Warren Clarke, Automotive Content Editor
Maybe you've seen billboards or print ads hawking the wares of H&M, a European-based department store that opened its doors in the United States a few years ago. The glossy ad campaign does a great job of conveying the retailer's formula for success: clothes with a European feel, at prices that are more Kmart than Bloomingdale's. Volkswagen, of course, has long used a similar formula, offering vehicles with Germanic personalities at prices that navigate the distance between economy and entry-level luxury. The latest example of this strategy is the company's first compact crossover SUV, the 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan.
The Tiguan's smart, low-key sheet metal is clearly a product of the Volkswagen gene pool. More specifically, it looks like a big brother to the Rabbit — not surprising, since the two share a platform. Things get even better once you climb inside. Soft-touch surfaces are everywhere, and the design aesthetic is one of muted elegance.
Get it on the asphalt and the Tiguan's quiet competence bubbles to the surface like foam in a mug of microbrewed ale. Road manners are polite, and VW's turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine kicks up excitement under the hood. You'll find this engine in other Volkswagens like the GTI and in Audis like the A4 (VW owns the Audi brand), and it's never at a loss for pep and vigor.
If you're looking for the most practical compact utility vehicle on the market, cruise past the Tiguan. It offers less cargo room than others in its class, delivers so-so mileage and requires premium fuel. It's also a couple grand more expensive than rivals like the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. Pile on the options and the spread becomes even wider — our test car, a top-of-the-line SEL 4Motion with pricey extras like a panorama sunroof and a navigation system, rings in at an almost Audi-like $37,230. Buyers will find more value in base models, which start in the low $20s and are armed with a full complement of standard features, including heated mirrors, full power accessories, air-conditioning and an eight-speaker sound system.
In the end, though, the 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan distinguishes itself as one of the more upscale options in the compact crossover SUV segment. Those who place a premium on refinement will welcome the arrival of this amiable German.
As with all Tiguans, our SEL 4Motion featured a turbocharged inline-4 good for 200 horsepower and 206 pound-feet of torque. In this trim, it's teamed with all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain got the VW from zero to 60 in 8.4 seconds at the track. That's a respectable showing for this segment — quicker than most, though behind the class hot rod, the Toyota RAV4 V6. In city and highway driving, the engine felt acquiescent and downright energetic. Some turbo lag was in evidence, but it never intruded enough to spoil the fun. The CUV's transmission governed things with confidence, and shifts were smooth and fluid in both automatic and manual-shift modes.
This VW ground to a halt from 60 mph in 126 feet. This figure isn't that outstanding, but the Tiguan shone when it came to linear and firm pedal feel. Its brakes felt consistent throughout each test run, resisting fade more efficiently than the average CUV.
Fuel economy isn't one of the Tiguan's strengths. EPA estimates place the Tiguan's mileage at 18 city/24 highway and 20 combined. Compare this to the numbers offered by the much more powerful RAV4 V6 4WD (19/26/21) or the 4WD Honda CR-V (20/26/22). Our combined average during our time with the Tiguan was 22 mpg, a reflection of the fact that we did mostly highway driving. Another drawback to consider is the fact that "Premium" is the Tiguan's recommended fuel grade.
Skid pad performance was solid, with the 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan managing 0.80g, a figure that places it at the forefront of its class. Still, keeping the VW on a constant arc at a constant speed proved challenging for our test driver, due to the fact that power delivery from the turbocharged engine was prone to surge. When experienced on the slalom, the Tiguan was dogged by somewhat imprecise steering feedback and long suspension travel. Ultimately, however, our driver found a way to finesse these tendencies, and the Tiguan emerged as one of the quickest CUVs, running through the cones at 63.9 mph.
One notable weak link in the Tiguan's driving dynamics was its steering; response during aggressive driving felt somewhat vague. Overall, though, the average driver will no doubt find the Tiguan's demeanor polished and adept in most situations.
Even on long trips, the Tiguan's seats didn't do a number on our backs or backsides. Tilt and telescoping steering and adjustable pedals helped us make sure that we were positioned just right. The cabin felt spacious for those both in front and back. Rear-seat travelers benefited from ample legroom and loved the well-padded armrest that bisected the backseat. And we all enjoyed the atriumlike feel of the Tiguan's 13-square-foot panorama sunroof, though we were less thrilled with the option's $1,300 price tag.
For an SUV, the Tiguan rides pretty close to the ground, with a ground clearance of just 6.9 inches. This makes it a poor choice for off-roading, but its low step-in makes ingress and egress easy. The cabin is a reasonably tranquil place, with little disturbance from wind and road noise — a fact that serves to enhance the Tiguan's high-end feel.
The control layout in the 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan is a study in minimalist efficiency. There are only a few buttons and a couple of knobs in our loaded SEL 4Motion. The layout may be spare, but it's never cryptic, since each control is intuitively positioned and easy to identify.
Cargo capacity apparently wasn't high on the list of priorities with the designers who crafted the Tiguan. With all the seats occupied, 16.6 cubic feet of cargo capacity are on tap. With the 60/40-split second row folded, that figure grows to 56.1 cubes. That's a lot less — more than 17 cubes less, in fact — than you'll get in competitors like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4.
On the plus side, there are lots of storage nooks throughout the cabin, including nicely finished, rubber-lined bins both on the doors and beneath the center armrest. We also appreciate the sturdy cupholders. One especially nice touch is the slots beneath the center console, which provide a secure resting place for our building access cards.
Visibility is adequate. The Tiguan boasts a rising beltline, but it doesn't climb high enough to impede the line of vision when making lane changes or backing out of parking spaces.
Design/Fit and Finish
The Tiguan aims to be a premium choice in its segment, and its design and build quality support this ambition. Fit and finish is impressive both outside and within. The CUV's sheet metal may be unassuming, but to our eyes, it is never boring — we were taken with its laid-back good looks.
The cabin both looks and feels plush, thanks to the presence of high-end design cues and the tactile surfaces that cover the top half of the dash. The leather is supple and nicely stitched. Knobs and vents in the cabin are ringed with metallic accents that impart a high-end feel.
Who should consider this vehicle
The well-bred 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan is tailor-made for shoppers seeking a compact SUV with a premium look and luxurious amenities. Keep in mind, though, that its sumptuousness comes with a couple of compromises — the Tiguan is costlier than the competition and offers less cargo capacity.
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