Off-roader with brains and brawn - Emirates24|7

Off-roader with brains and brawn

VW has designed two versions of the Tiguan - one intended for the rough and tumble of rocks and sand, the other for the urban adventurers. (SUPPLIED)


Somebody really should have a quiet word with the good folk in Volkwagen's marketing department.

Not only did they seemingly try to sabotage the German car-maker's first entry into the four-by-four market by calling it the much-mispronounced Touareg, they have done it again with its first compact SUV.

New to the market in the Middle East, ladies and gentlemen please give a very warm welcome to the Tiguan – part tiger, part iguana. Obviously.

Volkswagen is surprising late to this lucrative market, coming years after the debut of its seriously popular competition, such as Toyota's RAV4, Honda's CR-V and even Land Rover's LR2.

But one of the advantages of being so late to the party is that VW has seen what everyone else is wearing, and if the Tiguan (pron: Teeg-wan) is not the sexiest of off-roaders, it is certainly one of the more accomplished.

For a start, it's packed with the latest motorist aids. These include an electronic self-parking system – hands-free! Weird! – called Park Assist, a rear parking camera, and a seriously good sat nav and stereo system that can store gigs and gigs of music.

More practical is the fact the Tiguan can tow two-and-a-half tonnes of anything, more than any other car in its class. Further pleasing details include a steering system that prevents the wheel being wrenched about during serious off-roading. Clever stuff. But as a not-so-gentle nod to the fact few drivers actually do go off road with these cars, VW has designed two versions – Track and Field and Sport and Style – one intended for the rough and tumble of rocks and sand, the other for the urban adventurers among us. One has a different snout that allows it to mount banks with a maximum entry of 28 degrees without scraping the bumper, and comes with a greater arsenal of electronic off-road aids.

These include hill-descent control, which brakes the car to crawling on steep slippery slopes, and a hill-holder that operates in conjunction with the electronic handbrake so you don't roll backwards.

The car's brain also activates a limited slip differential to eliminate wheelspin, alters the antilock brakes to suit loose surfaces and reduces the accelerator's sensitivity.

Yet VW reckons only between five and 10 per cent of Tiguan buyers will opt for this version. And, frankly, the front-end on the off-roader is not as aesthetically appealing as its fraternal city brother.

VW invited Emirates Business to test the Tiguan on dirty tracks and mountain passes around the Dead Sea in Jordan. Heading out from Amman, and the car is competent on the asphalt, handling, as it should, like a car, but with a welcomingly high seating position.

Once off road, and tackling the first stage of the Jordan Rally track, the poke of the two-litre TSI petrol engine, combined with the bells and whistles of the car's computer, mean it is a joy to drive, never letting the driver get too out of control. The high front end on the off-road version comes into its own, giving serious ground clearance and preventing the driver from losing the front spoiler in the dirt. All Tiguans come equipped with VW's permanent four-wheel drive – 4Motion.

Rather than sending most power to the front wheels when moving off, this system now divides it equally between the four wheels, ensuring maximum traction from rest whatever the weather or terrain. The Tiguan is the first SUV in the world to arrive on the market equipped with charged TSI engines, first seen on the Golf. VW says the advantage is greater power and torque, better fuel efficiency and the knock on benefit of lower emissions.

The two-litre direct injection turbocharged powerplant sends the Tiguan from standing to 100kph in a not-to-shabby 8.2 seconds. The Tiguan's road manners are complemented by its comfortable cabin, which is not only well finished – naturally for VW – but also exceptionally well laid out. The sat nav screen is sited conveniently high, the instruments and controls are easily understood and the electronic handbrake frees plenty of storage space between the front seats.

Better still, given this is a family car, is that the back bench is almost equally accommodating, and when slid into its rearmost position provides generous legroom.

If all this sounds boringly practical, keen drivers will be pleased to hear the Tiguan turns out to be unexpectedly deft on twisting roads and mountain passes.

Body roll doesn't disturb the equilibrium of either car or occupants, there's plenty of grip and a surprising resistance to running wide, and it tackles hills, wadi and body-tilting earth banks with decent aptitude.

Sober, solid design and a well-honed mix of abilities are what VW does, and does very well. Factor in an excellent standard of finish that's a cut above and a pleasing absence of irritating minor niggles, and you can see why there is a waiting list for the Tiguan in Europe. This car is unlikely to disappoint VW and will certainly please any owner, especially with an opening price below Dh100,000.


The competition

Land Rover LR2 The Tiguan is entering premium compact SUV territory, where Land Rover, despite reliability issues and a untested new owner, has long held sway. The "mini Rangey" retains much of its status.

Honda CR-V With its car-based design, decent engine and sedan-like ride and handling, the CR-V was an instant hit when it debuted and still has many fans. Although priced competitively, it faces serious competition from VW with the Tiguan.

Toyota RAV4 Spacious, comfortable and easy to drive, the RAV4 is a strong choice among compact SUVs, especially if someone wants a V6 or a kid-size third-row seat. However, measured against the Tiguan's luxurious interior, the RAV4 can look and feel a little cheap.