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VW Tiguan was best in handling – not reliability

The Tiguan’s handling was exemplary, arguably the best in its class.


Ostensibly a compact SUV, Volkswagen's Tiguan was introduced to the North American market in 2009. Although it had the shape, configuration and purpose of an SUV, it wasn't that much larger than VW's own Rabbit or City Golf.

With the second row seats folded flat, there was 1,600 litres of cargo space in back. By way of comparison, Nissan's Rogue was good for 1,640 litres of cargo capacity, and the Kia Rondo 2,080 litres.

Three trim levels were offered: Trendline, Comfortline, and Highline. VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system was standard issue with the latter two models, and the Trendline had FWD. Power was supplied by a 200-horsepower, four-cylinder and you could choose from a six-speed manual or six-speed TipTronic automatic.

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The Tiguan was not primarily meant for off-roading, and its AWD system was designed more for vehicle stability and the odd foul weather confrontation. This drivetrain also featured inferior fuel economy compared to its FWD stablemate: 7.6 litres/100 km versus 8.3 on the highway. Not a huge amount of difference, but it added up over the long haul. So if economy is at the top of your list of must-haves, a manual gearbox Trendline may be the better choice.

Elsewhere, the Tiguan featured that intangible VW drive-ability factor in abundance. Ergonomics were well thought out, with easily understandable controls and switchgear. The front seats could be a little on the firm side, but not enough to keep buyers away.

Handling was exemplary; arguably the best in its class, and few competitors could match the Tiguan when it came to straightening out corners and responding to enthusiastic driving. True when it was introduced, and still true today. Some of the more obvious compact SUV competitors – Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V – are left behind by the Tiguan when things get twisty, and it came standard with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and an electronic parking brake. Normally, this kind of setup isn't found on any vehicle priced at less than 50 grand.

In fact, right from the beginning, the Tiguan has had an overall upscale ambience about it. Like many VWs, it felt more expensive than it was and, depending upon the model, had the usual complement of convenience features such as heated front seats, cruise control, a power sunroof, one-touch up/down power windows, a six-disc CD player and larger 17-inch wheels and tires. Options included a "technology package," which featured a navi system and DVD player, rear-view camera, Sirius satellite radio and a tow hitch.

Just one safety recall to report. It concerns a possibly faulty Engine Control Module (ECM) that may have glitchy software that will cause the engine to rev unexpectedly with the air conditioning on. This in turn may "surprise" the driver and lead to a crash. This may also affect some Passat models of the same vintage.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has 54 technical service bulletins for the 2009 VW Tiguan – a surprisingly high number. These run from possible timing chain slippage, to incidents where the engine continues to run even after the key has been shut off, to "fluctuating" headlights, to instances of fine snow getting into the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system via the blower motor. Lots of things to give you pause, in other words.

Aside from issues with the fuel and climate control systems, Consumer Reports likes most things about this edition of the Tiguan. It gives this compact SUV an "average" rating and a new-car rating 9 per cent below average. Comments from owners: "Had to replace the radio twice," "Broke down with under 4,400 miles" and "Faulty blower motor." Again with the blower motor.

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Market research firm J.D. Power agrees with Consumer Reports and gives the '09 Tiguan an "about-average" reliability rating. As far as this organization is concerned, high points include the powertrain and handling, and low points include inferior cargo capability, mediocre fuel economy and the fact that it needs premium gas.

From a base price of $27,500, a three-year-old Tiguan has dropped in value by $10,000-$15,000, depending upon the model and level of extras. Trendlines with 2WD are at least $5,000 less than their AWD counterparts, and the top-of-the-range Highline is $10,000 pricier than the base model.

Tech specs

2009 Volkswagen Tiguan

Original Base Price: $27,275; Black Book: $17,750-$26,725; Red Book: $14,125-$17,675

Engine: Turbocharged, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder

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Horsepower/Torque: 200 hp/207 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual and six-speed Tiptronic automatic

Drive: Front-wheel and all-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 10.4 city/8.1 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape, Kia Rondo, Nissan Rogue, Mazda CX-7

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