THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Robust construction, talented chassis, not the usual Asian fare
- What’s Worst: Small cargo space, lack of high-tech gear, timing-chain woes
- Typical Used Prices: 2009 – $10,500; 2016 – $22,000
Automotive historians were (somewhat) saddened to hear one of the most enduring car designs ever produced finally bought the farm when Lada terminated its 2107 sedan in 2012. Canadians might remember the cheap, mirthless compact sold here as the Signet/1500 in the 1980s.
The proletariat Lada had started out as the Fiat 124 in 1966. Fiat helped the Soviets build a sprawling assembly plant in Mother Russia to make winter-hardened versions of the 124. Production continued on the largely unchanged rear-drive platform for 42 years at the Togliatti plant, cranking out a total of 17.3 million Ladas.
The Lada 1500 ranked second after the original Volkswagen Beetle as the world’s bestselling automobile without a major design change during its epic production run. Apparently the peoples’ cars are largely immune to fashion trends.
VW was happy to keep other models in production well beyond their best-before dates. A case in point is the Tiguan, VW’s compact crossover that’s only now been replaced by the second-generation model after nine years – which amounts to two life cycles of almost any other model in the hotly contested crossover segment.
The Tiguan launched in Europe in 2007, where the compact ute immediately found traction, before coming to North America in 2009. Being a crossover, the Tiguan was spun off from the excellent front-drive Golf and Passat automobile platform, with all-wheel-drive running gear cobbled together for 4MOTION models (the base model was front-drive only).
Engineers specified an electro-mechanical steering system mounted to the rack instead of the steering column, which helped eliminate kickback at the driver’s hands. Other tech features included a trailer stability program (the Tiguan is rated to tow one metric tonne) and an electronic parking brake with auto-hold function for hill starts.
The five-door Tiguan gave up a little space inside to the larger CR-V and other compact crossovers. Still, the tall seating provided ample legroom front and rear for five, and the split-folding rear bench slid fore and aft some 20 cm to fine-tune the space requirements between occupants and their cargo.
“Very comfortable seats, and easy to hop in and out. The step-in height is perfect. Great visibility,” summed up one Tiguan owner online.
There’s standard height adjustment for the passenger seat, a feature that isn’t always available on Asian models. An optional panoramic glass roof panel with an integrated sunroof kept the interior sunny and warm.
In Europe, where the Tiguan sold like bratwurst at a biergarten, buyers had a choice of three gasoline engines and two diesels. No such luck on this side of the pond. VW sent just one: its familiar direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder gasoline engine, good for 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque.
Buyers could choose between a six-speed manual gearbox and a conventional six-speed automatic (no dual-clutch DSG here), with the latter gracing 4MOTION models exclusively. The Haldex all-wheel-drive system used a multi-plate centre clutch controlled by a computer that monitored the ABS wheel-speed sensors’ information for signs of slippage. It’s capable of dispatching all torque to either axle as required.
In U.S. government collision testing, the Tiguan received four out of five stars for overall crash protection, with three stars for total frontal impact protection and five stars for side impact protection.
Volkswagen engineers allowed the Tig to age gracefully with minimal massaging over the next eight years. All versions of the 2012 Tiguan received some exterior styling updates plus tweaks to the automatic transmission that boosted highway fuel economy. Top-of-the-line SEL models earned new 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights.
By 2016, a bunch of extra features had migrated to the standard-equipment list to keep the Tiguan competitive, including a rearview camera, premium vinyl upholstery (why do Germans equate vinyl with luxury?), heated front seats and keyless ignition.
DRIVING THE TIGUAN
The lighter front-drive Tiguan could sprint to highway velocity in 7.3 seconds, while the fully loaded 4MOTION model required 7.1 seconds to do the deed with its automatic slushbox – demonstrating that results can vary with the 2.0T engine.
One magazine decreed the Tiguan a “GTI on stilts,” an apt description with the hot hatch’s suspension geometry making the transition to crossover. The steering was ideally weighted and accurate, making it easy to place the little ute in a turn. Brake feel and performance were excellent.
“A powertrain that is a cut above the competition, excellent handling and composed road manners, comfortable plush ride,” reads one owner’s post. By comparison, the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 can’t match the Tiguan’s finely honed driving dynamics.
In a published road test of eight 2010-model-year compact SUVs, the Tiguan finished a strong second, beaten only by the remarkably quick V6-powered RAV4. Editors deducted points for the Tig’s noisy powertrain and “dimwitted” automatic transmission that constantly hunted for a higher gear to preserve fuel efficiency.
Speaking of which, owners reported that the 2.0T engine can be reasonably frugal or quite piggish, depending on how far the accelerator is pushed. It’s a common lament of turbocharging. And that’s premium fuel, please.
Imported from Wolfsburg, Germany, the Tiguan was quickly embraced by folks willing to pay a premium for Teutonic engineering and design. There’s not a line or crease out of place and the crossover drives straight and true. The well-finished interior earned rave reviews.
However, Volkswagen’s reliability can be spotty, especially for second-hand buyers who may not have the benefit of a warranty. VW has traditionally ranked poorly in J.D. Power’s seminal dependability studies. The 2.0T turbo gasoline engine uses a timing chain for durability, but it has exhibited issues relating to the lower timing-chain tensioner.
“My 2011 Tiguan tensioner failed. VW knows it’s a faulty part (and) won’t help. My entire engine is seized,” reads a tweet from an upset owner. When the tensioner fails, it can cause the intake or exhaust valves to contact the piston while the engine is running, bending the valves.
There is a TSI tensioner update kit available to owners of older Tiguans and other VWs that use this engine. There are also class-action lawsuits involving the faulty tensioner that’s caught the interest of many Volkswagen and Audi owners.
Another reported mechanical issue that has aggravated owners is a broken plastic intake manifold, which can present drivability issues. Failed ignition coils and short-lived fuel injectors and fuel pumps are commonplace – the warning sign is usually stalling at speed – as are faulty sensors and other electrical bugaboos.
The 2.0T engine is notorious for consuming oil. Coolant and other fluid leaks are not unknown. Squeaking brakes are a common gripe, which some dealers claim is resolved with thorough cleaning. The remote keyless entry transmitter may quit working due to a synchronization issue.
The Tiguan impresses with its thoughtful engineering and its refined, fun-to-drive character. But it can disappoint with higher – much higher – repair costs. Avoid the 2009-12 models. Newer Tiguans appear to have some of the issues sorted out, but establish a repair fund post-warranty just in case.