Editor's note: This review was written in May 2012 about the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2013, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
I was a little concerned about driving the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan before even setting foot in it. You see, my colleagues in Chicago were scheduled to drive it first, before it broke down in their company garage. And the last time I had one a few years ago, it broke down in my garage, requiring a tow truck to get it out. All this happened despite average reliability ratings for the Tiguan's first three years on the market. Regardless of my initial fears and hesitations, the Tiguan behaved perfectly from a mechanical standpoint during a week of strenuous family testing.
While the 2012 VW Tiguan is functional for small families, a few ergonomic issues add up to create an uncomfortable experience for this driver.
The Tiguan's looks have been updated for 2012, its mileage has improved, and its starting price has dropped almost $1,000 to $23,660 (including the $820 destination charge). See it compared with the 2011 Tiguan here. This year's Tiguan is available in three trim levels: the S, SE and SEL, each with front- or all-wheel drive. My test car was the SE with VW's 4Motion all-wheel drive. Compare the 4Motion versions of all three trim levels here.
The Tiguan resembles a baby Touareg, VW's midsize crossover. The Tiguan received some exterior updates for 2012, but the overall style is quite similar to the older version. It somehow manages to look sporty without inching anywhere near the "cutesy" line. The sleek chrome grille and other chrome accents help the Tiguan maintain a slightly upscale edge, so those of us in the over-30 category don't feel silly driving it.
The Tiguan's carlike 6.9-inch ground clearance is best suited for the urban and suburban environments it will most often traverse, and it made it easy for my three kids — ages 7, 9 and 11 — to climb in and out independently. Even the youngest one, who tends to have two left feet, didn't have any of her common occurrences of tripping out the car door.
The largest ergonomic headache in the Tiguan affects the driver. The first thing I noticed was I couldn't adjust the steering wheel properly. Although it tilts and telescopes, the wheel doesn't tilt down far enough to create a proper driving position for smaller drivers. (I'm 5-foot-3.) I had to drive with my arms angled upward in an uncomfortable position, using my shrugged shoulders for help when my arms got tired. This is even after pumping the seat up as high as it would go. I definitely need a massage now. Maybe two.
With the weather heating up in the Denver area, I blasted the air to cool down the Tiguan's interior while waiting for my gaggle of girls to make their way to the car. The air vents in front are very limited in their directional range: They either blast air directly at my eyeballs, which don't tend to overheat, or I can spin them outward so that the air misses me entirely, blowing over my head or to either side. The dry air on my eyes became so frustrating that I decided instead to endure icy, cold feet by directing all the air down there, hoping some of the cool air would drift up toward the rest of my body.
My husband drove the Tiguan as well. The steering wheel wasn't uncomfortable for him (he's almost a full foot taller than me), but his extra height didn't solve the air vent problem.
On the flip side, the standard Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming was easy to pair with my smartphone as well as my 11-year-old daughter's phone. She was able to play DJ while we were running errands, making rush hour more tolerable for all of us.
There's plenty of storage in the front of the cabin. Two cupholders sit just in front of the center console, with a little soft-lined rectangular bin to the left of them to hold little loose items like coins. In front of the gearshift, another open bin with a thin closed compartment above it worked great for stashing my phone, garage door opener, and toll and gate transponders. Storage bins with bottleholders in both front doors stored my travel coffee mug, a bottle of water and some sunblock.
In terms of interior volume, the Tiguan comes between the Mini Cooper Countryman and big sellers like the Honda CR-V and Chevrolet Equinox. The kids in the backseat had plenty of legroom. The rear seat splits 60/40, and each portion slides back and forth to customize the space. Horizontal space is at a premium, however; it was difficult to squeeze in three kids side by side. I got them all in, the youngest in a Britax high-back booster seat in the outboard position and the other two tucked in cozily shoulder to shoulder. They had to develop a system of buckling their seat belts one by one in the proper sequence in order for each to reach their belt buckles. My daughter in the middle position needed more time because of the buckle's awkward inward-facing design. (More info in the Safety section below.)
The second-row seats recline back just an inch or so, but it should be enough to help with the fit of some forward-facing child-safety seats.
The kids could store a few items in pockets on the back of the front seats, and the doors have small, open bins. When not in use, the center seatback folds down to reveal a couple of cupholders, and it also opens up a pass-through to the cargo area.
The highlight of the car for all of us was the huge and extremely impressive panoramic glass roof above the driver, passenger and backseat rugrats. We had several days of overcast weather while driving this car, and it was great to open the shade, let some extra light in and get a small dose of vitamin D. The kids loved watching the storm clouds roll in as we drove home from school.
There is 23.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the backseat, more than enough room for my family. We managed to stash a soccer bag, two backpacks and five tree stumps to make little outdoor side tables for our patio. The cargo space expands to 56.1 cubic feet when you fold the backseat. There's even a standard fold-flat front passenger seat. The Tiguan's cargo dimensions fall between those of the Countryman and the other models mentioned above.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Despite the carlike ground clearance, the Tiguan doesn't hug the road as much as I expected. It has more of the tilt and sway in corners that you'd expect from a larger SUV, like the Touareg.
My test car's 200-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine was kind of confusing. It had plenty of get up and go around town after stop signs, and it was generally a pleasure to drive for quick errands here and there. However, when trying to get up to speed on the highway, it felt slow and slightly underpowered. It took an extra few seconds of patience waiting for the car to catch up to my accelerator input.
The all-wheel-drive Tiguan comes only with a six-speed automatic transmission and gets an EPA-estimated 21/27 mpg city/highway. With front-wheel drive and an automatic transmission, the Tiguan's rating gains only 1 mpg city at 22/27 mpg. While the Tiguan is one of the few models in its class to offer a manual transmission, a six-speed, it's the least efficient of the Tiguans, rated at 18/26 mpg. Although these ratings are 2 mpg better than the 2011 model, they're low compared with the competition, and the Tiguan calls for premium gasoline whereas most use regular.
The Tiguan performed quite well in crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, receiving the highest rating of Good across the board to earn a Top Safety Pick designation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn't crash-tested the Tiguan but has rated its rollover resistance at four out of five stars, which is common for a crossover.
As required of all 2012 models, the Tiguan has standard antilock brakes and an electronic stability system with traction control.
The Tiguan comes equipped with six standard airbags: front and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, and curtain airbags for the front and rear outboard seats.
Families installing rear- or forward-facing child-safety seats will appreciate the ability to slide the backseat forward or back depending on how much space you need. However, the lower anchors of the two sets of Latch systems in the outboard seats are buried deeply in the seat bight, where the back and bottom cushions meet. This could complicate hooking and unhooking to the lower anchors, especially if you're using a child seat with Latch hooks on nylon belts rather than rigid connectors.
Kids in booster seats will find it easy to buckle in independently if they're in one of the outboard positions. The buckles are up high on stable bases, ready for little hands to grab.
The center seating position is a different story. The rigid buckle is angled toward the center and pressed down flat on the seat. It's quite tricky even for older kids to grab, twist and hold in the proper position to insert the other end of the seat belt. My 9-year-old had trouble with this and needed assistance.
See all the standard safety features listed here.
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