I’ll be honest: SUVs have, historically, done very little for me. With the possible exception of the Volkswagen Touareg V10 turbo-diesel with which I towed – increasingly incredulously and extremely wide-eyed – a number of caravans, many moons ago, most of the 4x4s I’ve towed with since have left me rather cold. Most seemed underpowered, unrefined, thirsty and blessed with the sort of handling and ride qualities that make small children extremely queasy within minutes of climbing on board.
But it seems that chassis and suspension technology has finally caught up with the humble 4×4. Group Editor Alastair Clements still waxes lyrical about our former long-term Ford Kuga (which, sadly, departed shortly before I re-joined the magazine). I, meanwhile, am completely and utterly smitten with our current Volkswagen Tiguan.
With the Le Caplain daily driver broken and confined to barracks, and a work diary suddenly packed fit to bust, it looked like I’d be moving into one of our long-term tow cars for quite some time. After mulling over the Škoda Superb’s many virtues, I decided I owed the Tigger a fair crack at the whip and swiped its keys instead. A month and nearly 1900 miles later, I returned it to its customary parking bay with my preconceptions in tatters. Here’s how I got on.
Tuesday 27 January
I climb into the VW Tiguan after a long day at the office. Between me and the cold gin and tonic and hot bath awaiting me at home lies 130 miles of mostly motorway commute. I’m tired, battling a rotten cold and wishing someone would get around to inventing the teleporter as I nose the Tiguan out of the pitch-dark car park into Teddington’s usual rush-hour crawl.
A mere 10 minutes later, I’ve discovered the heated front seats and BBC 6 Music on the DAB radio. Suddenly, the agonising sloth-like progress through town doesn’t seem quite so bad. A push of a button on the centre console even switches the dratted stop-start system off.
About 30 minutes later, I’ve had a proper motoring epiphany. The slip road that joins the M3 and M25 northbound is a long, sweeping right-hander that tightens into a nasty little left-hander, and the Tiguan has just powered through it flat and true at a genuinely astonishing rate of knots.
Then 31 minutes later, I’ve had a second motoring epiphany, having floored the throttle shortly after joining the M25. I can report that 170bhp, even in something as substantial as a Tiguan, provides, shall we say, ample get up and go.
I arrive home three hours later. I should be bleary-eyed, half-deaf and in possession of a dodgy back, but I get out feeling like I’ve driven home in an executive saloon. Interesting.
Wednesday 28 January
Two days’ worth of caravan testing, photography and filming at Lowdham’s, a gentle hour’s drive from home. Snow and ice is wreaking havoc on the roads, but the Tiguan, on its winter tyres, barely notices.
Tuesday 10 February
So the Tiguan has more than proved its mettle as a solo driver, but now to see what tow car ability it has. I’m about to put some serious towing miles onto it. So I arrive at work mid-morning and drop our long-term Adria Adora Rhine onto its clever now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t towbar.
I’m slightly nervous, as I once towed this very caravan to Scarborough and back with an ostensibly much bigger and heavier LWB Mitsubishi Shogun, and was never anything other than hugely aware of its considerable weight on the towbar.
However, 20 minutes into the motorway section of the drive home and the VW Tiguan is once again confounding my preconceptions by barrelling along at a cruise-controlled 60mph and barely shifting out of seventh gear. No pitching, no swaying, never anything other than ample power in reserve. I’m officially impressed.
Wednesday 11 February
On the road again with the Rhine in tow, this time to return it to Adria UK’s Sudbury HQ. The Tiguan impresses again, managing to iron out the ruts countless lorries have dug into the inside lane of the A14 over the years.
Swapping the Rhine for our new long-term Altea 4four Signature and shortly into the drive home, I finally unearth a problem with the Volkswagen. Or rather, with its driver. With such a slight weight in tow, I find I have to dial the national speed limit into the cruise control to prevent me straying too far into licence-losing territory.
Back home, I find another bonus to Tiguan ownership – the rig is short enough to leave it hitched up on the driveway. And previous experience has shown that any attempt to remove a caravan’s 13-pin plug with the Tiguan locked causes its alarm to sound. Double security – result!
Thursday 12 February
Today I have a major towathon in prospect. I leave home at 5.30am with the Signature in tow and haul it all the way down to Practical Caravan Towers. I swap it immediately for our long-term Bailey Unicorn Cadiz and embark on the sizeable trek down to Ashford in Kent for some live-in test photography. The Cadiz obviously feels heavier than the Signature, but it’s a trouble-free run there and – much later – back.
Tuesday 17 February
It’s a gentle week off – for the VW Tiguan, not me. I’m on NEC show duties. The Tiguan slumbers in a hotel car park for three days.
Monday 23 February
It is time for my last drive to the office as I finally ‘move out’ of the Tiguan, with 1900 miles showing on the odometer. The pluses are many (eye-widening performance solo and when towing, rock solid towing stability, sensible DSG automatic gearbox ratios, refinement, steering feel), the minuses few (an annoying stop-start system and a small boot).
I return the keys with a genuine twinge of regret. How much do used VW Tiguans go for these days, I wonder?
The VW Tiguan is once again confounding my preconceptions