2015 VW Tiguan Review

2015-vw-tiguan-review
By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist

Some lament the passing of the manual transmission — me among them. But that puts me among the minority, because the majority seems to prefer the automatic, especially now that automatics are often the more fuel-efficient choice.

Perhaps this changing of the proverbial guard accounts for VW’s decision to offer the ’15 Tiguan in automatic-only form for the first time. Previously, this small crossover SUV was one of the very few such available with a six-speed manual. (One of the Last Men Standing as of this moment is the Mazda CX-5, which you can still get — for the moment — with a manual.)

I’m ambivalent.

The manual (and turbo’d) Tiggy was — in my opinion — more fun to drive. And it was certainly more affordable — even if the automatic-equipped version got slightly better fuel economy.

VW’s marketing people no doubt know better, having read the sales charts and — probably — discovering that only a handful of Tiguan buyers bought manual-equipped Tiggys. On the other hand, the quiet dropping of the Tiggy’s formerly available six-speed stick (there’s no overt mention on VW’s web site; just that all 2015 Tiggy’s now come standard with the “direct shift” DSG automatic) may be due to the political realities of our time. The 1-3 MPG fuel-efficiency advantage the DSG has over the manual may have been the true cause of the six-speed stick’s demise.

Believe it or else, these days, even a 1-3 MPG difference matters that much. Not so much to buyers, but to bureaucrats. Next year — couple of months from now — when the 2016 models start rolling out — the fed’s 35.5 MPG average fuel efficiency fatwa will go into effect. Any vehicle — car, truck or crossover SUV — that does not meet that average will cost its manufacturer money, in the form of “gas guzzler” fines, which will of course be passed on to buyers.

Hence, the likely real reason for the loss of the 2015 Tiggy’s clutch — and the case of sticker shock that comes without it.

Read on, McDuff.

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 among the smallest of compact crossovers — almost seven inches shorter overall than a Toyota RAV4, about six inches shorter overall than a Ford Escape and five inches shorter overall than a Mazda5 CX-5. 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.

But, the Tiggy has a powerful — and standard equipment — 200 hp turbocharged engine. Most of the others in this class either don’t have such an engine — or it’s an optional (and extra-cost engine).

The Tiggy is also, of course, German — something none of the others are.

Well, none of the others in the under $30k to start class.

The next-closest thing is a BMW X1, which is also German — and also comes standard with a powerful turbocharged engine. However, it also starts over $30k, while the Tiggy begins at $25,995.

The soon-to-be-here Audi Q3 starts at $32,500 — and a Q5 begins at nearly $40k.

However, the ’15 Tiggy is pricier than its non-German rivals, including most notably the Mazda CX-5 — which has a base price of only $21,545. There’s also the RAV4 — which starts at $23,680. And the Ford Escape, which starts at $23,100.

The Tiggy used to cost less than the RAV and the Escape — $23,305 for the 2014 S trim.

What’s changed? As detailed above , the 2015 Tiggy no longer comes standard with a manual transmission. All trims — including the base FWD S trim — now come standard with VW’s six-speed DSG automatic, which was formerly a fairly expensive option.

The price uptick arguably hurts the Tiggy’s formerly much more competitive position relative to its Japanese-brand rivals — and makes it easier to consider moving up a little to something like the BMW X1.

WHAT’S NEW

For 2015, VW is offering a new suite of driver-assist electronics, including VW CarNet connected services, new input slots for external electronics (iPods, etc.) an upgraded touchscreen and a standard back-up camera in all trims.

The only cosmetic change is a restyled rear bumper cover for R-Line trims.

WHAT’S GOOD

Snappy — and standard — 2.0 turbo engine.

Quickest small crossover under $26k.

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 car driving feel — and tidy/together layout.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Costs more than Japanese-brand competition..

Can cost more than a BMW.

No more manual transmission.

Now-mandatory DSG automatic’s engine braking programming can make the Tiggy feel (and sound) busy at times.

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, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape — but you do get more engine for your money. While those come standard with — respectively — 155, 176 and 168 hp — you get 200 hp in the Tiggy right off the bat.

The Kia Sportage is one of the Tiggy’s potential cross-shops that can be ordered with more engine — a 260 hp 2.0 turbo engine. But if you click that options box, you’ll be looking at more than $28k — about $3k more than the Tiggy’s base price, even as upticked for 2015.

