Versus the competiton:
Forward-thinking features and a 2009-era premium interior help the 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan survive, but its high price is hard to justify now that competitors have caught and surpassed it.
This model year sees the discontinuation of the Tiguan’s base manual transmission and the addition of a backup camera and touch-screen radio as standard equipment. See the 2015 and 2014 models compared side-by-side here.
As we’ll examine below, the Tiguan is arguably a compact SUV, though it’s always been a bit smaller than most. It’s roomier than most subcompact SUVs, a class that’s presently doubling in size, but with a starting price of $27,120 the Tiguan undeniably rivals larger models like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Kia Sportage — all of which cost thousands of dollars less, regardless. See them compared here.
The Tiguan comes in S, SE, SEL and R-Line trim levels, each available with front- or all-wheel drive. Over the past year we’ve driven all but the SEL version.
As “cute-utes” go, the Volkswagen Tiguan manages not to look terribly cutesy — or outdated, though it’s not as edgy as some more progressive designs in this class. The most interesting version is the top, R-Line, trim level, which adds body-colored rocker panels, LED daytime running lights, xenon headlights, 19-inch alloy wheels and a specialized spoiler atop the liftgate. The wheel arches also have protruding lips, not unlike most Real Housewives.
At 174.5 inches from bumper to bumper, the Tiguan is almost the same length as the Sportage but a few inches shorter than the Escape and CR-V. Subcompact SUVs, old and new, are all below 170 inches in length.
Just to blow your mind, here’s another comparison — to a conventional wagon: The new 2015 Volkswagen Golf SportWagen is 179.6 inches long yet turns a tighter circle: 35.8 feet. The Tiguan needs 39 feet, which matches the Escape but is outdone by the Sportage (34.8 feet) and CR-V (37.4 feet). Yes, the SportWagen has that station-wagon look many people deride, but if you aren’t an image weenie, you’ll find it does very nicely in various comparisons.
As always, the Volkswagen Tiguan remains fun to drive. Its steering is more precise and its overall handling more sporty than most in this class. What’s good is that you get this performance starting with the base trim level. In fact, we preferred the S and SE equipped with 18-inch wheels to the R-Line with sport suspension tuning and 19-inch wheels. Technically the R-Line handled a bit better, but it came with a harsher ride quality we’d rather live without. The regular suspension does an admirable job of providing comfort and sportiness.
Equipped only with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and six-speed automatic transmission, the VW Tiguan boasts more horsepower and torque than the three competitors listed above, and its weight is in the middle of the pack. The result is reliable acceleration and impressive passing power. There’s a little turbo lag when you take off from a standing start, but the engine easily spins the drive wheels once you get going, so it isn’t a bad thing for the power to be harnessed a bit off the line.
The six-speed automatic behaves very nicely, without undue hesitation or hunting. The Sport mode is well-executed, holding on to low gears higher up the rev range and providing more responsiveness — which is not to say that the regular Drive mode is overly reluctant, as some transmissions are in the quest for efficiency. If you prefer to shift for yourself, now that the true manual is gone your only choices are to use the manual mode via the gear selector or, in the R-Line, use the shift paddles on the steering wheel.
The Volkswagen Tiguan’s generous power and willing transmission tuning have a downside: The Tiguan’s EPA-estimated gas mileage is 21/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive sacrifices 1 mpg in the city. Most competitors perform better: The CR-V leads the class with 29 mpg combined with front-wheel and 28 mpg with all-wheel drive. The Escape gets 25 mpg combined with both front- and all-wheel drive in its most affordable versions (two added-cost Escape engines are more or less efficient, depending on driveline). The most affordable front-drive Sportage edges out the Tiguan with 24 mpg combined but falls behind to 22 mpg with all-wheel drive.
But here’s the worst part: The Tiguan prefers premium gasoline. Apart from some (but not all) luxury models, regular gas is the norm. If you go with the comparably efficient Sportage, which takes regular, you’ll pay a few hundred dollars less annually for gas, according to the EPA.
If you’re done playing rookie ball, consider the SportWagen’s 29 mpg combined with a manual or automatic transmission. That’s on regular gasoline. Fancy a diesel? The TDI version is rated 35 mpg combined with either transmission.
If there’s a downside, it’s that the SportWagen doesn’t offer all-wheel drive like the SUVs.
Even when the Volkswagen Tiguan launched in 2009, the competing models were roomier; now the current Escape, CR-V and Sportage have between 3 and 9 cubic feet more passenger volume than the VW’s 95 cubic feet. But the Tiguan has made the most of its space, thanks in part to some forward-thinking features.
Volkswagen was way ahead of the curve in providing adjustable-height seats and tilt/telescoping steering wheels, even in base models, and the Tiguan is no exception. We also always appreciate Volkswagen’s adjustable-height center armrests. Though it has slightly less front headroom than some competitors, our taller drivers had no problem getting situated. Our only complaint was the rotary-knob reclining adjustment on the base manual seats — too hard to reach and operate.
The backseat is even more impressive. Headroom is more generous, and though the legroom specification looks average, it clearly doesn’t represent the impact of what was one of the earliest fore/aft sliding rear seats on the market: The 40/20/40-split backseat can be moved forward and back, appropriating space either to passengers or cargo, wherever it’s needed most. The backseat’s center section (that’s the 20 part) folds down to provide a rather hard armrest and two cupholders — and doubles as a pass-through from the cargo area for transporting long items.
