"…the V6 more than makes up for its extra heft with its ability to slingshot the small crossover to the legal limit in very short order…"
To say that the compact soft-roader market is overcrowded is one hell of an understatement. From the Ford Escape to the BMW X3 there’s no shortage of high-ridin’, load-luggin’ vehicles to tempt family-bound new car buyers – some of them good, some of them not so good.
Two of the newest players on the market are the Volkswagen Tiguan 103TDI and Suzuki’s revamped Grand Vitara V6 Prestige. Both are within striking distance of each other price-wise and, on paper at least, both look like a good buy.
But what are they like to live with? How do they drive, how much family-related junk can they swallow and can a man unburdened by the demands of fatherhood ever grow to like either one?
I drove both to find out, but let’s take a little look at the two candidates first.
2009 Suzuki Grand Vitara V6 Prestige
Unusually for a two-car comparo between a Japanese vehicle and its European equivalent, it’s the one from the Far East that boasts the biggest pricetag. With a base price of $39,990, the top o’ the line Suzi manages to overstep the Tiguan’s $35,990, but thanks to a hefty list of standard features, the Japanese contender outstrips its German rival for sheer value-for-money. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard in the Grand Vitara, as is leather trim, a power sunroof, 17-inch alloys, climate control, auto-on HID headlights and a full-size spare wheel.
The Suzuki’s permanent all-wheel-drive system and low-range transfer case also puts it ahead of the Volkswagen in terms of off-road capability, while its 200mm of ground clearance also bests the VW.
Yep, the shape has been around for a while now, but this year’s Grand Vitara V6 packs enough mechanical and cosmetic revisions to warrant our attention. You get more power from the Grand Vitara’s new-for-2009 3.2-litre V6, with the new motor’s 165kW and 284Nm comparing favourably with the old 2.7-litre’s 135kW and 250Nm.
Ventilated disc brakes have also replaced the previous model’s rear drums and hill descent control has been added as standard kit. On the inside, marble-effect trim replaces the old model’s faux-wood garnishes and the trip computer has migrated from the top of the centre stack to between the speedometer and tacho.
Despite its small footprint, the Grand Vitara boasts enough sprawling space for five people and up to 398 litres of luggage, or two people and a grand total of 1386 litres of cargo with the rear seats fully folded. A side-hinged rear door also makes it easier to load when in the weekly clinch in the shopping centre carpark.
So, the Grand Vitara V6 looks like a pretty good deal, right? Absolutely, but can the much newer, fresher Tiguan deliver even more? Let’s find out.
2008 Volkswagen Tiguan 103TDI
At $35,990, the Tig’s already off to a decent start. Cheaper than the Suzuki and rocking a more prestigious (in Australia, at least) badge, the Tiguan looks like the more obvious new-car choice. The Tiguan’s exterior is more dynamic than the Suzuki’s and it carries a slightly more muscular stance, so the aesthetic advantage definitely belongs to the Volkswagen.
While the Tiguan’s 103kW 2.0 litre turbodiesel inline four loses out to the Grand Vitara’s petrol V6 in the power stakes, it more than makes up for that shortfall with its 320Nm torque figure. Our tester came fitted with the standard six-speed manual, although a six-speed auto is an option.
VW’s torque-apportioning 4Motion AWD system is standard across the Tiguan range, but the Off Road Technology pack - which brings hill descent control, a tyre pressure monitor and various tweaks to the ABS and traction control settings - costs extra and was not fitted to the car we tested. 'Ours' came with the standard 16-inch alloys, although a set of 18-inchers can be optioned.
Hard-wearing cloth trim is the norm for the 103TDI and the interior is constructed out of a high-quality range of tactile, scratch-resistant plastics. Like the Grand Vitara, the Tiguan boasts enough room for five people, although luggage capacity with the seats up is slightly less than the Suzuki at 395 litres. Load area improves immensely with the seats down, however, with total volume rising to 1510 litres – 122 litres more than the Grand Vitara.
An MP3-compatible CD player and semi-automatic air conditioning is standard for the Tiguan diesel, however our car came fitted with dual-zone climate control and VW’s excellent RNS510 sat-nav system.
The addition of sat-nav, climate control and metallic paint to our tester added a grand total of $6560 to the purchase cost, putting the Tig’ $2.5k ahead of the Vitara. Not a massive gap for those willing to shell out for a little extra refinement, but make no mistake: optioning up the VW can be an expensive exercise.
In fact, for a VW Tiguan of a similar spec to the standard-issue Grand Vitara (automatic transmission, sunroof, HID headlights, leather, big wheels, Off Road Tech and foglights) you’ll need a whopping $10,940 over the cost of a standard auto-equipped Tiguan 103TDI, bringing the total spend to $49,230. Suddenly the Suzuki doesn’t look so bad, hey?
