Camping with the new Volkswagen Tiguan


by By TOM VOELK / Special to

Posted on September 4, 2008 at 12:50 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 29 at 9:12 AM

Video: Driving Northwest: The VW Tiguan

The next big thing in SUVs is small SUVs. By now you're probably tired of reading that buyers are shunning large sport utes and migrating to diesel powered hybrids that sip homegrown organic biofuel (I'm kidding, but not by much). These days the only SUVs that are flying off the lot are Small Utility Vehicles, the well known players being CR-V, RAV4, Escape, Forester and Vue. Just in time to capitalize on this market trend is a new offering from Volkswagen called Tiguan. 

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Normally I spend a week with a car using it the way any family would - shuttling the kids to sports practices, gathering groceries and fetching Happy Meals. Tiguan though is being pressed into severe duty because we're going camping. This VW is not a big vehicle, it's about the size of Honda's CR-V and we take a lot of stuff on our excursions. Originally the plan was for friends to take our cooler, campstove, sleeping bags and condo sized tent in their minvan. Sadly they had to bag the trip at the last minute, leaving us to haul it all ourselves. For a moment I think about using our personal car then realize if I can wedge all our gear into the Tiguan it saves us 500 + miles of wear and tear on the family truckster. Well, what would you do?

My kids, who have experienced just about every vehicle known to mankind, immediately find that the rear seats adjust fore and aft to expand cargo area. We negotiate the amount of legroom they need and place the two big space hogs, a cooler and big plastic storage box of cooking supplies, in the back. Turns out I need to rob a half inch more of legroom from the children. The back seat is split 60/40 and one seating space is sacrificed by folding it flat. By using every nook and cranny, including the area under the heated front seats that's large enough for a standard purse, everything tucks in well. It's almost as if we're forgetting something (hmm, writers call this foreshadowing). A small but handy detail, it's easier to use the small spaces next to the spare tire because the load floor cover can be propped up out of the way by a small latch that hooks into the side wall. Props to you VW (pun intended).

As we head out of town it's immediately apparent the Tiguan has some spunk. This is due to the 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct injected 4-cylinder that makes 200 horsepower. There's little turbo lag here and lots of torque (207 lbs-ft). Tiguan feels faster than the 7.9 second 0-60 time VW claims. I tell you this in case you're feeling cocky and consider drag racing a Toyota RAV4 V6 for pinks. Don't. You'll lose your ride. There's a choice of manual transmission and the automatic I'm driving that features a Tiptronic manual shift mode. Both are 6-speed.   

As we head for eastern Washington the roads become more narrow and curvy. Here Tiguan shines. Volkswagens have a solid German feel to them and their small sport ute is no different. While VW's comparison to GTI is a bit of a stretch, Tiguan will sling around corners with poise and precision considering it rides moderately high. While I'd like to do a back-to-back comparison to be sure, while in my hands the chassis dynamics feel best in class. As we contemplate the comically overloaded minivans and RVs we pass it's apparent we've packed lighter than we first thought.

Cruising through scenery that looks more Southwest than Northwest, the ride quality is smooth and supple, road noise is on the lower side. Gas mileage with recommended premium fuel is decent. On our 600 mile highway jaunt the average is 25 miles per gallon. EPA rating is 18 city, 24 highway for the all-wheel drive model.

Tiguan is loaded with safety features. Six airbags are standard but there's also the option of side torso units for the rear passengers that supplement the full side curtain bags. At $350 I'd say the kids are worth it. There's also a full compliment of standard electronics such as anti-lock brakes, traction control and electronic stability control that will keep you from swerving into a ditch (unless that's where you intend to go). Tiguan has snagged the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick award for 2008, the best rating from the non-profit research organization. Tiguan has not been crash tested by the NHTSA at this writing.

