The car that parks itself
Volkswagen NZ’s boss Dean Sheed is clearly feeling bouncy, and no wonder. Volkswagen is doing well both overseas and here, where annual sales are poised just south of the 2000 barrier. Its super-frugal Bluemotion cars helped it achieve an Automobile Association excellence award for environmental responsibility. And now it’s got a compact SUV in its ever-widening range.
VW has joined that market niche rather late – the Toyota RAV and Honda CR-V have been around for what, more than a decade? But with the backlash against large SUVs a well thought-out and frugal compact is timely.
Well thought-out, the VW Tiguan certainly is, at least in all but name. VW says the tag comes from a combination of Tiger and Iguana, and was chosen by the readers of a German magazine. Whatever, it’s the only part of the car that jars. The Tiguan has the size just right. It’s longer than a Golf, but with a Passat-sized wheelbase interior space is good – better than expected from something actually shorter than Honda’s CR-V. The seats, both front and rear, feel spacious enough, as is the boot, at 360 litres with all the seats in use. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The Tiguan’s handsome, if conservative looks clothe an impressively versatile vehicle. As standard it’s virtually a high-riding hatch with four-paw grip and pleasantly dynamic performance from its frugal engine. There’s a 2.0-litre common rail diesel engine slotted under the bonnet. It offers 103kW at 4200rpm and 320Nm at 1750-2500rpm and is fitted with a particle filter. It’s a smooth operator with a broad torque spread that’s a delight to drive – punchy where you want it, yet refined enough for long-distance cruising. Quiet too, and well-matched to a six-speed Tiptronic auto that slurs efficiently through the gears.
Get a bit of speed up on a country road and you’ll find the suspension biased a tad towards comfort – as you’d expect from a family-focused vehicle. Yet it’s not uncontrolled, and through a winding road on the car’s media launch I was able to easily keep up with a Golf hatch piloted by one of the quicker motoring writers who, judging by his vocal surprise at the sight of my Tiguan in his mirrors, hadn’t thought he was hanging about.
So the Tiguan’s handling is confidence-inspiring. And that’s not all; no, forget the steak knives – here the bonus is the five-star crash test rating, with six airbags as standard while side airbags for the rear are a $600 option. Also standard, of course, is the ESP Stability control, ABS, traction control, an auto brake disc wiper, trailer stabilisation, rollover protection, dual zone auto air, cruise control and parking aid. Yep, this car will park itself at the touch of a button; its sensors scan for a suitably-sized space. You engage reverse, press the throttle and brake as appropriate – it does all the steering. Will it also make excuses to the spouse if you don’t brake in time? Probably not.
Still, the Tiguan does have another party trick. For though it’s a smart family-oriented SUV, it’s also impressive off-road, certainly more so than the usual run of compact SUVs. And particularly with the $2000 Road and Track option. That includes a sharper nose which improves the 18-degree approach angle to 28 degrees. It also adds skid plates beneath the car and off-road-friendly electronic trickery that alters the transmission and throttle protocols, engages hill ascent and descent assist, and offers a compass.
If you want a smart-looking compact SUV with the right badge, and also want to flex a bit of muscle, you may be surprised just how far off road this car will go.
That $2000 off-road option is good value. I’m less sure about the luxury package, much as I love heated seats. The cabin’s already beautifully put together, though five grand does lift you from cloth to leather, and adds an uprated audio set-up and storage trays in the roof. Throw in $2500 for the panoramic glass roof, $600 for the foglights – then pull yourself together, remember your mortgage, and the fact the standard Tiguan doesn’t really need all the add-ons.
VW seems to have made best use of its resources to build this car; Golf and Passat bits and hints abound – the suspension is virtually lifted from Passat, with some lessons from Golf; the brakes are Passat, but with analogue solenoid valves for off-road applications.
Yet it has its own character, without being as obvious about it as the name might suggest. Tiguan could run rings round many more macho-looking machines, yet it’ll do an excellent job of being a family hatch with extra grip, and a badge that’s lost its plebeian overtones and gained smart Euro cachet.