How Much Can I Cram In ‘em?
Spec sheets only tell half the story though, and, although our VW didn’t flaunt quite as much standard kit as the range-topping Suzuki that didn’t mean it was out of contention. Is the Tig’s interior a nicer place to be? Is in comfortable to use in day-to-day driving and does it cope with the rigors of the suburban chores more easily than the Suzuki?
In short, can it deliver in areas that the more keenly-priced Grand Vitara simply can’t compete? Let’s see now…
Well, ergonomically it’s pretty much a dead heat. The captain’s chair of both Tiguan and Grand Vitara offer up a commanding view of the car’s surrounds, and virtually every control falls easily to hand. The Tiguan’s dashboard is a fresher design than that of the Vitara’s however, and the VW’s metallic trim works a great deal better than the Suzuki’s cheap-looking faux-marble inserts.
The Tiguan also features deeper and more easily accessible door bins (both of which accept a 1.25-litre drink bottle), however shorter drivers may find the adjustable centre console lid fouling on their elbows during gearshifts.
An electronic parking brake button tidies up the area between the front seats and VW’s ever-so-convenient Auto-Hold function simplifies hill starts immeasurably.
The Grand Vitara’s dash is a little simpler and slightly less-modern than the Tiguan’s, but all the controls are easily marked, easy to operate and the instruments clearly legible at all times. The plastics are hard to the touch and a bit more scratch prone than the VW’s, but the dash and other trimmings are all screwed together nice and tight – this is one solid car.
Head over to the back seats, however, and the gap starts to widen. The Suzuki’s rear pews and those of the Tiguan are on a par in terms of cushioning comfort, but both legroom and the length of the seat squab appear to be smaller on the Volkswagen.
The VW’s back seat does get twice as many cupholders as the Suzuki’s though, and rear air conditioner outlets are conspicuously absent in the Grand Vitara – an important consideration for parents of cranky and heat-sensitive children.
The Grand Vitara has a little party trick here though. Not only do the rear backrests fold forward, but the entire rear bench itself can be flipped hard up against the front seats, creating a flat floor that’s perfect for hauling an apartment’s worth of flat-pack furniture.
Lawnmowers, bicycles, suitcases and the weekly shopping were thrown at the Vitara’s capacious boot, and it managed to swallow them all with little complaint or fuss. The Tiguan boasts a bigger luggage area on paper, but the awkward load space created by its sloping 60/40 split back seats meant it was slightly less versatile than the Grand Vitara.
Enough Talk, How Do They Drive?
So round one goes to the Grand Vitara, but now for the real test – on-road performance.
Despite it’s rough-and-tumble exterior and high ride height, sealed roads are where the Tiguan is at its finest. Volkswagen has mastered the art of chassis tuning in recent times, and its current lineup certainly makes great use of this expertise.
The Tiguan, which is based on the Jetta platform, is a fairly nimble handler and surprisingly competent when negotiating a winding mountain road or two. Yeah, the extra weight of all that 4Motion gubbins blunts its edge somewhat, but for a tall midsized crossover the Tiguan is a delight to drive.
Body roll is kept in check and pushing too hard through a corner will only reward you with nice, safe understeer – if the ESP is switched off, that is. Bumps big and small are soaked up with no fuss at all, and the Tiguan is exceptionally well damped.
The diesel does a great job of getting the Tiguan moving and the six-speed manual’s ratios are well-matched to the engine, but the 2.0 litre oil-burner tends to run out of puff fairly early in the piece should you decide to get busy with the accelerator.
Clutch take-up is also a little bit awkward on the Tiguan and can make for some fairly jerky gearchanges until you become familiarized with it. Quick getaways necessitate fast and frequent shifting.
The Grand Vitara makes a solid case for itself on the open road too, with well-weighted steering, confidence-inspiring levels of grip and minimal body roll making it easy to hustle around town. That heavy V6 hanging out front does it’s best to hinder cornering performance, however, and the Grand Vitara we tested earlier with the 2.4 litre four-pot felt like a much nimbler car.
However, the V6 more than makes up for its extra heft with its ability to slingshot the small crossover to the legal limit in very short order, although fuel misers be warned – it gets pretty thirsty when pushed.
It’s a slightly firmer ride than the Tiguan and it doesn’t seem to make the most of its big suspension travel over choppy pavement. It feels sporty, but those who regularly commute over low-quality roads may find it grating after a while.
The five-speed auto worked well around town even if it did exhibit a small amount of (journalist-inflicted?) drivetrain slack, but we really do wish Suzuki offered the V6 Prestige with a manual ‘box. It’s always nice to have the option.
