Seven years. Barring the extended lifespan of the original New Beetle, Volkswagen officials say their products have a shelf life of seven years before an all-new replacement arrives on the market. Following that formula, the VW Tiguan, which launched in 2008 as a 2009 model, isn’t due to be completely overhauled until 2015.
Although VW isn’t due to reinvent the Tiguan for another three years, the compact SUV was ripe for a modest refresh. For the 2012 model year, a handful of changes applied inside and out render it more attractive, more comfortable, and a little less thirsty for fuel — all characteristics likely to keep sales figures afloat until the replacement arrives.
A familiar look, but with a mature twist
Macroscopically speaking, the 2012 Tiguan is virtually identical to the 2011 model. Beneath the ute-like body lies a chassis that borrows heavily from VW’s compact Golf and Jetta platforms, and the majority of its powertrain offerings are the same.
Most of the modifications, it seems, are cosmetic. The outgoing Tiguan’s exterior didn’t appear to be dated, but Volkswagen’s corporate look has evolved since the SUV was first shown as a concept in 2006, so it isn’t a surprise that the 2012 Tiguan wears new sheetmetal designed to bring it in line with the company’s latest design trends.
The most noticeable change is the front clip, which is patterned after the one on the larger Touareg. New projector headlamps flow neatly into VW’s typical two-bar grille and, on SEL models, sport LED daytime running lamps. European Tiguans offer a subdued, car-like front bumper, but vehicles destined for North America are built with an “off-road” fascia, which adds both a prominent skid plate and a little extra ground clearance.
Even fewer modifications are applied aft of the A-pillars. SE and SEL models get chrome-plated side trim molding, and the latter now wears new 19-inch wheels. In back, slender taillamps with L-shaped optical elements replace the goofy-looking CC-inspired lights previously used. VW admits that the exterior changes are mild at best, but all of these tweaks lend the Tiguan a more mature, upscale look that it previously lacked.
As The Exterior Goes, So Goes The Interior
The cabin of the previous Tiguan had a roomy, well-arranged cabin, so the interior is largely carried over for 2012. However, some of the materials that were previously used- especially on areas frequently touched by passengers – left a little to be desired, so the application of soft-touch materials has been increased, particularly on the upper door panels and dash trim.
Because the Tiguan’s 102.5-inch wheelbase and 174.3-inch overall length are slightly smaller than most of its competition, it’s not surprising that its interior dimensions are also eclipsed by other compact SUVs. Both front and rear head and legroom figures are roughly an inch shy of competitors such as the Chevrolet Equinox, the Honda CR-V, and the Ford Escape. With the rear seats up, the Tiguan’s cargo volume (23.8 cubic feet) trails the segment, but with seats down, the space grows to 56.1 cubic feet.
As was previously the case, cloth seating is standard on entry-level S models, while the SE steps up to leatherette and the SEL to real leather. SEL models also receive a push-button keyless ignition, plus aluminum-look trim on the door panels. Tiguans sold in Europe offer a striking two-tone cabin scheme that merges black trim with rich chocolate-hued leather. For now it’s not available in North America, but it will be on the option books for the 2013 model year.
Plenty of Gadgets, But Few For the U.S.
Tiguans sold within the European Economic Community will likely have a number of goodies not available in North America. The mid-cycle update introduces a number of new features (including adaptive ride control, active park assist, lane detection assist, and a stop/start function) that aren’t making the voyage across the Atlantic. Cost, we’re told, is partly to blame, but VW says U.S. buyers in this segment simply aren’t interested in ponying up for these rather advanced add-ons.
That said, U.S.-spec Tiguans aren’t completely lacking premium content. Bluetooth hands-free phone pairing, for instance, is now standard across the board, even on the base-level S trim. A new S+ model also tosses in a panoramic sunroof, which was previously available only on SE+ and SEL trims. SE and SEL models receive USB audio inputs and multifunction steering wheels, while navigation is added to the SE+, SEL, and SEL+ trims.
Four Cylinders, Six Speeds, Two Drivelines
Under the hood, precious little has changed. Europeans have their pick of two gasoline engines, but U.S.-spec models will be offered only with VW’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter, direct-injection turbocharged I-4. In the Tiguan, this engine pumps out 200 hp from 5100 to 6000 rpm, and 207 lb-ft of torque from 1700 to 5000 rpm.
Euro-spec Tiguans are now available with Volkswagen’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, but those built for North America retain a conventional six-speed automatic – although VW has added an extra overdrive gear (there are now two) and altered both shift points and torque converter lockup to help increase fuel economy.
