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Volkswagen has had so many sales up and downs that from the outside it would appear to be a carmaker in need of a mood stabilizer. Sales can be booming for four years and then tank to near catastrophic levels so much so that VW has on more than one occasion considered leaving the North American market. Thankfully, however, Volkswagen isn’t French and has always persevered with 2012 sales booming. Clearly they are more committed to success here than ever what with a very expensive new manufacturing facility opened up in Chattanooga, Tennessee for the Passat.
There are rumors that the full-sized German sedan won't be the only VW model produced in Tennessee, however, and after having toured the facility we can guarantee you that there is certainly plenty of room. The model most often mentioned for future North American manufacture is the next generation Tiguan compact SUV which is currently assembled in Volkswagen’s world famous Wolfsburg, Germany factory.
Being that we are not Dionne Warwick and don’t have a network of psychic friends, it is impossible to say what the future holds for VW and its Tiguan. What we can tell you is that for the 2012 model year the Tiguan underwent a little nip and tuck to keep things fresh, and now features the stoic and Germanic front headlamp and grille design as well as slightly altered tail lamps. Bi-Xenon headlamps and LED tail lamps are now standard on top of the line SEL variants as well, but more important are the changes made to the six-speed automatic which now carries an EPA rating of 27mpg highway compared to 25mpg highway in 2011.
But considering the fierce competition among compact SUVs in this country, especially from the recently introduced and much less expensive 2012 Honda CR-V and 2012 Mazda CX-5, is the somewhat pricey 2012 VW Tiguan really worth your money? And is it really the family friendly GTI hot hatch alternative that Volkswagen would like us to believe it is? Read on and we’ll tell you everything we learned after living with this rather posh compact SUV from an occasionally bipolar automaker.
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Exterior and Interior
As we said earlier, we think VW’s corporate “face” looks good on the 2012 VW Tiguan just like it looks good on every other model in their lineup. It creates a visual symmetry along the German automaker’s offerings but doesn’t fall into BMW’s trap of creating a “sausage of varying lengths” with its recent redesigns for the 3, 5 and 7-Series sedans. VW models may all look related but they still maintain unique visual characteristics.
The interior of the 2012 VW Tiguan is served well by the optional panoramic sunroof that extends the length of the roof as it fills the dark, black cabin with gorgeous natural lighting. It makes the interior feel bigger than it really is which is helpful as it isn’t exactly the roomiest compact SUV out there. You do feel even in the front seat that you are just a little bit closer to the person in the passenger seat which, depending on who they are, can either be good or bad.
As the Tiguan was designed for European markets it is rather narrow, meaning rear seat passengers should only come in pairs. A third rear center passenger would spend any trip dreaming of smashing the panoramic moonroof and escaping - much as Katie Holmes no doubt dreams of one day escaping from the frighteningly ageless Tom Cruise. Seriously though, does Tom Cruise sleep in a hyperbaric chamber or is it just a really good night time moisturizing ritual? If only Katie could tell us.
Of course, we digress. Apart from the cramped rear quarters, the rest of the interior area is smartly designed. All controls are laid out logically and use of the in-dash navigation/touch screen audio system couldn’t be easier or more straightforward. Our test SE trim model came with VW’s “V-tex” faux leather seating and while it isn’t up to Audi standards, it is perfectly passable so that none of your friends will be the wiser. Cargo space, however, is not-so-great at 23.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats with that number growing to 56.1 cubic feet with the seats folded flat. VW’s own Jetta Sportwagen trumps that with 32.8 and 66.9 cubic feet respectively.
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Pricing, Features and Fuel Economy
Prices for the 2012 VW Tiguan start at just $22,840 but the MSRP can skyrocket rapidly as you ascend through the various trim and option levels. A fully loaded model comes in over $38,000, which is a lot of money for a compact SUV from a relatively mainstream manufacturer. But even though the Tiguan is in the middle of its life, sales for the 2012 model have been very strong usually outpacing how well it did in the U.S. market in years past.
Our test model was a very well equipped SE variant that came outfitted with a full length panoramic glass sunroof, navigation, Bluetooth, heated front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, front wheel drive, iPod connectivity and an excellent 8-speaker AM/FM/CD/Sirius touchscreen audio system - for $just 30,525. We honestly think that this trim level is the smartest choice for any buyer as it offers you all of the features you want/need without getting into the price range of truly premium offerings.
