2013 Volkswagen Tiguan review:

Small SUV is short on features, high on price

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Unchanged engine
What isn't changing between the 2013 and 2014 model years is the drivetrain. Under the Tiguan's hood sits Volkswagen's 2-liter four-cylinder engine, using direct injection and a turbocharger to make 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Volkswagen has had this engine in play for quite a few years now; it might be time for some reengineering. Ford's 2-liter Ecoboost engine, using similar tech, makes 240 horsepower.

2013 Volkswagen Tiguan
Volkswagen could probably wring some more efficiency and power out of this engine. Josh Miller/CNET

Those numbers sound pretty good, but it seemed like just enough power for the Tiguan. With the car's six-speed automatic transmission in Drive, I pressed hard on the gas pedal and got middling results. The Tiguan hesitated, then started forward, the engine making a low, tortured wail.

The acceleration didn't feel responsive enough for quick passing maneuvers, although Volkswagen says the Tiguan gets to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds.

That hesitation likely comes from a combination of the turbo lag and the six-speed automatic transmission's programming, which is going to try to maintain a low engine speed for increased fuel economy.

Despite programming and engine efficiency technologies, the Tiguan ends up with only mediocre fuel economy. With 4Motion all-wheel-drive, the car gets an EPA-rated 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. In a mixed course of driving, I ended up with an average of 22.3 mpg. Oddly, without 4Motion, the Tiguan only gains 1 mpg in the city, a minor difference which makes getting the all-wheel-drive system only a matter of initial cost.

I found that popping the shifter down to Sport mode made the car more satisfying to drive, as it had a quicker response to the accelerator. Sport mode kept the tach needle around 3,000 rpm, but it wasn't really feasible for all driving situations. As Sport mode locked out sixth gear, the car sounded tortured when I got on the freeway due to high engine speeds.

2013 Volkswagen Tiguan
The six speed automatic is the only transmission choice for the SEL trimmed Tiguan. Josh Miller/CNET

Beyond better throttle response, the Tiguan doesn't really need a Sport mode. It doesn't affect how the car handles in the turns. And although tuned for a firm ride, the Tiguan felt kind of tippy when I took corners at speed.

The suspension tuning didn't help the handling much, and it wasn't good for ride quality. Whenever I got the Tiguan on rough pavement, the ride felt bumpy and harsh, like I was driving the Flintstones' car. It was a dramatic difference going from a smooth, recently paved road to older, pitted asphalt.

There were a couple of upsides to the Tiguan's driving character. The electric power steering system delivers its boost with steady predictability, and increases power as the car slows. That makes it very easy to turn the wheel when parking, yet offers decent heft at speed.

In normal driving on straight, smooth roads, the Tiguan makes for an easy, uncomplicated driver. As a suburban errand runner, most people will find it simple to just get in and go. The 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is completely unobtrusive. Biasing torque to the front wheels, it will throw power to the rears as needed.

There is no differential locking or descent control in the Tiguan.

Obvious faults
I like compact SUVs in general for their easy maneuverability and utility, but the 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan comes off as a pretty big failure, especially considering the $37,955 price tag. The base model comes in around $23,000, but lacks the electronics, leather seating, and other amenities of the SEL trim version.

Volkswagen pioneered efficient drivetrain tech for passenger cars, but other automakers have recently begun implementing direct injection and turbocharging for even better results. Volkswagen badly needs to update its engine tech. Ride quality was the Tiguan's most obvious fault. The vehicle uses good suspension architecture, so the solution may just come down to better tuning.

As for cabin electronics, I could see this navigation system in a $15,000 car, but not in something approaching 40 grand. The whole cabin tech suite is pretty basic, offering the bare minimum of features. The stereo's sound quality was a big red flag for me. I wouldn't want to own a car where I couldn't enjoy listening to music.

Some of these issues, such as price and audio quality, will be addressed in the 2014 Tiguan. If you are looking for a compact SUV, make sure to test-drive the next model year Tiguan.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan
Trim SEL 4Motion
Power train Turbocharged direct-injection 2-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 22.3 mpg
Navigation Optional flash memory-based system
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming, iPod integration, USB drive, SD card, auxiliary input, satellite radio
Audio system Eight-speaker system
Driver aids Back-up camera
Base price $22,995
Price as tested $37,955

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