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Executive wheels: VW’s simple standout

Jeff Rundles //October 17, 2014//

Executive wheels: VW’s simple standout

Jeff Rundles //October 17, 2014//


As an auto reviewer, especially one with a column called “Executive Wheels” and intended for a well-heeled business audience, I generally get the top-of-the-line models equipped with every extra bell and whistle available. It’s not that I mind; all the luxury is nice and it keeps me on my toes as far as the new car technology. But every now and then, I will get the base or near-base model, and I really appreciate it.

Such was the case with this 2014 VW Tiguan, the small SUV in the VW line (as opposed to the larger Touareg). The base model comes without the 4Motion AWD system, but since this is Colorado and probably no one would buy that here, they at least sent me the SE model with 4Motion, but that was about the only nod to any sort of upgrade. It was nice because, for a change, I could simply concentrate on the driving without all of the modern distractions. Indeed, driving a car like this really hits home how distracting the modern vehicle has become.

In this Tiguan, you turn the key – how quaint – put it in gear and drive. If you want to change the radio station, it’s old-school knobs and push-button settings. If you want to alter the climate, turn some knobs for fan speed, turn up the heat or turn down for cold on AC, find where you want to air to come out and set the knob. There’s no LED screen. No car mouse. Basically, you just drive.

This vehicle is no speed demon, but it is a fairly zippy drive, handles well, and the interior is quite quiet. I really enjoyed driving it. It is very easy to maneuver and to park, and it is just the right size for city driving. There is a slight turbo lag when you hit the gas, but I have seen worse. And since it is indeed AWD (4Motion in VW-speak), I’m sure it would offer an extra degree of confidence in the winter.

The engine is impressive: a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-banger rated at 200 hp. The direct competition – the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4 – feature 185 hp and 176 hp, respectively, and while I haven’t driven a CR-V in some time, I have quite recently driven the RAV4 and it feels like half the power. The Tiguan feels powerful, if not fast, and coupled with its being a very quiet ride, this is a very pleasurable vehicle, one that I could easily imagine myself owning.

I am, however, rather alone on this score. In the January through June period of this year, Honda and Toyota managed to sell 155,000 (CR-Vs) and 117,000 (RAV4s) units, respectively, while VW only moved a paltry 13,000 Tiguans during that period. Obviously, that kind of sales performance can’t continue or VW will have to completely re-evaluate its American market strategy.

Apparently, one of the reasons for VW’s lack of competitiveness is its price point – according to many sources I checked, in just about every market segment, the VW entrant is more expensive than the competition, especially the Japanese competition.

For instance, the MSRP on this SE Tiguan with 4Motion is $28,950. On the aforementioned CR-V the MSRP for the similar trim is $26,470, while the equivalent RAV4 comes in at $26,400. That $2,500 difference is not insignificant, particularly when you consider the reputation for quality in both the Japanese lines, rightly or wrongly, exceeds that of VW.

And it’s too bad, really. My experience with VWs over the years – friends and family owning them – has been quite good. I also like the VW interior. The Tiguan’s leatherette seating is quite comfortable in that stiff German way, and they put in some nice features as standard that make the vehicle perfect, such as Bluetooth and Media Device Interface with iPod cable. There were no extras, so with the $865 destination charge the bottom line is $29,815 – a reasonable price for this vehicle.

But I can’t help thinking that “reasonable price” is doing VW any favors these days. If people could go to the showrooms and drive vehicles and choose the one they liked based on the experience alone, then VW, and this Tiguan, would win out I believe more than half the time in a head-to-head competition.

That, however, is not how people buy cars. They know or think they know the maintenance expectation. They react to advertising. They ask their friends and they look around – obviously, there are more Hondas and Toyotas on the road. All these things are what marketers call the psycho-graphic, perception versus reality, and VW is losing that battle right now.

If you, on the other hand, are not psyched out by all the hype take a look at the Tiguan – take a drive – and I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.