By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
The name’s awful.
Let’s get that out of the way first. It’s hard to pronounce — it’s hard to spell. A neologistic concatenation of “Tiger” and “Iguana.”
It’s nearly as poor a choice for a car’s name as Touareg.
But don’t hold that against the Tiggy (don’t you like that name better?)
Its handling chops are almost-BMW (X1). But the VW’s base price of just over $23k is far from BMW. And, you can get a manual transmission in the Tiggy . . . . but not the “ultimate driving machine” X1.
Or pretty much any other compact crossover — except the Mazda CX-5. It’s the Tiggy’s closest-in-spirit (and price) rival. But the CX is shy one turbo and 45 hp . . . if you want to row your own. Its standard engine — the only engine available with a manual — makes only 155 hp. And its optional 2.5 liter engine comes only with an automatic — and only produces 184 hp — vs. the Tiggy’s standard 200 hp — and turbocharged — engine.
The Tiggy’s also German-made — the only compact crossover in this class that is — and which isn’t also over $30k to start.
That’s a valuable intangible to those who want the feel and ride/handling of a German-made (and German-designed) vehicle — but would rather not pay the price asked by BMW or Audi or Mercedes-Benz.
WHAT IT IS
The Tiggy is a compact crossover SUV built on the same basic platform as the VW Golf — from which it derives its sporty rather than utilitarian character.
It is also among the smallest of compact crossovers — about 5 inches shorter than a CX-5 and two inches shorter than a BMW X1. This makes it easier to park and leaves more room in your garage, but also less room for cargo (just 23.8 cubes behind the second row) than others in its class.
However, it is also stronger (and performs better) than most of its rivals — with the previously mentioned turbo 2.0 liter engine standard equipment in all trims. And you can get the turbo engine with a six-speed manual transmission — a combo no one else in this segment offers.
Base price is $23,305 for the FWD S model with the manual transmission.
A top-of-the-line R-Line with 4Motion all-wheel-drive stickers for $38,835.
The major upgrade for the current model year is the newly available R-Line package, which fits the Tiggy with 19-inch wheels and a complementary suspension upgrade, paddle shifters, special R-Line steering wheel, LED running lights and license plate surround, power folding outside mirrors and top-of-the-line leather trim for the interior.
Snappy — and standard — 2.0 turbo engine.
Get it with a six-speed manual transmission.
Quickest small crossover under $24k.
Best-handling small crossover under $30k.
Better-than-competitors’ max tow rating (2,200 lbs.)
Smaller-size makes it easier to maneuver/park; takes up less space in the garage.
“German” driving feel — and tidy/together layout.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Costs more than competition — about $2k more than CX-5 to start.
Can cost more than a BMW — without the status of the BMW badge.
Six-speed manual only available in FWD (and base S trim) version.
Less back seat real estate relative to rivals; less cargo room than rivals.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Tiggy is more expensive to start than competitors like the Mazda CX-5 and Kia Sportage — but you get more engine for your money. While those two come standard with — respectively — 155 and 182 hp — you get 200 hp in the Tiggy right off the bat.
Mazda offers a manual — but with no more than 155 hp.
The Kia Sportage can be ordered with more engine — a 260 hp 2.0 turbo engine. But then you’re up to $26,900 — several notches higher than the Tiggy’s $23,305 base price.
And Kia does not offer its turbo 2.0 engine with a manual transmission.
Unfortunately, availability is limited to FWD S trim versions of the Tiggy. Models equipped with 4Motion all-wheel-drive come standard with a six-speed automatic. Still, if you’re looking for a manual-trans compact crossover — and more than 155 hp — the Tiggy’s pretty much the only game in town.
Acceleration is best-in-class — compared with other small crossovers equipped with their standard engines. Zero to 60 in about 7.3-7.5 seconds (manual models with FWD being quickest). The 155 hp/six-speed CX-5 needs almost 10 seconds to reach the same speed — and even with its optional engine (2.5 liters, 184 hp) its best effort is a still-sluggish 8.3 or so seconds to 60.
The base engined Kia’s also not as quick as the Tiggy. When equipped with its optional engine, it is — but that’s an apples-oranges comparison.
Fuel economy is pretty good — given what’s under the hood.
The FWD/six-speed (manual) Tiggy carries a city/highway rating of 18 city/26 highway; with the automatic and 4Motion AWD, the numbers are 20 city, 26 highway — a slight improvement over the FWD/manual-equipped version.
This stacks up pretty well against the base Kia’s 21 city, 28 highway (with FWD).
The Mazda rocks at the pump — 26 city, 35 highway (FWD/manual transmission) but keep in mind that nearly double digit zero to 60 “performance.”
VW recommends the Tiggy’s turbo 2.0 engine be fed premium unleaded — but it’s not required.
ON THE ROAD
The Tiggy’s quick and — to borrow a term from motorcycle road racing — fast. In two-wheeled lingo, this does not mean top speed. It means it can take a corner at speed. Few crossovers are adroit in this respect — including the powerful (and quick) but not fast Sportage SX. It corners acceptably — but not excellently. The Tiggy’s Golf underthing’s — its shared platform — show when the esses show up.
