Does an SUV need to be a lumbering behemoth, drinking gasoline by the barrel and stripping side mirrors and paint from parked cars as it waddles down the street? The 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan answers that question with a resounding no.
The Tiguan, a compact SUV built on VW's Golf platform, seats five in high-riding comfort and measures only 14.5 feet long.
Not that Volkswagen exactly pioneered the compact SUV. The Tiguan entered the market in 2007, giving Volkswagen a car to compete with the Honda CR-V, the Toyota RAV4, the Ford Escape, and the Nissan Rogue, to name a few in this crowded segment. The success of this type of car comes from a public that wanted carlike maneuverability, decent fuel economy, and rarely needed a cargo area that could fit a king-size bed.
The Tiguan takes advantage of Volkswagen's efficient production strategy for its small, global cars. Along with being built on the Golf platform, the Tiguan gets an engine and cabin electronics that can be seen in models such as the Jetta and Passat.
The version I reviewed was the top-of-the-line SEL trim, feature Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, in-dash navigation, a giant sunroof, leather seating, and keyless start. In SEL trim, all those features are standard, but after reading the price, I would have done a spit-take if I had a beverage in hand.
The 2013 Tiguan SEL with 4Motion comes in at $37,955, with destination fees, uncomfortably close to $40,000.
Volkswagen designates the head unit in the Tiguan SEL as the RNS 315. Relatively simple, it combines navigation, a Bluetooth phone system, and digital audio sources on its small touch screen. The onscreen interface uses an intuitive, semicircle of icons as a common menu for each function. It let me select each menu item either by turning a knob below the LCD or just touching an icon on the screen.
This head unit includes voice command, but it only controls the phone, letting you place calls by contact name or number.
The Tiguan's navigation system works as an argument for not getting the SEL trim. Compared with what you can get in other compact SUVs, such as the Honda CR-V we reviewed recently, its lack of features is embarrassing. Although it runs off of flash memory, the maps move sluggishly and show little detail.
It showed me minimal route guidance graphics which would have been difficult to follow through complex intersections, and the voice prompts did not call out street names. The Tiguan's saving grace, and something Volkswagen generally does well, is the LCD in the instrument cluster, which shows better route guidance graphics than those on the map screen.
The Tiguan's navigation system also lacks real-time traffic, which comes as a bit of a surprise since just about every other automaker includes it, even on low-end models.
The LCD also shows audio sources, of which the Tiguan offers a good array. And for the umpteenth time, I'm complaining about Volkswagen's use of a proprietary port for most external audio sources. This port lives in the center console, and takes cable adapters for iOS devices and USB drives. Volkswagen does not offer an adapter for Apple's new Lightning connector, just the old 30-pin plug, which means you will need yet another adapter plugged into the cable.
I expect Volkswagen will go to a simple USB port one of these years, but the Tiguan is stuck with the current system.
Oddly, the Tiguan's head unit has a separate slot for an SD card, which worked well enough for music. The tuner can handle satellite radio, but not HD Radio. Mostly, I relied on Bluetooth audio streaming, which worked seamlessly and showed full track information on the display.
However, after listening to a few songs, I wanted to turn off the stereo entirely. This audio system was the worst I've ever heard in a car. Oh, the bass and midranges were acceptable, about what I would expect from a low-end car, but the high frequencies were awful. Notes from guitars and horns came though exceptionally shrill and tinny, making listening painful. I actually turned down the treble, which improved the music playback enough so I could continue testing.
I found that music sounded the worst playing through an iPhone 5 cabled to the car through the Apple Lightning to 30-pin adapter, even with Apple Lossless or high-bit-rate MP3 tracks. Bluetooth streaming was next on the list for poor audio quality, while SD card and CD were better.