Unfortunately, VW has hush-hushed the Tiggy’s formerly available six-speed manual transmission off to the glue factory, giving Mazda — which still offers a manual transmission in the CX-5 — a competitive advantage. But — the Mazda’s manual is only available with the standard 155 hp engine. Its stronger optional engine comes only with an automatic.

VW’s excellent 4-Motion all-wheel-drive system remains optional. “Excellent” — because it has the capability to route nearly all the engine’s power to the rear wheels when the vehicle is called upon to accelerate to its full potential. This front-to-rear power transfer means the Tiggy feels more like a rear-drive vehicle than its front-biased competitors.

Acceleration is still best-in-class, too — when compared with other small crossovers equipped with their standard engines. Zero to 60 takes about 7.4 seconds (manual models with FWD being quickest) whereas the 155 hp/six-speed manual CX-5 needs almost 10 seconds to reach the same speed. Even when ordered with its optional engine (2.5 liters, 184 hp) the Mazda’s best effort is a still-sluggish 8.3 or so seconds to 60. Both the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V are notorious slow-mobiles, each needing 9-plus seconds to get to 60 and neither offering a stronger optional engine.

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 due to the $3k price disparity.

Fuel economy is pretty good — given what’s under the hood.

The FWD Tiggy rates 21 city, 26 highway; with 4-Motion all-wheel-drive, the figures are 20 city and 26 highway. Note that the latter numbers are actually slightly better than the numbers posted last year by the manual-equipped and front-wheel-drive Tiggy (18 city, 26 highway). This is the reason — in all probability — why VW dropped the stick from the roster. Its city number — high teens — was simply no longer politically palatable.

Some of the Tiggy’s cross-shops do much better at the pump — a case in point being the stunningly fuel efficient (for a crossover) Mazda CX-5. With its standard engine and six-speed manual, it rates 26 city — better than the Tiggy’s highway number — and 35 on the highway. But keep in mind the Mazda’s 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.

The max tow rating is 2,200 pounds — excellent for a small crossover and more than most in this segment.

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. I do miss the manual, though. And not just because it was fun to operate — nor because it helped keep the Tiggy’s buy-in price so reasonable. I’m just not a big fan of VW’s DSG automatic, which does things like downshift pretty aggressively — and noisily — when descending a grade and will not upshift for what feels like — and sounds like — a long time. This is not in Sport mode, either. I’d rather coast — and even ride the brakes a bit, if necessary — than have the engine force-downshifted like this, with the revs climbing as high as four thousand RPMs and just sitting there until the road levels out. The DSG box is very efficient, but it’s just not as smooth as a conventional torque converter automatic or a deftly-shifted manual.

One thing that’s unique about the VW relative to the compact crossovers is its tight — and perhaps just right — dimensions. It is much shorter, end to end than its rivals — including the BMW X1, which is among the stubbiest yet still more than 2 inches longer overall.

Of course, the downside is the Tiggy’s back seat’s a tighter fit than 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 not as 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 traffic 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 38.3 in the just-redesigned (2015) Honda CR-V. The also-all-new Toyota RAV4 has 37.2 inches of legroom in its second row.

Cargo capacity stands at 23.8 cubic feet with the back seat up — 56.1 one with them down. This is pretty picayune. (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). And though you won’t find space for a pallet of bricks in the Tiggy’s cargo area, the modular crossover layout (folding second row, tallish profile) allows you to carry a lot more stuff a lot more easily than you could in a car.

The Tiggy’s cabin is tidy — typically Germanic. Alles in ordnung. I dig the straightforward retro analog gauge cluster and lack of clutter. The new, larger LCD screen for the GPS/audio system corrects one of the Tiggy’s few deficiences relative to the newest/latest stuff — and it is pleasantly no-nonsense and very easy to operate. Excellent seat heaters. This is typical of German cars; in many Japanese cars, the seat heaters are more like warmers — and they often shut themselves off just as soon as they get warm. The Tiggy’s get hot — and stay hot as long as you’d like them to.

Another coolness: The Tiggy’s 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 and which 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 REST

The Tiggy cries out for diesel power.

Well, I cry out for it.

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 probably 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 useful and 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, don’t forget: VW sells the TDI diesel with a stick.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The loss of the manual hurts — as does the price uptick that goes without it. But the Tiggy’s still the one to beat if you want a compact crossover with more than mediocre performance — and don’t want to spend much more than about $25k.

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