The Mazda CX-5 has a great suspension — but lacks the engine. Even with its optional powerplant, it hasn’t got the post-apex turbo-goosed verve the Tiggy’s got. The VW’s engine produces gobs of torque: 207 ft.-lbs. — vs. 150 ft.-lbs. in the base CX. And the Tiggy’s torque peak is 1,700 RPM — vs. 4,000 for the CX-5’s wheezy 2.0 engine.
A BMW X1 is more athletic than the Tiggy — quicker in a straight line and faster through the curves. But it’s close-run thing — and the final result will be greatly affected by who happens to be behind the wheel of either machine. Personally, I’d rather have the Tiggy — the manual-equipped Tiggy. Because no matter how bang-slam perfectly timed a modern eight-speed automatic shifts, it’s an inherently more passive experience.
If you want to be The Decider, you’ll prefer the manual Tiggy, too.
The other thing that’s unique about the VW relative to the compact crossovers is its tight — and perhaps just right — dimensions. Yeah, the back seat’s also tighter than in several competitors (more on this in a minute). But the payoff is a vehicle that feels — that is — more manageable, especially in city/urban situations. Not only is it shorter than most — it is also less wide.
Let’s have a look at that now.
AT THE CURB
The Tiggy is descended from the Golf — and is only about 10 inches longer than the Golf (174.5 inches vs. 165.4 inches). It is also several inches shorter than the CX-5 (179.3 inches) and though it’s only slightly less long than the Kia Sportage (174.8 inches) it is also less wide than either of them: 71.2 inches for the VW vs. 73 inches for the Kia and 72.4 for the Mazda. It doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but — trust me — it makes a big difference when you’re negotiating congealed shopping mall parking lots. Of if you happen to have a smallish garage.
That’s the upside.
The downside is what you’d expect: A smallish back seat area — and cargo area. Tiggy’s got just 35.8 inches of second row legroom — as compared with 39.3 in the CX-5 and 37.9 in the Sportage.
Cargo capacity stands at 23.8 cubic feet with the back seat up — 56.1 one with them down. The CX-5 has 34.1 cubic feet of space behind its second row — and 64.8 with them folded flat.
On the other hand — and this is interesting — the Kia Sportage has slightly less total cargo space — 54.6 cubic feet with its second row folded (though it has slightly more with them not folded: 26.1 cubic feet).
The Tiggy’s cabin is tidy — and typically Germanic. Alles in ordnung. I dig the straightforward retro analog gauge cluster. No digital doohickeys. The LCD screen for the GPS/audio system is small — relative to the newest/latest stuff — but it, too, is pleasantly no-nonsense and very easy to operate. Excellent seat heaters. And the back seats recline — an unusual (and very handy) plus. It also makes up some for the abbreviated legroom back there. An optionally available full-length panorama sunroof — with full-length sunshade — helps brighten up the cabin and also airs it out on hot days.
The R-LIne package turns the Tiggy into a luxury crossover in all but name. Thusly tricked out — and take off the VW badges — it could pass for a small Audi or BMW crossover. Objectively, it’s as nice — as high-end feeling — as they are. But that pushing $40k price tag is probably pushing things too far. VW’s genius has long been selling cars that drive — ride and handle — like BMWs, Benzes Audis. That feel as “put together” as those cars do
But which don’t cost what those cars do.
At $27k-ish — what you can expect to pay for a nicely equipped Tiggy SE with 4Motion all-wheel-drive — you’ve bought yourself a deal. At $38k-ish… you’ve got a really nice vehicle. But you could have bought an equally nice one (BMW X1) but with the status of a prestige badge tossed into the bargain.
The Tiggy cries out for diesel power.
Well, I cry out for it.
And why not? The Golf — which is kin to the Tiggy — is available with VW’s superb TDI four cylinder turbo-diesel, which returns 30 city and 42 highway in the Golf wrapper. In the heavier Tiggy, the TDI’s numbers would be lower. But they’d still be spectacular — probably best in class. As would the tow rating. The gas Tiggy’s 2,200 pound max is good — better than the typical 1,500 pound rating of many small crossovers (both the Kia Sportage and the Mazda CX-5 max out at 2,000 pounds). But with a high-torque diesel up front, the Tiggy could probably pull at least 3,500 pounds; maybe more.
Arguably, a diesel in the Tiggy makes more sense than in the Golf. It — the Tiggy — is a crossover SUV, after all.
The Golf is a car.
Diesels are nice in cars. But they’re necessary in SUVs. They endow the vehicle with the capacity to do real work — and they notch up the fuel efficiency to acceptable levels, a critical thing these days. It’s going to be tough enough for cars to make Obama’s 35.5 MPG average mandatory minimum that goes into effect come 2016. It’ll be even tougher for heavier, less aerodynamically efficient crossovers and SUVs to get there. Diesel power would help.
And it’d be nice, too.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In a segment overflowing with sameness, the Tiggy’s something different.