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Tiguan: VW's Hybrid SUV

Forget about batteries and electric motors. This hybrid joins two vehicles on a single platform.

Volkswagen's new Tiguan is a late entrant in a hyper-competitive market segment.

Volkswagen's new Tiguan is a late entrant in a hyper-competitive market segment. Generations after Honda launched its first CRV, Toyota its RAV-4, Kia its Sportage, and Hyundai its Santa Fe, not to mention Ford its Escape, VW has finally decided to join the small SUV market. It is doing so with a vehicle based, in part, on the fifth-generation Golf platform, and the rear suspension and the pan from the Passat 4Motion. The idea behind the drive concept of the Tiguan was to create a vehicle that performs off-road without losing its on-road finesse. That's right: unlike the aforementioned crossover SUVs, this one can actually go off-road.

Renate Hamann took over as Tiguan chief engineer as the first prototypes were being built, launched the SUV into the European market late last year, and is starting development of the second generation. Speaking of the U.S.-spec. and Euro versions, she insists, "There is no real difference in the tuning of similarly equipped vehicles," but leaves open the possibility of moving the content closer to the European norm, specifically inclusion of the diesel option, if the market demands it. However, with full-year sales of approximately 25,000 units expected, it's unlikely that decision will be made anytime soon. According to Hamann, the static and dynamic torsional rigidity of the unit body is 45 Hz, and does not change when the panoramic sunroof-it is three times larger than a standard Golf sunroof at almost 13 ft2-is ordered. To this base is attached a MacPherson strut front suspension supported by an aluminum subframe, and the Passat 4Motion's four-link rear suspension. In addition, the oil volume of the rear dampers is increased to keep temperatures low in off-road situations, and the front struts were similarly modified and strengthened. The suspension kinematics were tuned to give a slight understeer, a low roll angle, and a coordinated roll couple. This fluency is helped by a VW-developed and produced electro-mechanical rack-and-pinion steering system. "We wanted the steering to feel ‘calm' on rough roads," says Hamann, "and that meant going beyond just a strong mount with good isolation." Thus, the steering system features a ball nut to provide dampening, a compact belt-drive system to efficiently transfer torque from the electric motor to the column (it is capable of 10 kN and 360?/second), and steering torque compensation software to help counter and compensate for torque steer. 

The standard wheel for the base model is a 16-in. alloy with 215/65 all-season tire. This increases to 17-in. wheels with 235/55 all-season tires on the midline SE model, and 235/50 all-season rubber on 18-in. alloy wheels on the top line SEL. All models are fitted with 312 mm x 25 mm vented front and 286 mm x 12 mm solid rear disc brakes with ABS. Standard on all models, and on all 2009 VW's, is electronic stability control which, on the Tiguan, also includes an electronic differential lock and engine braking assist, traction control and electronic brake pressure distribution with brake assist, and an electronic parking brake with an auto-hold function. Tiguans equipped with the cable-actuated trailer hitch also have a vehicle stabilization program integrated into the stability control system.

The drivetrain is familiar in that it utilizes VW's 2.0-liter direct-injected turbocharged four. This gasoline engine produces 200 hp @ 5,100-6,000 rpm and 207 lb-ft @ 1,700-5,000 rpm, and features a cast iron block, aluminum 16-valve head with hydraulic lifters, and variable intake timing. The base Tiguan is the only model available with the MQ500-6F six-speed manual gearbox, which has been tuned to allow the driver to crawl at 1,000 rpm in first gear. This gives a ground speed of about 4.1 mph, which equals the speed of a crawler gear in a reduction gearbox. The other models use VW's AQ450-6F six-speed automatic transmission which includes a pre-select function to prevent it from shifting into the next highest gear; it's a feature that is especially useful when off-roading. "We did not use the dual-clutch DSG gearbox because it does not have a torque converter to support start-up or delicate maneuvers in tough off-road conditions," says Hamann. The automatic-it is the only gearbox available with 4Motion on the Tiguan-uses a 97-lb. Haldex clutch pack integrated into the rear axle. Torque is transferred to the rear wheels by a multi-plate clutch pack that uses the variation in speed between the front and rear wheels to drive a pair of annular piston pumps. It can change the torque split from 90% front/10% rear under normal conditions to nearly 100% rear drive under extreme conditions.

Inside, the attention to detail is no less deep. Six airbags are standard, and rear side airbags are available as an option. The rear seats are split 60/40, recline up to 23", and can move fore and aft six inches. In addition, longer items can be carried inside the vehicle by folding the rear seats and the front passenger seats flat. Each trim level has an instrument panel whose upper surface is covered in a one-piece skin with multiple patterns and finishes over a hard-plastic lower section. This material spills into the upper door panels, and is separated from the lower hard plastic section by a woven cloth insert. Buyers of the SE and SEL models also can opt for a navigation system that combines a 6.5-in. high-resolution touch screen with a 30-GB hard drive for map and audio file storage; an optical drive capable of reading CD, DVD, and DVD Audio formats; an SD card slot; and a media device interface that can interact with an iPod or USB stick. Also available is Sirius satellite radio and real-time traffic. Prices for the Tiguan start at $23,200.