Cars > Driven

Volkswagen Tiguan 1.4 TSI: An overlooked gem

Here’s a good showcase for German engineering and quality

The design looks especially premium next to those of mainstream rivals. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

When Volkswagen was looking for a name to attach to its latest compact crossover back in 2006, the company decided to let the readers of a German car magazine vote which one of five short-listed names it should use, well knowing that readers of such magazines—especially online ones—are a sophisticated bunch with great taste. The winning entry was a portmanteau of the words “tiger” (a large cat) and “leguan” (a large lizard), and coming across a Tiguan on Philippine roads is currently almost as rare an occurrence as seeing the two animals it was named after in the same place at the same time. Which is a shame, because the latest version of this versatile Volkswagen has a lot to offer, as we found out during a weekend road trip.

This versatile car will happily bring you to just about any place in the country. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The first thing you notice when you get into the Tiguan is how heavy the doors feel. With the key in your pocket, all you have to do is touch the sensor on the door handle and the car will open. Once you’re inside, the door closes with a satisfying noise that instantly indicates a certain level of quality, even if that reads like an old German stereotype. I’m almost certain VW employs someone who makes sure the doors close with the right sound, and whoever that person is, he or she did a good job with our test unit. Pressing the start button results in a different and much gentler noise filling the cabin as the 1.4-liter four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline engine comes to life.

Despite being a tad shorter than the CR-V, the CX-5 and the RAV4, the Tiguan has good, comfortable space inside. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The petrol powerplant in our test car produces 148hp and 250Nm, which together with the six-speed DSG transmission is enough to propel the 4.5m-long crossover from zero to 100km/h in 9.2 seconds and to a theoretical top speed of 200km/h. While the available power is more than sufficient for the quick sprints needed to overtake the endless number of tricycles on provincial roads, the real strength of this engine lies in its cleverly designed fuel efficiency. Not only does it have a start/stop system that saves fuel when traffic is at a standstill, it can also switch off half the block when you’re coasting along on the highway. This two-cylinder mode activates automatically and really seems to improve fuel consumption considerably. We managed to return 13.2km/L on a trip that included everything from congested city driving to well-paced highway cruising, which means you won’t be seeing your local gas station attendant very often.

The Tiguan has a no-nonsense cabin with logically arranged controls. PHOTOS BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The smooth and quiet engine fits perfectly with the rest of the car, where a proper premium feel is definitely present. It’s hard to exactly pin down one thing or feature that creates this impression. Everything just seems that little bit better designed, more carefully thought out, or finished with nicer materials than in many other cars in the same class. There are countless little things that you notice bit by bit as you use the car. The automatically adjusting and retractable cupholders that free up space in the center console when not in use; the glove compartment that is connected to the air-conditioning to keep contents cool if needed; or the clever way the rear split-folding seats work. Instead of having to walk around the car, open the door and find the lever to manually fold said seats when you notice that something won’t fit in the back with these seats up, you simply pull a lever at the side of the trunk and the seats fold flat automatically.

Drive-through grub is more enjoyable in here. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

Although technically considered a compact crossover, the Tiguan definitely feels big enough to be a proper family car. Rear-seat passengers can enjoy an almost lounge-like feeling complete with fold-out picnic tables, adjustable seats and their own climate control thanks to the triple-zone Climatronic that also includes an allergen filter. Meanwhile, the in-car entertainment system includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen, USB and auxiliary connectors, and support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to make sure everyone stays amused.

The rear seats fold flat without the usual hassle. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The fresh styling of this second-generation model, with its slightly straighter and more muscular lines, suits the Tiguan well and even seems to attract the odd appreciative look from passersby. The usual safety features, including stability control and disc brakes all around, ensure that the aforementioned body lines remain straight. Driving comfort is as good as you’d expect from a car that clearly wants to be seen as being a cut above the rest, with wind and road noise at an absolute minimum and the suspension handling bumpy roads with aplomb.

We like the rear design. It's not too busy and those taillights look tastefully snazzy. PHOTO BY FRANK SCHUENGEL

The only damper on so much nice German engineering is the price. At P2,259,000, the Tiguan 1.4 TSI definitely doesn’t hide its premium aspirations. But while the amount is on the high side for a compact family crossover, experiencing the car firsthand goes a long way toward understanding where all the digits on the price tag come from.


Engine1.4-liter in-line-4 turbocharged gasoline
Transmission6-speed automatic
Power148hp @ 5,000rpm
Torque250Nm @ 3,500rpm
Dimensions4,486mm x 1,839mm x 1,632mm
Drive layoutFWD
UpsideAn overlooked but highly capable German car that won’t drown in a sea of common-looking compact SUVs.
DownsideQuality and exclusivity have a price. Unfortunately for most, that price may be a little too prohibitive.

Frank Schuengel

Frank is a German e-commerce executive who loves his wife, a Filipina, so much he decided to base himself in Manila. He has interesting thoughts on Philippine motoring. He writes the aptly named ‘Frankly’ column.