But in a market segment that is on fire, the Tiguan can barely strike a match.
The number of Tiguans buzzing San Francisco had us surprised at the national Tiguan sales charts; according to Automotive News, the Tiguan sold fewer than 18,000 units in the first eight months of 2014, and that rate is off about 15 percent from the year before.
That means Tiguans are selling at a rate of half of Kia Sportages, a fourth of the Mazda CX-5s and a tenth of Toyota RAV4s. This kind of buyer rejection is strong enough that Volkswagen might start taking it personally.
The Tiguan’s shortness is one clue as to why it’s such a familiar sight in a parking-starved city; its 174.1-inch length fits it into the magic sub-175-inch spots, which are carved out by the hordes of decades-old Civics and Corollas. It makes the Tiguan a natural fit in the urban landscape.
The Tiguan is also perky to drive. The Tiguan’s 200-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine – which specifies premium fuel – has a dash of lag off the line but quickly comes to life, and it feels smooth and flexible. Hard to catch this one off its game.
Too bad the 2015 Tiguan erases another entry from the cars available with a manual transmission; the stick was banished to the base trim in the 2014 model, and it has been purged altogether from 2015 Tiguan, with the six-speed automatic standard in all and paddle shifters are added in top-level R-Lines. Sometimes it cycles through its gears a little busily, but mostly the automatic is a willing partner in the day-to-day. enough so that the paddle shifters seem superfluous.
Handling was sparkling. On its 19-inch wheels, this Tiguan R-Line cornered and braked with atheticism. How nice it was to drive a tall wagon that was truly tossable.
Visibility is terrific. Where the current crossover style is to kick up the rear side window line which creates a bulky blind spot, the Tiguan has an upright greenhouse with deep windows to the rear. Another boon for city driving.
The view out the front is as panoramic as the optional nearly-roof-long power sunroof and fixed glass. Despite the test car’s black leather interior, the Tiguan feels remarkably bright and upbeat inside. Rich plastics reinforce the good vibes.
The front seats are soft at first squish, but they grip your upper back in the curves. This R-Line’s multi-adjustable driver’s seat had a feature we wish every car with a power lumbar support had – not only an in-and-out position but also an up-and-down positioning axis. Everyone’s lumbar region is at a different height, and it is no good to have firm support poking into your femur instead of your mushy back. The Tiguan’s designers understood that.
The rear seats accommodate six-footers, and the borders of the panoramic sunroof do not impinge on headroom. The seats slide on tracks and recline, and they fold down nearly flat to match the short but tall cargo area, which of course is the interior chunk the Tiguan gave up for that tight overall length.
So here’s the People’s Car company from Germany selling a winning package with broad appeal, and yet a relative few are buying it. Again, why not?
It’s price. Volkswagen appears to have decided to charge more and make money on the few that are sold, rather than entering the market fray and giving a wider array of buyers access to its optioned product.
All fine and good. But man, these prices. VW touts a mid-$20K Tiguan gateway, but the tested Tiguan R-Line shocked us at $37,745, and it was only front-wheel drive. Add the 4Motion all-wheel drive for $1,955, and you’re bumping up against $40K.
That means the Tiguan has extra pressure to justify itself. A Mazda CX-5 maxes out at $35K, and $36K gets you the Microsoft SYNC-ed, Sony-stereoed, power-tailgate-via-foot-activated Ford Escape. So what’s that extra $4K paying for?
Hard to say. The Fender-branded stereo has impact, the center screen responds quickly to your touch and the climate controls are big-dial simple. Others have those kinds of pluses too.
The smallness of the center screen isn’t paying the Tiguan’s way; it’s like a flip-phone view where others are large smartphones, approaching tablets. The lack of a USB connection is a continuing VW sore spot, although you can source a USB adaptor for the Volkswagen MDI plug, which comes from the factory with a dongle for an iPod.
Those of us who avoid Apple products and didn’t bring our AUX cord or SD card are left with the fussy Bluetooth connection, which drops back to the last radio station you listened to – even if it is much louder in source volume than the last Bluetooth song you listened to – before the phone is connected and its Bluetooth stream is picked up, of course only after you’ve pushed the MEDIA button, after the phone has connected.
Then there’s an extra step if you had interacted with your phone’s media player since you last left the car – you will have to dig the phone out of your pocket, call up the music app and push play. Then, finally, you will have picked up the Bluetooth thread. Competitors’ cars keep it going seamlessly, like magic, but Volkswagens don’t seem to do that. Switching to an SD card for your song source is not a big deal, but you’ll still have to dial into it after it mounts.
Overall, it is a shame that this VW is priced at the tip of the upper margin; the Tiguan is a worthy contender.
And so we recommend a look at the premium-feeling Tiguan. Preferably one on a steep discount.
Base Price: $36,880
Price As Tested: $37,745
Reflex Silver Metallic Exterior
Black Leather Interior
6-Speed Automatic Transmission
Destination Charge: $885
Tidy road manners
Short, parkable length
Excellent visibility, commanding driving position
Small center screen