Press cars are often loaded and this is no exception. The satellite navigation system works flawlessly. The panoramic roof at $1,300 is a must-have for sun worshipers. Our kids actually did enjoy the view out the 13 square feet of glass. Of course they were entertained by music on AM, FM, Sirius satellite radio, an iPod jack in the center console, a 6 CD changer that takes up most of that console and even a flash memory card slot that can feed the 30 gig hard drive system. What, no live band option? Even with all that, we go old school and get through almost half of 99 Bottles of Beer (the song, not the beverage).

The interior is made up of rich looking plastics that are satisfying to touch. Embossed fabric seats are comfortable and supportive. Plenty of door pockets hold Mariko's site seeing research. She loves to research. There are a few small gripes. In order to get dual zone climate control a buyer has to go for the top 'o the line SEL model. Since we're in an SE we make do with a manual single mode system. Oh sure, the numbers make it look like this is set and forget temperature control but it's not. There's no plastic trim for the seat tracks either, an odd oversight given the quality cabin. The blunt edges cause our boy to put his smelly feet on the front center console. That's my punishment for taking away their leg room.     

Soon we reach our destination of Sun Lake State Park campground. Backing into the campsite is made easy by the rear mounted camera displayed on the clear LCD screen. Setting up Chaetae deVoelk? Not as simple. Our house sized tent keeps blowing away in the strong steady wind. Oh and that earlier foreshadowing? Turns out I forgot to pack my sleeping bag. It' on the porch at home. Gosh darn, I guess I'll just have to share one with my lovely co-pilot. She eyes me suspiciously, as if I've planned it this way all along. I'm not that smart.

Towing capacity is 2,200 pounds and the roof will endure 220 pounds of outdoor gear. Our Tiguan has optional 4-Motion all-wheel drive so we go exploring our rugged surroundings. Since it's not designed for extreme off roading, not many will do rugged rock crawling with Tiguan but for those considering it Tiguan's stock approach angle is 18.6 degrees, departure is 23.3. The breakover angle is 21.3 degrees and the maximum gradient it can handle is 31.

While we can feel the automatic 4 Motion system working we don't even approach extreme conditions, just very haggard gravel. Imagine our surprise when a Jetta TDI shows up on these rutted roads with a canoe strapped on its roof. We later find out from the Seattle owner that he's munched his undercarriage on these kinds of roads before. The Tiguan is unscathed.

As we sit around the campfire roasting marshmallows for s'mores the name of this rig comes up. My kids, used to my pranks, think I'm kidding that Tiguan is a compilation of tiger and iguana. It's true. Apparently there was a contest in Germany to name it and that's the winning moniker. Remember, these are the folks that brought you Touareg.       

In the end we find Tiguan impressive if not cheap. Starting at around 24 grand, this loaded SE tester goes for 33 with destination charges. A similarly equipped Honda CR-V retails for 29K. Still Tiguan has a solid and well crafted demeanor that has made us happy campers. The size is right for everyday use and we find that it can be pressed into hard hauling duty if the kids sit together and sacrifice a few inches of legroom. I recommend a test drive. The camping trip is optional.

OK the car review is over. In case you're wondering, our trip took us to Dry Falls in Washington state. It's gorgeous country and many who live here in the Pacific Northwest don't even know about it even though it's near Grand Coulee dam. Here's something cool: At night they spill water over the dam to create an enormous white screen for a free laser light show. It's much more impressive in person than what you'll see if you watch this review on iTunes as the video podcast Drive. 

We also hit Soap Lake on the way home. Oddly enough this place is void of English speaking people, everyone here today is from Europe or Asia, except maybe the ones in the huge motorhome towing the Honda CR-V. They're definitely American. Slathering on the silt is supposed to have healing properties for your skin. All I know is that it's fun to mud up and look like The Thing from Fantastic Four for an afternoon. Trust me, the kids LOVE it. 

Other than that may I recommend using Hershey's Special Dark chocolate bars for your s'mores? Give it a try and tell me what you think. If nothing else get out with the family and enjoy what this great country has to offer. As my kids enter high and middle school it's apparent the old clich is true - they grow up too fast. Live life before it slips away.