simple and well laid out controls for easy operation.

The test ute featured a black textured dash with leather tilt-telescope steering wheel and black perforated leatherette seats. There’s a glossy gray trim by the screen mid dash and around the eight small air vents across the dash. A brushed metal-look trim edges the shifter, door releases and steering wheel trim.

I like the dash’s looks and how easy it is to find the correct buttons and dials to get the heat and radio to work. The two main dash gauges sandwich a digital trip computer readout and there are radio volume controls on the steering wheel hub.

As in the VW Passat I drove just a few weeks earlier, the steering wheel partially blocked my view of top edge of the dash gauges. This wasn’t as severe as in the Passat, but noticeable to me, a shorter driver. Thankfully the driver’s seat has a manual pump handle to raise and lower the seat height. And the seats themselves are well contoured, making the Tiguan comfy and giving it a sporty feel. The front seats also have three heating levels, a must in winter.

vw3As expected Tiguan’s rear seats split and fold down to boost cargo space. There’s 24 cubic feet of space under the hatch, about 10 cubic feet less than the Mazda and a bit behind some other competitors.

However there is ample storage between the front seats and I like the four storage bins that fold out of the ute’s roof for holding sunglasses and a couple iPods or other electronics. Yes, you can plug in your MP3 players and there’s a CD player and stereo with 8 speakers. It sounds pretty good too.

What the test vehicle lacked was a navigation system or automatic headlights. Both are standard on most vehicles in this price range. In fact, that Mazda CX-5 that started at the same price point had both, plus a rearview camera and blind-spot warning system. Here again, VW seems to be playing catch up.

Pricing? This model starts at $28,950 and with an $825 delivery fee this one settled at $29,775, so darned near $30 grand. That’s slightly below the average new vehicle price now, but pressing the envelope considering its shortage of features.

Oh wait, the Tiguan did have sliding sun visors, and you know I like those!

FAST Stats: 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan SE 4Motion

Hits: Agile small ute with simple dash and controls, well contoured heated front seats, fold down rear seats, good overhead and center console storage, plus sliding visors.

Misses: Acceleration lags seriously and shifts are not smooth, steering wheel a bit low so it blocks part of gauges, no automatic lights and no navigation system. Also drinks premium fuel.

Made in: Wolfsburg, Germany

Engine: 2.0-liter, I4 Turbo, 200 hp

Transmission: 6-speed automatic DSG w/Tiptronic

Weight: 3,591 lbs.

Wheelbase: 102.5 in.

Cargo: 24.0 cu.ft.

MPG: 20/26

Base Price: $28,950

Dealer’s Price: $27,793

Major Options: None.

Delivery: $825

Test vehicle: $29,775

Sources: VW, www.kbb.com and www.autos.yahoo.com

Photos: Courtesy of wardsauto.com, trucktrends.com, motortrend.com

P.S. … I post this in the car category because it’s  much more that than a little SUV!

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