There's a gray area between mainstream crossover SUVs and luxury models and that's where the 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan resides -- a niche where economy and utility collide with upscale appointments and badge recognition. The big question is, can a vehicle be both mainstream and luxury? The short answer is a waffling, "maybe."
The VW Tiguan's interior is a welcome departure from the plastic-trimmed cabin of the typical compact crossover. The quality of materials in this VW approaches that of premium brands like Audi, while the solid construction of this VW's interior eclipses that of its competition in the segment. Even the Tiguan's road manners achieve a certain level of sophistication. Compared to its rivals, the Tiguan is, in a single word, European.
The Tiguan's styling cues place it somewhere between the larger VW Touareg SUV and smaller VW Golf hatchback. The Tiguan's look has been updated ever so slightly for 2011, notably with a new grille. Other than this, the only substantive change for 2011 is the elimination of the Wolfsburg Edition trim level. All this suits us just fine, as the mix of European charm and engaging driving dynamics is what sets the Tiguan apart from the rest of the compact crossovers, not simply its styling.
At the same time, the 2011 VW Tiguan comes up slightly short in terms of space and utility. The Tiguan's passenger space is decidedly smaller, and luggage capacity behind the rear seat is substantially less than that of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Even when the rear seat is folded down, the VW's maximum cargo space still comes up about 25 percent shy of its bigger Japanese competitors. Buyers who place a premium on pure utility would probably be better served by something else.
Buyers whose priorities are weighted toward quality and refinement, however, will find the 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan a compelling proposition. Of course, even the Tiguan's mix of style and refinement now has been embraced by some of its competition, notably the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage. The VW still has an edge when it comes to interior quality, but we think it best to check out all of the alternatives before saying "maybe" to the 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan is a compact crossover SUV available in S, SE and SEL trim levels.
The base S model comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, full power accessories, air-conditioning, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, keyless entry, cloth upholstery, eight-way manually adjustable front seats, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker stereo with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
The SE adds 17-inch wheels, additional chrome exterior trim, foglights, a roof rack, a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, heated washer nozzles, a power-adjustable driver seat, heated front seats, leatherette vinyl upholstery, a trip computer, a roof storage console and an upgraded touchscreen stereo with satellite radio and an iPod interface. Opting for the SE's Sunroof and Navigation package will get you 18-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof and a navigation system.
The SEL includes all of the above plus adaptive bi-xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone automatic climate control, ambient interior lighting, a 12-way power driver seat with memory, keyless ignition and leather upholstery. Adding Premium Navigation to the SEL also includes a rearview camera. The SEL 4Motion with Premium Navigation and Dynaudio option rounds off the Tiguan with all-wheel drive and an eight-speaker premium Dynaudio sound system. Options for all Tiguan models include a trailer hitch, side steps, a ground-effects kit of body pieces and 19-inch wheels.
Powertrains and Performance:
The 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 that produces 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. All trim levels come standard with front-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive is optional on the SE and SEL. A six-speed manual is standard on the Tiguan S, while a six-speed automatic is optional on the S and standard on the SE and SEL.
In Edmunds performance testing, an all-wheel-drive SEL accelerated from a standstill to 60 mph in 8.4 seconds, which is about average for other crossovers in this class. Its EPA-estimated fuel economy is again average at 20 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined for both the front- and all-wheel-drive models with the automatic, while the S trim's standard manual is essentially the same at 19/26/22.
Standard equipment on the Tiguan includes antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags and side curtain airbags.
In Edmunds brake testing, the all-wheel-drive Tiguan 4Motion came to a stop from 60 mph in 126 feet -- an average performance. In government crash testing, the 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan was awarded a perfect five stars in all front and side crash categories. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the Tiguan one of its "Top Safety Picks" earning its best rating of "Good" in frontal-offset, side and roof-strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features:
As with most vehicles in the Volkswagen lineup, the 2011 Tiguan boasts a premium-style cabin that approaches Audi in its overall sense of quality. High-end materials, solid craftsmanship and even actual metal trim enhance the premium feel. Most controls are large and well placed, and the available navigation system sports a large screen and a simple interface.
Firm, well-shaped seats provide ample support whether you're logging lots of miles on a road trip or simply negotiating a freeway cloverleaf. The 60/40-split-folding rear seat has a cargo pass-through in the middle, so the Tiguan is adept at carrying cargo and passengers at the same time. The rear seat also slides fore and aft to improve either rear legroom or cargo space and the backrest also reclines.
With the rear seats positioned as far forward as they'll go, the Tiguan can accommodate 23.8 cubic feet of cargo. With the second-row seat folded down, maximum capacity jumps to 56.1 cubic feet, although this is about 17 cubic feet shy of the space afforded by the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
The 2011 VW Tiguan might not have the most impressive acceleration in the segment, but the torquey power delivery of its turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes it feel lively around town or when passing slower vehicles. When cornering, the Tiguan feels confident and poised, absorbing ruts and bumps with ease. Over rough roads, its high-strength steel frame and heavy-duty dampers add an extra measure of durability.
For the most part, the 2011 Tiguan's electrically assisted steering feels very similar to a traditional hydraulic-assist setup. The steering effort starts light and builds to a moderate amount that won't tax even the skinniest of arms as speed increases. There's not much effort needed for the brake pedal either, as it delivers plenty of stopping power with a modest push.