Over the course of the week we were less than judicious with the throttle thanks to the addictive torque and raspy growl of the Tiguan’s 2.0 liter 200 horsepower/207 lb. feet turbocharged 4-cylinder, yet we still averaged 25.8 miles per gallon. That is an excellent reading considering, again, how aggressively we drove this SUV and how powerful the engine feels under any circumstances. The Tiguan comes with a 16.8 gallon fuel tank and premium unleaded is recommended for maximum performance (but not required).
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As far as SUV’s that are nimble and fun to drive go, the 2012 VW Tiguan is one of the best - even among models like the CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester and GMC Acadia/Chevy Traverse. Quite honestly, we would recommend any of the aforementioned vehicles to a friend (and do keep in mind that the Sportage as well as the Forester are available optionally with intoxicating turbocharged engines similar to the Tiguan).
Unfortunately, worthy but dated models like the Toyota RAV4, Mitsubishi Outlander, Ford Escape and less refined Hyundai Tucson lack the required x-factor (we are not referring to the horrible TV show) to appeal to us. Then there are models like the Nissan Rogue and Jeep Liberty which have cheap-feeling interiors and transmissions that do scary aural imitations of noisy farm animals when you need more power from their anemic engines that are just best left avoided.
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Driving Impressions and Safety
Compact SUVs are usually purchased as transport for your family and possibly your children, so it’s nice to know that the 2012 VW Tiguan was named a “Top Safety Pick” by the IIHS. It’s not surprising, though, given the fact that this SUV feels like it has the structural rigidity of an indestructible World War II Panzer tank. This feeling of heft and weight also translates over to the driving experience.
For an SUV, the 2012 VW Tiguan has a very communicative steering rack which is quick to react thereby making it very easy to maneuver 3-point turns in tight alleys as we discovered quite quickly during a drive down the narrow streets of Balboa Island, California. This nimble nature also made parking a breeze and helped the driver always know how this SUV would react in any situation at any speed.
The crown jewel of the 2012 VW Tiguan, however, is the venerable and proven 2.0 liter turbocharged 200 horsepower/207 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder engine that is standard. When we drove the Tiguan previously we found the six-speed tiptronic auto box a bit of a lethargic letdown that clearly wasn’t getting the best out of this excellent powerplant. Thankfully, however, for 2012 VW made a number of mechanical revisions that transforms the way this compact SUV drives - and we definitely mean that in a good way.
Not only did the addition of a second overdrive gear in this traditional automatic improve fuel efficiency but a number of other detail enhancements also helped make the 2012 Tiguan feel much sportier to drive. It may lack the immediacy of VW’s world-beating double clutch automatics but now at least the transmission doesn’t feel like it’s neutering any chance of it being a more family-friendly GTI.
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Perhaps it’s just residual love of the Jetta and Passat that is causing this sales upswing for the 2012 Tiguan but we are happy to see that VW isn’t in another one of its depressed states, sitting at home crying while eating tub after tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Rather, VW has very aggressive sales goals set for the North American market with growth expected to surpass 300,000 units this year and 800,000 units shifted as (you read that right) the goal set by headquarters in Germany by 2018.
One way that VW is planning to tackle this sales growth - besides introducing more affordable models designed with our tastes in mind - is that there will soon be a surge in the number of dealerships in this country. Currently Volkswagen only has 588 dealers, as opposed to Nissan which has over 1,100 in the U.S.A. Prior to this, Volkswagen’s sales record stood at 600,000 units sold but that was back in its heyday in 1970.
The 2012 VW Tiguan is a nimble, fun to drive, fast, luxurious-feeling and seemingly well-built entry into the compact SUV class. But it isn’t going to get Volkswagen its desired sales growth in its current guise as it was rather obviously designed for European markets and we think really misses a beat by lacking a double clutch automatic with the 2.0 liter turbocharged engine as in the GTI and by not offering a TDI diesel variant.
VW does currently offer the Tiguan with its 2.0 liter TDI motor available in models like the Golf, Jetta, Jetta Sportswagen and Passat in most other markets so we wonder why they would overlook a way to really differentiate their compact SUV in the marketplace. Bottom line: we really enjoyed our time with the 2012 VW Tiguan and feel it definitely deserves a test drive by any compact SUV shopper, but small niggles keep it from standing out as best-in-class.
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What We Love About the 2012 VW Tiguan
The power and sporty noises made by the standard 2.0 liter turbocharged engine
The panoramic sunroof which really makes the cabin feel open and airy
The tight turning radius, nimble handling and communicative steering
What We Loathe About the 2012 VW Tiguan
The comparatively small cargo hold compared to the competition
Vehicle feels narrow in the cabin and lacks North American sized cupholders
Can get very, very pricey when you start piling on options
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