2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: What Is It
Non-luxury automakers have been attempting to woo new buyers recently by adding premium models and features to stand out from the competition. Buick and Hyundai are two of the most notable automakers making plenty of headlines for luxurious, competitively priced new models, but Volkswagen has been flying under the radar with similar tactics for years. Take the Volkswagen Tiguan for example. When launched in 2009, it quickly stood out as one of the best-equipped models among non-luxury compact crossovers, but since then, most of the competition has caught up to the Tiguan with plenty of upscale and luxury features now readily available in this entry-level market. For 2012, Volkswagen fine tuned its little crossover to add improved fuel economy and an updated exterior styling to its already-impressive cabin experience. Fresh off its facelift and numerous upgrades, we recently drove the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan for this weeklong review which included a lengthy interstate road trip.
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in Wolfsburg, Germany, the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan is offered in four trim levels (S, LE, SE and SEL) with a starting MSRP of $22,840. Moving up from the base model, the front-wheel drive 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan SE with Sunroof and Navigation used for this review starts at $30,525, and with the optional all-weather floor mats and destination charge, we saw an as-tested price of $31,580. A few years ago, this kind of pricing (both base and optioned up) put the VW Tiguan at the top of the compact crossover class, but newer competitors, namely the 2013 Ford Escape, have come along to show this can still be a realistic price point in one of the hottest vehicle segments. Price point aside, Volkswagen does an excellent job of simplifying the packaging for the new 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan with limited options and packages helping to make it easier for new-car buyers to choose (and find) their perfect model.
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: What It's Up Against
There is definitely no shortage of vehicles crammed into the compact crossover segment, but the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan is aimed at some of the sportier models like the Ford Escape, MINI Countryman, Kia Sportage and Mazda CX-5. While there is plenty of growth opportunity for the Tiguan in this segment, annual sales are still only a fraction of what some of the competition puts out. The class-leading Escape sold a quarter of a million units last year compared to the Tiguan's 25,990 units. This number is a solid increase of 24.1 percent over 2010 sales figures, but it doesn't appear that the styling and fuel economy changes are helping much with 2012 sales up slightly by 4.3 percent through May.
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: Exterior
What's New for 2012:
- upgraded exterior styling to match new VW models
- new wheel option
- available bi-Xenon headlights
How It Looks:
In a similar challenge that VW faced in making the 2012 Beetle less cute, the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan received minor styling upgrades that managed to fit this crossover's design in with other VW products like the Golf, Jetta, Passat and Touareg. The biggest change to the new Volkswagen design language is the lack of the scalloped headlights and taillights as well as a more linear, multi-bar grille, and these new cues are all present on the 2012 VW Tiguan giving it an edgier look. The redesigned front fascia adds to the Tiguan's new, meaner look, and it also creates a more pointed front end that visually reduces the front overhang and should even improve the crossover's off-road worthiness with a much-improved approach angle of 28 degrees (compared to 18.6 degrees for the 2011 model). At the rear of the Tiguan, the taillights represent the only major change with the slightly restyled lights getting a more rectangular shape with L-shaped light accents to match other VW products. Our Tiguan SE test vehicle came in Night Blue Metallic which looked great on this small crossover as did the carryover 18-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels, but the SEL trim level adds a lot more with a new 19-inch wheel design and bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights.
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: Interior
What's New for 2012:
- new cloth interior for base Tiguan S
How It Looks and Feels:
Unlike newer VW products like the Passat and Jetta, the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan still has that upscale look and feel to it with soft-touch materials throughout the cabin and a great overall design. Our tester was the SE with Sunroof and Navigation - essentially a $1,890 option - which upgrades to VW's V-Tex leatherette material offering the look and feel of perforated leather without the added cost. There aren't too many tech features offered on the Tiguan, but we had no problem with the level of equipment we tested. The navigation system is easy to use (albeit on a small screen compared to its contemporaries) and the Bluetooth phone and audio streaming were easily paired. Despite its compact size, the VW Tiguan does a good job of offering enough space and comfort for five passengers, and the addition of a massive panoramic sunroof helped make the cabin feel even roomier and more luxurious. When there are no rear passengers, the outboard headrests fold down so as not to impede the driver's rearward visibility, and they also help make folding the seats down even easier to allow for maximum cargo volume. If we were to have any complaints about the interior, it would be that cargo space is on the small side (at 23.8 cubic feet) when the rear seats are in place, and up to 56.1 cubic feet when the seats are folded down - both figures are much smaller than rivals such as the Mazda CX-5. Aside from the features added on with SE trim level and Sunroof and Navigation option, our Sunroof and Navigation, our test vehicle also came with optional Monster Mats (rugged all-weather floor mats) as a $235 dealer accessory.
