VW’s popular SUV based on the Golf GTI has been beefed up and re-tweaked for 2011. Glenn Freeman puts it through its paces in Austria.
The 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan’s global launch in Germany provided an ideal test environment of varying roads and terrains, including the autobahns, famous Austrian Grossglockner alpine region and backroads dotting the landscape in between.
Along with a few extra ponies under the bonnet, thanks to an engine upgrade to the 207bhp 2.0-litre TSI, the Tiguan also sports a slightly revamped exterior and new high-tech safety features among other additions.
It comes in two body options, the Trend and Fun and the Sport and Style, the latter having a slightly modified mug, the nose providing an improved approach angle and an underbody scuff plate, the model is also equipped with hill-descent assist.
With its excellent transmission — the silky-smooth DSG (double-clutch) seven-speed — paired nicely with the turbocharged four-pot engine and confidence-inspiring suspension, the Tiguan performed admirably on all surfaces.
On the open roads of the German freeways, despite being a little slow winding up — a result of the additional weight of the SUV relative to its umbilical relative, the Golf GTI and perhaps a little turbo lag — there’s ample power. Overtaking is not particularly challenging and one can easily mix it with the rest of the traffic. The gearing of the automatic transmission is spot on, though in the six-speed manual (which won’t be available in the Middle East) third gear was a little tall.
This highway cruising also provided an ideal opportunity to test the Tiguan’s new Lane Assist, which has been borrowed from the Passat. Unlike some of its SUV competitors, which send a vibration through the steering wheel and sound an audible warning, this system also actively corrects your steering if you begin drifting outside the lane markings. Of course, this is no auto-pilot, with relatively low tolerances — though I did joke with my co-driver about climbing into the back for a nap while the vehicle steered and drove itself.
Having crossed the border into Austria, moving off the blacktop and on to the gravelled gradients of the Grossglockner, the Tiguan proved itself a capable and enjoyable drive in some low- to medium-level soft-roading.
Ascending the steep, winding mountain passes, the all-wheel drive — there is talk of a front-wheel variant soon, but whether this will hit the Middle East remains to be seen — provides good traction, though it did understeer slightly, possibly due to the rather hefty 1,689kg weight.
That said, the Tiguan’s suspension damps the bumps nicely. Though I was left wondering why they bothered with the Comfort suspension setting — it’s quite soft, exaggerating body-roll a little too much. The Sport mode was my default selection for the duration of the drive, keeping things firm but not bone-jarring, even on the rough stuff.
Having made the summit — this was no Everest expedition, but still one that saw us climb 1,000m up into the crisp, blue Austrian atmosphere, (and no alpenhorn nor a Heidi in sight) — I had a chance to absorb the interior along with the spectacular view.
Displaying typical German efficiency, with form and function borrowed from its Golf GTI cousin, the interior layout is intuitive and tidy with nice touches of class added through the chrome and leather accents and flexi-touch rubber. Another welcome addition — perfect for keeping your German hops or your water bottles cold while on the road — is the chiller compartment inside the glove-box.
The Tiguan’s navigation system is also a handy touchscreen operated system, which kept us on the right track throughout the 300km-plus test drive — with the exception of a navigational mishap which saw us cop a spray of (presumably) German expletives, as we somehow offended one of the many alpen-walkers enjoying the Austrian outdoors on foot.
In between mouthfuls of schnitzel, Stefan Mecha, managing director Volkswagen Middle East, also explains Volkswagen’s approach to ensuring the vehicles operate within the much harsher climates of the Middle East.
“Obviously the region can be very stressful for vehicles, but we see no issues related to this within the Tiguan or other Volkswagen vehicles. With the exception of special heavy-duty air filters and so on, our vehicles need no special specifications,” he says.
On the topic of air-conditioning — an especially pertinent point given the mercury is currently nudging north of 42-degree Celsius across the UAE — he says it performs adequately both here and in the cooler climes of Europe.
Somewhat intriguingly, Mecha also refers to a Volkswagen regional air conditioning testing centre somewhere in the UAE, but refuses to reveal the location for fear of pesky media sneaking by to snap prototypes.
Once again back on track after lunch, the descent continued without incident as I slipped the shifter into tiptronic mode, the floor-shifting manual mode perfect for maximising engine-braking and minimising strain on the disc brakes. Interestingly, the Tiguan now also harvests the energy generated during braking, feeding any excess kinetic force back into the vehicle via the alternator — a welcome green touch.
Stopping only briefly to snap some photos of the vehicle in action, it was back to the open roads for a civilised run back down the autobahn. The test drive proved this vehicle is still better suited to the urban driving, despite its dirt-track capability — but that takes nothing away from the Tiguan, which should continue to do well in the Middle East.
Engine 2.0-litre TSI
Transmission Seven-speed DSG, AWD
Max power 207bhp @ 4,500rpm
Max torque NA
Top speed 204kph
Plus A capable mid-sized SUV
Minus Lack of low-end grunt