VW's competitive crossover grinds it out

NZ AUTOCAR
Last updated 11:39 21/12/2011

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Winning isn't always pretty. A gradual accumulation of points through penalties and drop goals doesn't make for a great spectacle, but it gets the job done. When the ABs do it, it's called ''grinding out a hard-fought victory'': when the Poms do it, it's bloody boring!

Speaking of boring, the generic crossover comes to mind, a vehicle that gets the job done in unspectacular fashion but makes the daily grind that little bit easier for family folk. Some models, however, are just a tad more interesting than the others - like the VW Tiguan.

Given the market's increasing love of crossovers, it's no surprise that the Tiguan is one of the brand's best sellers. It has now been treated to a mild, midlife facelift, the results of which are seen best from the front, where the familiar VW headlight-and-grille treatment features.

Our test car wears optional xenons, along with LED running lights, adding $3000, which not only look the part during the day but also do the business come nightfall. Eighteen-inch alloys are the only other extra that differentiate this Tiguan from those straight from the showroom floor. As for price, it has decreased slightly and sits at $53,250 - or about the same as a Hyundai ix35 - despite the standard specification list gaining a few new features. Badge snobs take note.

All the same, the upgrade doesn't stretch to the mechanical hardware. There's no sign of a better engine, or a seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox, or VW's eco-friendly, BlueMotion fuel-saving technology. The 2.0-litre, 103kW diesel and six-speed auto are retained, and although there's nothing much wrong with this combination, we're a picky bunch... The diesel feels a generation behind the game now; it's a bit noisy, and needs a genuine 2000rpm on the dial before you're smiling. As highlighted by fairly average performance figures, it also fails to pull with any great intent. The gearbox defaults to second gear from standstill, producing a sluggish takeoff.

On the plus side, you're never left scrambling for traction, as the Tiguan runs 4Motion (VW's on-demand, all-wheel-drive setup), and the electronic diff-lock software has been upgraded to provide a more effective drive out of corners. This is where the Tiguan is better than most crossovers: it's a composed customer on the go. Well planted, it displays no unruly body movements, and has plenty of grip, particularly at the front end. The road-oriented rubber is a blessing. The ride quality is well damped, and the steering is accurate through the bends, which can be approached with confidence. It even brakes competently, and the ESP is seldom triggered, at least in the dry.

VW's self-parking feature is now standard. Just press the appropriate button, cruise along a line of parked cars, and the system will scan for a space. Once one is found, you simply select reverse and then control only the throttle and brake, as the steering work is taken care of, the wheel twirling by itself. It couldn't be easier. While front and rear parking sensors make the compact crossover even easier to pilot in town, the turning circle could still be sharper.

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Inside, the ambience of quality remains, and there are a few minor but telling changes, including new ventilation controls, a different gear knob, a multifunction steering wheel, and alcantara trim for the seats. Other than the centre bin, the storage is well sorted; so, too, is the safety equipment, and connectivity for various gadgets.

Considering the Tiguan's compact dimensions, there's a generous amount of room in the rear, where the seats are set higher than those in front, giving littlies in car seats a better view of the outside world. Adults will also find travel comfortable, although the width of the vehicle makes it more of a four-seater. The luggage space could be greater, and though the rear seat folds niftily, some boot-mounted levers would make this job easier still.

Though the Tiguan's driveline might be off the pace now and is not the most versatile, the rest of the package remains convincing. Most of the mainstream Asian competition has increased in price, making this VW all the more competitive.

MODEL: Volkswagen Tiguan.
PRICE: 
$53,250.
ON SALE IN NZ: 
Sep 2011.
ENGINE: 
1968cc, IL4, 103kW@4200rpm, 320Nm@1750rpm.
TRANSMISSION: 
6-speed auto, on-demand AWD.
VITALS: 8.74sec 0-100 km/h, 7.5L/100km, 199g/km, 
1718kg.
RATING:
 7/10.

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