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
What's New for 2012:
- improved fuel economy
- updated transmission and engine mapping
How Does It Go:
VW sells the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan as "the only compact SUV with turbo standard," and this is thanks to the crossover's 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that is shared with sportier VW models like the GTI and GLI. This engine produces 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque which, combined with its relatively light 3,404-pound curb weight, makes the VW Tiguan enjoyable to drive. We would have loved to have tested the 2012 Tiguan's six-speed manual transmission, but since this gearbox is only offered on the stripped-down Tiguan S trim level, we had the chance to check out the retuned six-speed automatic that is standard on all other trim levels. Some of the transmission upgrades include the addition of a second overdrive gear to lower the engine revs while at cruising speeds, and the engine idle speed was also lowered by 600 rpm. In our front-wheel drive test model, these minor changes were good enough to improve the EPA fuel economy estimates up to 22 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and a rating of 19 mpg in combined driving - pretty decent improvements over the 2011 model which was rated at 20 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined.
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: How It Drives
Despite using the identical powertrain as the peppy VW GTI, the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan feels far less enthusiastic mostly a result of the updated automatic transmission. The changes made to the transmission are most noticeable during down shift maneuvers, but even off-the-line acceleration seems sluggish which is a shame since it only weighs about 300 pounds more than a GTI. Not that we'd expect that much performance from a compact crossover, but VW does a lot to tout the Tiguan's turbocharged engine. Still, those without GTI-like expectations should love everything else about the ride quality of the Volkswagen Tiguan. In our week with the Tiguan, we put about 600 miles on the odometer including a lengthy 400-mile trip, and this crossover handled itself great on just about any road surface you put in front of it. City driving was great and the Tiguan even felt confident in a handful of slightly twisty public roads, but VW's compact crossover truly shined on the interstate with a smooth, comfortable ride. We would have loved to test out the Haldex all-wheel drive system that comes on the Tiguan 4Motion models, but while this optional system can split torque up to 90 percent across the front axle and send a full 100 percent to the rear wheels in slippery conditions, we're sure it makes the Tiguan feel even slower adding 200 more pounds to the curb weight.
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: Is It Safe
Volkswagen has made quite a name for itself in recent years in regards to safety, and the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan is no exception bringing home a 2012 Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS); the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has yet to rate the Tiguan under its stricter 2011-and-up criteria. Standard safety features in all 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan models include six airbags, active front head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and Volkswagen's Intelligent Crash Response System. This latter system is a post-crash safety device that automatically turns on the hazard flashers, unlocks all of the doors and shuts off the fuel pump.
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: Final Thoughts
The changes made to the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan are a great way to carry this crossover on until a next-generation model hits the scene (we're guessing by 2015), but judging by the competition, the Tiguan was definitely ahead of its time when it launched in 2009. The compact crossover segment in which the VW Tiguan competes has been on fire lately with new entrants from just every major automaker, and this Volkswagen still manages to be one of the most fun to drive models in the segment thanks to its small size, peppy engine and great balance. Add in some of the luxury features like the massive panoramic sunroof or the soft-touch cabin accents, and the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan is worth the price premium that it commands.
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: Pros and Cons
- improved fuel economy
- luxurious interior includes a large panoramic roof
- improved styling adds a sportier appearance
- priced at the higher end of the compact CUV segment
- sluggish acceleration with upgraded transmission
- limited cargo space
Volkswagen provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross
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