America is on a downsizing kick. The days of the supersized product – extra-large fries, "big gulp" soft drinks and mega mansions are numbered. But as our waists get wider, incomes fall, job prospects dim and gas prices rise at the pump, these staples are rapidly becoming the fad of yesteryear. Healthy downsizing is the order of the day; this new reality holds true even for our automotive preferences.
I believe we are witnessing the last days of the "big gulp" equivalent in motoring – those large size SUV's that now clog our roadways. In an era marked by economic downturns, rising fuel costs, and overcrowded urban streets, more and more people are ditching these behemoths and turning toward small SUVs and crossovers.
Small SUVs provide many of the perks of their oversized brethren – flexible space for people and cargo in a manageable, condensed package; versatile interiors and decent cargo room. The upright design makes for good outward visibility, and the tall ride height gives drivers a commanding view of the road while alleviating high fuel consumption.
Today's review vehicle, the Volkswagen Tiguan provides all these attributes. I drove the Volkswagen for more than 700 miles on a round trip from Virginia to New York last month and found much to love about it. Thanks to its peppy engine [a turbocharged, 200-horsepower-pumping, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder powerplant] and upscale interior, Tiguan comes in a pleasant package that's hard to beat. Whether driving in crowded Manhattan streets, zooming on the New Jersey Turnpike, or avoiding deer in Rock Creek Park, the Tiguan was a delight to drive. It offered a lot for the money in terms of features and driving enjoyment.
The interior features rich, soft-touch plastics on the fascia and crisp, brushed-metal-style trim surrounding the eight dash-mounted air vents and gear shift. Everything central to the driving experience is within reach. From the easily accessible volume and call buttons, to the smart and simply placed console controls on each side of the navigation system's LCD touch screen. It's easy to get to and easy to forget, which is exactly what most drivers want while on the wheel.
I found the navigation system particularly delightful. It sports one of the most intuitive interfaces.While its small enough not be a nuisance, its large enough that you don't have to squint in order to see what is going on. Once you key in your destination, a larger map on the LDC screen gives you the overall landscape while a smaller street view map within the speedometer pod guides you with clear arrows for an uncluttered street level view.
For 2012, a design refresh remakes the Tiguan to resemble the bigger VW Touareg SUV. The SUV's front end incorporates the horizontal Volkswagen brand face and it gains a pair of new front-bumper designs, headlights with LED running lights, and the two-bar grille that has come to define current VW products. At the back, the tailgate wears sharper creases, and the light housings are smaller and more squared-off. It's not bad, but does not necessarily make it stand out either.
Though the Tiguan has slightly less interior space than the class leading Honda CR-V we reviewed early this summer, there is spacious seating for five adults, easy step-in through the wide-opening doors and generous leg room and head room. The rear seat can also slide forward six inches to increase luggage space in the back, and for a little extra comfort on road trips, each of the rear seatbacks can be adjusted.
VW says fuel mileage has improved to an EPA rating of 21 in city, 27 highway, and 23 combined. Throughout my road test, I found those figures accurate with one exception. Tiguan needs premium gasoline to deliver the excellent performance. Over time, at almost $4 a gallon, the VW is a lot more expensive to maintain, compared to comparable models from Honda, Nissan and Ford – all of which hit the coveted 30 mpg mark with their compact crossovers.
The Tiguan's suite of active and passive safety features earned it a coveted Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick rating for 2012. The driver and front-seat passenger are protected by front, and side-thorax airbags, while side curtain protection head airbags take care of those in the front and rear seats. All Tiguan models also feature the advanced Volkswagen Intelligent Crash Response System that automatically shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors, and even switches on the hazard warning lights if the vehicle is involved in certain types of collision.
VW has a starting MSRP of $22,840. To get all the creature comfort offered on the Tiguan, expect to pay more than $30,000.