2012 Volkswagen Tiguan SE: SUV’s popularity continues to grow

2012 Volkswagen Tiguan SE: SUV’s popularity continues to grow

2012 Volkswagen Tiguan SE.2012 Volkswagen Tiguan SE.Empty-nesters and young couples who have grown accustomed to the flexibility, security and all-weather capabilities of the conventional sport-utility vehicle have welcomed the industry’s move toward right-sizing. One of the success stories is Volkswagen’s Tiguan, introduced to the U.S. market for the 2009 model year.

How successful? The Tiguan beat its July 2011 sales by more than 26 percent and is rolling out the door for 2012 at a 9.3 percent higher rate than last year. — not bad for a car that underwent no more than a mild freshening for the 2012 model year.

Volkswagen boasts the Tiguan is “the only compact SUV with turbo standard.” Turbochargers are fun, but VW seems to have set the bar too low. The Tiguan is also truly compact, fuel-efficient and uncommonly nimble — with road manners and interior accommodations reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz GLK, but at a much lower price point.

The Tiguan comes in several trim levels, with automatic or standard transmission, and with front-wheel or all-wheel drive. All have the same 2.0-liter turbocharged Four, which puts out 200 horsepower. The base model, with a stick shift, starts at $22,840.

Our 2012 Tiguan SE featured a sunroof and navigation system, front-wheel drive and six-speed automatic transmission. The sticker price was $31,345 — substantially more than a similarly equipped Chevrolet Equinox or Hyundai Tucson, to name two of the many medium-priced compact SUVs vying for market share.

For people who like the Tiguan’s personality but need something a little beefier, VW also builds the midsize Touareg.

The Tiguan features simple, straightforward climate and audio controls, mounted in an understated yet elegant interior. 

Our shortest-statured driver had a little trouble seeing out the rear quarters, while our tallest driver couldn’t get the seat and tilt-telescoping steering wheel precisely where he wanted them. (Specifically, he had to sacrifice thigh support to get the seat high enough to position him correctly behind the wheel.)

Once properly positioned, however, Tiguan drivers came to appreciate its exquisite balance between ride and handling. VW has made no compromises; the Tiguan rides smoothly and quietly, but corners like a sports sedan. It also delivers respectable fuel economy. We did a little better than the promised 27 mpg highway mileage.

While the Tiguan doesn’t match its major competitors’ cargo room — cubic footage is more than 50 percent greater in the Toyota RAV4 — the Tiguan does a nice job of accommodating passengers in the front as well as the rear seats.

The price may seem high, but the Tiguan is nicely equipped. In addition to the panoramic power sunroof and navigation system, it features V-Tex leatherette upholstery, heated seats, exterior mirrors and windshield-washer nozzles, multifunction trip computer, Sirius satellite radio and cruise control.

Rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Tiguan has accumulated average frequency-of-repair ratings in Consumer Reports magazine owner surveys.

Steven Macoy (smacoy3070@cs.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $31,345

Engine: 2.0-liter V-6, 200 horsepower, 207 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Weight: 3,404 lb.

Ground clearance: 6.9 in.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 18-in. alloy

Tires: 235/50R18 97H all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 23.8 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 56.1 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 2,200 lb.

Fuel capacity: 16.8 gallons

Fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 27 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium (recommended)