Volkswagen has been teasing us with the Tiguan for some time now, so we take a closer look to see what all the fuss is about.
The Volkswagen Salzgitter plant, not far from VW headquarters in Wolfsburg, produces up to 7,000 engines everyday – everything from 1.2 litre 3 cylinder motors to the 6.0 litre, 16 cylinder powerhouse that propels the Bugatti Veryon to light speed and beyond. Under the watchful eye of trained technicians, the robots expertly form, grind, shape and polish parts to within three-thousandths of a millimetre. Just to put that in perspective, the diameter of a human hair is almost 25 times larger.
So, naturally, I was glad that the car I was driving had one of these finely crafted motors under the hood. It was Volkswagen’s ubiquitous 2.0 common-rail diesel engine. Incidentally, Volkswagen is the only automaker that manufactures its own common rails – i.e. the fuel rails that feed diesel directly into the combustion chamber at up to 2,000 bar of pressure.
The vehicle that it was fitted to, in this instance, was the Tiguan compact crossover that you see here. Now, the Tiguan is a vehicle that Volkswagen has tempted us with for many years. The first time I saw it was at the Auto Expo in 2008. Even back then, I remember overhearing prospective customers inquiring about the potential price. And why not, the Tiguan is compact on the outside, which would enable it to scythe through traffic on our busy streets, big on the inside – to comfortably hold our extended families – and high enough off the ground to proceed unruffled atop our crumbling urban terrain masquerading as city streets.
The biggest surprise for me, though, was the vast amount of interior space that the VW engineers have been able to craft out within a compact crossover that’s based on Volkswagen’s best-selling hatchback – the Golf. Well, I say best-selling, but the truth is that the Tiguan even outsells the mighty Golf in some European markets. So, it’s got to be pretty good then – doesn’t it? To find out, we drove it (in the pouring rain) on the Autobahn, as well as some tight city streets.
The first conclusion that you come to, very quickly indeed, is that you don’t dare compare the Tiguan with the latest crop of compact crossovers in the Indian market – the Duster, Terrano, and Ecosport. The Tiguan is simply on a different plain in terms of quality, fit, finish, and refinement. In typical Volkswagen fashion, they’ve taken a microscope to every single panel, hinge, and seam to ensure that it looks and feels absolutely perfect. The Tiguan actually feels better put together than even the BMW X1. In that respect, it sits closer to its corporate cousin – the Audi Q3. But here’s where it gets even more interesting. In terms of rear legroom, and possibly even boot space, the Tiguan appears to have both the Audi and the BMW beaten. Now, it can’t match the on-road feel of the X1 – but neither can the Audi. Find a stretch of unrestricted Autobahn, however, and the Tiguan will cruise at 180km/h all day long. The sound deadening and high-speed stability is so good that you barely feel as though you’re doing much more than sixty.
So, like most German machines, this one too is made for the Autobahn – quite honestly, then, high-speed stability doesn’t really come as a surprise. The engine, on the other hand, reveals its industrial roots momentarily on start-up, but then settles into a calm clatter. And from then on you hardly hear it at all, as you ride the wave of seamless torque from the 2.0 TDI under the hood. These modern engines are so refined, in fact, that you’d be hard pressed to identify it as a diesel at all as you drive down the road. And, as far as transmission is concerned, the Tiguan can be had in Europe with a six-speed manual or a 7-speed DSG. Our test car was fitted with the six-speed. Now, ordinarily, I would celebrate the fact that a test car has a manual gearbox – especially since it happens so seldom these days – but in this case I couldn’t help but wonder that the seven-speed DSG would have been better. The manual throws were a little notchy, and we all know just how impressive the DSG really is.
This particular car also came with 4Motion and BlueMotion technology. 4Motion is VW’s all-wheel drive system. Naturally, the Tiguan – like the Golf it’s based on – also comes with front-wheel drive. 4Motion, in this case, meant that we could probably have ventured off-road if we’d liked. Unfortunately, the opportunity didn’t present itself, but we did see several Tiguan’s being used on the off-road course at VW Headquarters in Wolfsburg – so, there’s obviously some off-road potential there. One of our test cars was fitted in off-road trim, which allows for a pretty impressive 28-degree approach angle.
BlueMotion, conversely, means that the Tiguan was fitted with fuel saving technologies such as a start-stop system and brake energy regeneration. Naturally, I turned off the start-stop after the first time it kicked in. But, really, that was more out of sheer habit rather than the fact that the system itself was being obtrusive or annoying. The latest start-stop systems have become extremely clever, responsive, and unobtrusive. This test car also had an electronic parking brake with an auto-hold function, and a really nice two-tone interior with alcantara inserts in the seats. In fact, the entire car looked and felt quite premium! Yes, the looks are quite straightforward (some would say plain), but I thought it looked quite a bit like the Golf it’s based on – and I like the sharp, clean lines in Volkswagen’s latest design language.
The question is – does the Indian car buyer consider the VW brand to be premium? You see, the Polo may have almost 50% more weld points in the body than the Suzuki Swift – as a result of which it feels far more robust and handles better – but does the Indian buyer see the value in that? Well, the sales charts would indicate not. At the higher end of the segment, the Passat is priced virtually in BMW and Audi territory, so it’s no surprise that the out-and-out luxury brands are favoured there as well – even if the Passat offers more space and comfort for the money. And therein lies the conundrum that VW faces.
Objectively, the Tiguan is everything that the Indian customer demands and needs – impeccable quality, excellent ride-and-handling, and all the attributes that make the compact crossover so attractive in our market. But the only way that the Tiguan will be priced competitively in our market is if it’s assembled at VW’s Chakan plant, outside Pune.
Better yet, what VW really needs to cement its place in our market is an engine plant in India. As impressive as Salzgitter really is – and it is impressive by any stretch – Volkswagen India has shown that it can match these levels of precision and quality. The current economic environment in our country may not instil high levels of confidence abroad, but this is only a blip while the pre-election political games run their course. In the long term, private enterprise and the Indian consumer have both demonstrated a level of resilience and a collective ability to push forward despite the circumstances. The market will recover, and when it does VW needs the ability to be more competitive in our market than it presently is. Of course, something that requires the kind of investment of an engine plant needs to be part of a broader global strategy. But I see no reason why India can’t be strategically integrated into VW’s goal of being the most ecologically sustainable automaker in the world by 2018.
The Tiguan, meanwhile, would be the perfect model for India – but only if VW is able to work out the high levels of indigenization needed to make it cost competitive, while, at the same time, continuing to educate the Indian consumer about the benefits of German engineering.