The 2017 Tiguan

The 2017 TiguanTiguan

This little Volkswagen is pretty good at transforming fossil fuel into driving fun, according to auto writer Greg Rubenstein.

Car names are a funny business. Some manufacturers go for metaphor, while others stick to meat-and-taters numbers, letters, or combination thereof. A few mix it up, and some go bare bones—as in, a single letter. Then, there are the whacky. Enter Volkswagen. Sure, the Beetle isn’t all that odd—after all, the Beetle/Bug is the basic shape of a ladybug. But the Tiguan is an entirely different animal.

Like the “liger” of Napoleon Dynamite lore, the Tiguan is an odd-but-true amalgamation: a clever interspecies mash-up of tiger and “leguan”––the German word for iguana (odd but true; I couldn’t make this up and have it more strange)––instead of a lion. Besides the obvious incompatibilities between feline and reptile, there is something disturbingly Dr. Moreau-esque in the mere suggestion of intra-species splicing.

Etymology aside, while its abilities aren’t magic, this little Volkswagen is in fact pretty good at transforming fossil fuel into driving fun. Power comes from a gutsy 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and thanks to double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, direct fuel injection, and variable intake timing, it’s rated at 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feed of torque while delivering an EPA-estimated 21 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.

Available in four trim lines––S, R, SE and SEL––each in either front-wheel- or all-wheel-drive, the Tiguan offers a bevy of goodies unexpected from an under-$25k entry price. Standard features include 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, push/pull-button activated electronic parking brake, keyless entry with push-button start, heated front seats, power driver’s seat, power windows and door locks, rearview camera, full-color five-inch touchscreen infotainment display, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, multi-function center-gauge display, rain-sensing wipers, speed-adaptive power steering, eight-speaker Bluetooth/USB sound system, and automatic climate control.

Upping the Tiguan to R adds exterior goodies such as a roof spoiler and side skirts, plus a flat-bottom steering wheel, sportier suspension, fog/cornering lamps, power passenger seat and larger infotainment display with satellite radio and internet connectivity. SE trim brings larger diameter wheels with wider rubber, chrome and silver-colored trim inside and out, LED running lights with Xenon headlamps and a monster power sunroof which takes up nearly the entire ceiling width while running halfway into the passenger seating area.

The range-topping SEL adds more than $11,500 to the price of the base S, and serves up even bigger, 19-inch alloy wheels, genuine leather upholstery, power folding side mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control and Fender-branded audio system. Regardless of trim, the Tiguan’s interior is one snazzy place to do the business of driving. It offers a well-executed balance of soft-touch plastics, shiny bits, and ergonomics; switchgear falls readily to hand, pedals are placed right and panel gaps are buttoned up in typically-Teutonic execution.

Dynamically, steering is nicely weighted across the speed spectrum while response is far sportier than what might be anticipated. Braking is solid, and acceleration is gutsy, with lots and lots of low-end oomph whenever called upon. Zero to 60 mph acceleration is in the seven-second range, which isn’t spectacular but the drivetrain’s sweet spot—the four-cylinder turbo is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission across all trims—comes while already in motion, not from a standing start.

Whether tooling around surface streets ticking off a to-do list or freeway commuting, pressing into the accelerator while already moving returns a satisfying pulse of thrust. Power characteristics are more akin to the torque push of a turbodiesel, and while the Tiguan’s offered only with the one gasoline engine, it does a remarkably good job of masquerading as a grunt-happy oil-burner.

The Tiguan’s MSRP spread from $24,890 entry to everything-included AWD premium version for $36,420 presents an interesting buyer’s dilemma. The drivetrain stays the same no matter the trim, and while its sporty quotient increases up the trim ladder, it’s still an inexpensive runabout without high-performance aspiration. The range-topping SEL is a solid value, but the base comes equipped with all the “must-haves,” and makes for a bargain-priced snowbird leave-behind, kid’s car or family loaner. Gosh, either way the Tiguan is a fun-driving winner.


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