The VolkswagenTiguan was an early purveyor, yet again, of a panoramic moonroof, which is standard on the SEL and R-Line trim levels and part of a $3,010 Appearance Package on the SE, along with features like fog lights, 18-inch wheels, roof rails and keyless access with push-button start (some of which are questionable inclusions in an appearance package, on account of being invisible, but I don’t name these things). Anyway, the moonroof makes the backseat seem even roomier. The motorized sunshade, however, doesn’t shade enough sun.
If the Tiguan’s interior doesn’t look like it has completely fossilized, it’s because for many years VW was known for having premium interiors that were steps above competitors. That’s changed, partly because the Tiguan’s competitors have picked up their game. Considering how strong the Tiguan was initially, its materials mostly still pass muster, but its age does show in the rickety feel of the ventilation system’s knobs, as well as the simplicity of its gauges and, especially, the low-resolution display between them.
The base model’s seats have modest but decent cloth upholstery, and the SE and SEL have imitation leather, which VW calls V-Tex. For what it’s worth, the stuff easily passes for real leather among casual observers. Real leather comes on the R-Line trim as standard equipment.
For those keeping score, the Golf SportWagen’s cabin volume trails the Tiguan’s by just 0.7 cubic foot, and its seating dimensions are damn close. Its front legroom is greater by 1.1 inches, and its front and rear headroom are roughly half an inch less than the Tiguan’s. Its shoulder room is narrower by 0.3 inch in front and 1.1 inches in the backseat.
The Volkswagen Tiguan’s ergonomics are quite good; the buttons and controls are exceptionally simple and well-laid-out, and few features are integrated needlessly into the touch-screen. In fairness, though, simplicity like this is easier to achieve in a model with such a modest feature list.
For mobile device connectivity, set the WABAC Machine a few years, because in lieu of a USB port, there’s only an iPod — er, iPhone — cable, and a wide, 20-pin one at that. Thankfully there’s an analog aux input and standard Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free telephone support.
A touch-screen radio becomes standard this year on S and SE trim levels, with a 6.5-inch display but no navigation option. It seems a bit outdated, but having a touch-screen just for the audio system ain’t bad. The navigation system on the SEL and R-Line, however, is very outdated. For one thing, the display shrinks to 5 inches and includes two so-called soft keys and a rotary selection knob below the screen. Yikes.
On the upside, the two higher trim levels also get a standard premium stereo by Fender — a brand that has consistently provided above-average sound quality in Volkswagens. (That’s never a guarantee, regardless of name.)
In the cabin, the Tiguan is low on covered storage, with a truly wee center storage console under the center armrest. A decent-sized glove compartment and seatback and door pockets help somewhat.
For cargo-hauling capacity, the Tiguan gets a C-minus for volume but an A for execution in some versions. It has 23.8 cubic feet of space behind the backseat and 56.1 cubic feet with the backseat folded. This specification doesn’t account for the nifty fold-flat front passenger seat included in the S and SE, which really mitigates the Tiguan’s smallish size if you want to haul something long. Unfortunately, that feature goes away with power seats, so you don’t get it in the SEL or R-Line (maybe they earn a B+).
For comparison, the Sportage has 26.1/54.6 cubic feet, the Escape 34.3/67.8 and the CR-V 35.3/70.9 cubic feet. The Golf SportWagen beats the Tiguan by 6.6 cubic feet behind the backseat and 10.4 cubic feet maximum. Just sayin’.
Volume aside, the Volkswagen Tiguan proves a cooperative hauler for a few reasons aside from the folding front seat: The sliding backseat allows you to put the space where it’s most needed. The head restraints pop forward to clear the front seatbacks, and the seats fold in one step. The Tiguan was one of the first models to account for the gap between the cargo floor and folded backseat (especially important when the seats can slide forward) with simple rigid panels that flip forward 180 degrees to bridge the crevasse.
In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash-testing, the Tiguan scored four out of five stars overall, which is par for the course among compact SUVs. In testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, however, the Tiguan has one blemish and one shortcoming in addition to its good overall performance: In the small overlap front test, it scored marginal (out of a possible poor, marginal, acceptable and good). The organization has tested 17 models in its Small SUVs class, of which three other models also scored marginal in this test. Four rated poor, including the Escape and Sportage. One is acceptable and eight, including the CR-V, are rated good.
The Tiguan’s other shortcoming is the lack of active-safety options such as blind spot warning, lane departure warning and any type of collision warning or prevention system. The blind spot feature has proliferated, and six classmates offer collision warning.
On the upside, a backup camera is now standard for 2015. We also found visibility to be quite good all around and appreciated how the backseat head restraints tilt down to improve rear sight lines. See all the Volkswagen Tiguan’s safety features listed here.
To be fair, the Golf SportWagen is both lighter and lower-riding, which technically represents a disadvantage in a collision, but in IIHS’ Small Cars class, it scores good across the board, including the small overlap front test. It also offers optional forward collision warning.
Unless you value very highly things like roof rails, heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and one-touch up/down windows, the value equation is where the Tiguan truly stumbles. The Escape, CR-V and Sportage aren’t the only compacts that cost thousands less. Additionally, the Tiguan’s AWD costs $1,975, which is more than the Sportage ($1,500), CR-V ($1,250) and Escape ($1,750).
The Volvo XC60 and Acura RDX start above $36,000, but they’re more luxurious vehicles — and even they charge only $1,500 and $1,400, respectively, for all-wheel drive.
The Tiguan is very much in the middle in terms of size and base price, but no longer in terms of interior quality. The jury will remain out on VW as a whole, but the 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan’s days of commanding premium prices should be over. Comparable or better mileage, quality and overall value can be found elsewhere in the class. Or you could just get over your vanity and buy the Golf SportWagen. It starts at $22,215, which is less than the lot of ’em.