Finalized EPA numbers are still a few weeks off, but officials say the revised gearbox reportedly boosts highway fuel economy by 15 percent. If true, expect front-wheel-drive Tiguans to be rated close to 20/29 mpg (city/highway), while those equipped with the optional 4Motion all-wheel-drive system should post something close to 19/29 mpg. If so, that puts the all-wheel-drive Tiguan on par with most of its competitors, although the front-wheel-drive model will likely be trumped by almost every small SUV, apart from the CR-V and the Toyota RAV4.
Europeans can order Tiguans with a six-speed manual transmission on any trim level and in both front- and all-wheel-drive forms. In America, it’s a different story: here, the six-speed manual is offered only on the entry-level S with front-wheel drive. Even so, VW sells very few vehicles so equipped – presently, fewer than 1 percent of all Tiguans delivered in the U.S. are built with three pedals.
During our brief drive in Germany, we had access to a number of 2012 Tiguans, but none with a powertrain configuration that will be available stateside. In fact, the closest we came to sampling a U.S.-spec vehicle paired a 2.0T with a six-speed manual and 4Motion. Unsurprisingly, VW’s 2.0T continues to be a gem of an engine, offering spritely acceleration and little turbo lag. Shift action on the six-speed manual was somewhat rubbery, although the clutch action itself was nicely weighted and very linear.
Dare They Do A Diesel?
When we first drove the Tiguan in 2008, we wrote that VW executives were “investigating” exporting the SUV with the company’s 2.0-liter TDI turbo-diesel I-4 packed underhood. Sadly, executives trot out that same line when we ask about the engine, which is available once again in European-bound examples.
That’s a pity, because the TDI is one of the best engine offerings available in the Tiguan. Overseas, the 2.0 TDI is offered in three different forms (110 hp, 140 hp, and 170 hp), but seeing as the 140-hp variant would be the most likely choice for America (it’s already sold here in both the Golf and Jetta), we hopped behind the wheel of a Tiguan so equipped.
Although it is down 62 hp from the gas-powered 2.0T, the TDI betters it in torque: to be exact, the TDI offers a stout 236 lb-ft from 1750-2500 rpm. Acceleration from 0 to 62 mph is roughly three seconds slower than with the 2.0T, but the TDI is more than adequate when it comes to moving around the Tiguan’s 3657-pound mass. Better yet, it consumes roughly 27 percent less fuel than the turbocharged gas engine.
Tiguan product planner John Ryan tells us that the obstacles to exporting the TDI to America aren’t necessarily related to demand; in fact, customers and dealers alike are perpetually begging VW to offer the engine in our market. The two largest hurdles lie with meeting emissions requirements (a costly urea aftertreatment system will be necessary to meet U.S. regulations) and production capacity (almost every Tiguan sold in Europe is built with a TDI).
Still A Tall Golf, But With A Little Extra Style
Despite treating the Tiguan to a facelift and tweaking its powertrain ever so slightly, suspension tuning for U.S-spec models remains unchanged. Although we were unable to sample such a model, we previously found that Tiguans handle much like their Golf siblings, albeit with a little additional body roll and slightly number steering. SEL models do receive lowered springs that increase clearance for the new 19-inch wheels, but we’ve yet to sample a model.
The 2012 upgrades hardly reinvent the Tiguan, but they will help the SUV continue to gain footing in an increasingly competitive segment. Despite facing a rash of new and revised competitors, Tiguan sales have risen steadily. VW sold 20,926 examples in the U.S. during 2010, and 11,563 units have been delivered thus far in 2011. Seeing as the 2012 Tiguan merely adds a bit of polish to an already successful recipe, expect that momentum to continue until VW can launch an all-new model further down the road.
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan
Base price: $24,540 (est)
On sale: September 2011
Powertrain: 2.0-liter, 16-valve turbocharged I-4
Horsepower: 200 hp @ 5100-6000 rpm
Torque: 207 lb-ft @ 1700-5000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic
Drive: front wheel or all-wheel
L x W x H: 174.3 x 71.2 x 66.3 in
Legroom f/r: 40.1/ 35.8 in
Headroom f/r: 39.1/ 39.0 in
Cargo capacity (seats up/ down): 23.8/ 56.1 cu ft
Curb weight: 3736 lbs (est)
EPA rating: 20/28 (est), FWD; 19/28 (est), AWD