The life of a Volkswagen designer must be a curious existence. While other brands parade a plethora of exotic styles, VW dishes up cars that differ little from generation to generation, or from model to model. The new 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan, for example, is a near facsimile of the larger Touareg and has evolved only slightly from the 2007 original. Right now, the VW design studio is not exactly a hotbed of creativity.
Nor, if we're honest, is the engineering division. It's all as cozily familiar as the 10th season of Friends, which is just the way VW's customers like it. More than 700,000 Tiguans have been built and VW reckons the current car has enjoyed the most successful run-out in the company's history. Volkswagen's customers know what they like and like what they know, so why fix what isn't broken?
The nose of the Tiguan has been brought in line with VW's new design language. Pinched from the Touareg, the new grille boasts two horizontal chrome louvers and is framed by the headlights. Choose the optional bi-xenon lamps and the nose is further distinguished by 14 LEDs that serve as daytime running lights. At the rear, the taillights contain an L-shaped illuminated portion common to all new Volkswagens. There are new alloy wheels, too, but that's about it. Viewed in isolation, the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan could easily be mistaken for a Touareg, which may not please those who've spent upward of $44K on the larger SUV.
In Europe, VW offers both on- and off-road versions. The latter has a different chin, which gives it an improved approach angle. The off-road car has a 28-degree angle of approach versus 18 degrees for its on-road-focused sister. For the U.S. market, though, Volkswagen will continue to offer only the "on-road" version.
The cabin is classic Volkswagen. It's nicely built using high-quality materials, and everything is sensibly arranged, but it's a bit dull. This is a car designed for a utilitarian purpose that imparts a quiet sense of satisfaction. A brace of 6-footers can sit in tandem without difficulty and the rear seat can be reclined by up to 23 degrees, which is a nice touch. The cargo area is a good size, too, ranging from 16.6 cubic feet to 53.3, and, by folding the passenger seat flat, you can accommodate loads up to 8 feet 2 inches long.
The Tiguan has always had a fine reputation for safety. It earned five-star ratings in both front and side crash tests and received four stars in rollover testing, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Henry Ford would have been proud of the Tiguan's engine philosophy. You can have any engine you like as long as it's the 2.0-liter turbo. The excellent turbodiesels that dominate the European market are unlikely to be offered in the U.S., at least until the all-new Tiguan, which is due around 2015.
The familiar direct-injection 1,984cc turbo offers a modest power hike over the outgoing model. It now produces 207 horsepower (up from 200) between 5,300 and 6,200 rpm. Peak torque of 206 pound-feet is available from 1,700-5,200 rpm. VW claims zero to 62 mph in 7.8 seconds for the six-speed manual, or 7.3 seconds for the seven-speed DSG double-clutch automatic. The latter replaces the torque-converter auto found in the original Tiguan.
In Europe, this model is only available with 4Motion permanent four-wheel drive, but in the U.S. VW is likely to persist with offering both two- and four-wheel-drive options. The latter normally apportions 90 percent of the propulsive force to the front axle in the interests of fuel economy, but it can send almost 100 percent to the rear. All our test vehicles were equipped with this system.
The independent front suspension combines wishbone-type control arms with MacPherson struts mounted on an aluminum subframe, while the independent rear suspension features a four-link setup on a steel subframe. Like so much of this car, the handling should best be described as competent. Anyone expecting a jacked-up GTI will be disappointed, but body roll is well contained and as you'd expect with four-wheel drive, there's no shortage of grip. Likewise, the electromechanical steering is not full of feedback, but it's well-weighted and reassuringly precise for an SUV.
The ride, at least on our well-surfaced German test roads, was both supple and free of float. For a family-oriented SUV, the Tiguan offers a good compromise of comfort and control.
The prices are likely to continue unchanged from the old model, so expect an entry sticker of around $24,000. Those parting with this sum will receive a thoroughly capable machine, and anyone wishing to downsize from a larger SUV will be able to do so without feeling the pinch. There is nothing about the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan that's truly exceptional, but it is also hard to criticize and goes about its business with minimal fuss.
It is, in other words, a classic Volkswagen.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report.