Both cars are great to drive on the sealed roads of suburbia, but the more car-based Tiguan emerges victorious in this instance. It’s no racecar, but it’s a better handler than the Suzuki.
So round two to the Tiguan.
Final Battle: Off Road
Okay, few people who buy either of these cars are likely to do serious off-roading in them, but this wouldn’t be a thorough review if we didn’t see how they fared off the beaten track.
Here is where the Suzuki really shows its merit. Big wheel travel, good ground clearance, a relatively short wheelbase, a low-range transfer case with differential lock, full-time 4WD, hill descent control and generous approach and departure angles make this the compact soft-roader of choice for those wanting to get a little closer to nature than most.
In low range with the slushbox locked in first gear the Grand Vitara proved adept at climbing over a variety of obstacles, although get one or two wheels in the air and the Suzuki pauses as its electronic brain decides which corner gets how much torque.
Oh yeah: despite there being a button on the dash that says you can, you can’t really deactivate ESP. It’s always there, lurking in the background and waiting to put an e-chokehold on whatever ballsy off-road maneuver it is you were planning to do. Safe, but a bit frustrating when the Grand Vitara’s got its leg cocked.
The Tiguan with its slightly more sensible 4Motion AWD system seems to handle low-grip power-juggling better, however being a front-biased system that only diverts power after slippage occurs it’s not entirely ideal for straying far into the wilderness.
Its car-based suspension, lower ride height and lack of low-range gearing send a clear message – the Tiguan is best kept to gravel and less-demanding 4WD tracks. The fact that it only packs a space-saver spare tyre reinforces this message.
Round three then: the Grand Vitara.
Winner: The Grand Vitara V6
The One To Get
Right, the Grand Vitara has bested the Tiguan two out of three times so this decision should be easy, right? Not quite. The Tiguan is one hell of a soft-roader, and probably one of the best on the market today. Yes, it’s a little pricey once you start cramming it full of leather, sat-nav and what-not, but if you can afford the extra coin it’s money well spent.
The VW’s on-road performance is stellar for this segment, and let’s face it: compact soft-roaders generally never stray far from the blacktop. It doesn’t drink much diesel, it looks good, it has a nice interior and it’s exceptionally well engineered, so it comes as no surprise that more and more motorists are rolling around in Tiguans these days.
But, as good as the Tiguan is, the crown must ultimately go to the Suzuki Grand Vitara V6 Prestige. It’s a real jack-of-all-trades and a master of most, with the ability to take the kids to school on weekdays, do the week’s shopping on Saturday and tackle some challenging off-road terrain on Sunday.
Not only that, but the leather upholstery is easy to clean, it’s roomy and comfortable on the inside and if your sticky-fingered kids manage to break something, you’d perhaps be less ratty about it than if they’d tarnished the Tiguan’s nicely-crafted interior.
It was a tight contest between Suzuki and VW, that’s for sure, but the best all-rounder (and thus the most deserving of your hard-earned) is the Grand Vitara.
Suzuki Grand Vitara V6 Prestige
Tony Likes: Huge list of standard equipment, powerful new V6, promising off-road performance, great interior space
Tony Dislikes: Wish it came with a manual option, faux marble trim is a tad cheap, needs a proper locking diff on each axle
Tony's big statement
"Buyers looking for a small-ish off-roader than can take the family to church just as easily as it takes them to a remote camping site need look no further than the Grand Vitara. It's an excellent all-rounder."
Volkswagen Tiguan 103 TDI
Tony Likes: Torquey diesel engine, low fuel consumption, great styling, nice interior, fantastic roadholding
Tony Dislikes: Finnicky clutch, expensive options list, lack of full-size spare and road-biased suspension limits off-roadability
Tony's big statement:
"The Tiguan is without doubt one of the best handling soft roaders on sale today – if you're driving on tarmac, that is. Those with a bit more cash to splash and no desire to venture off the beaten track will find the Tiguan to be near-on perfect"
Grand Vitara V6 Prestige
|Engine type:||V6 4-stroke EFI petrol|
|Bore x Stroke:||89x85.6mm|
|Transmission:||Five-speed automatic, two-speed transfer case, 4WD|
|Front Suspension:||MacPherson Strut|
|Tyres:||225 / 65R17|
|Brakes Front:||Ventilated discs|
|Brakes Rear:||Ventilated discs|
|Fuel Tank Capacity:||66 litres|
|Unladen Kerb Weight:||1703kg|
|Luggage Compartment Volume:||398l seats up, 1386 seats down|
VW Tiguan 103TDI
|Engine type:||inline-four, 4-stroke direct-injection diesel, turbocharged|
|Bore x Stroke:||81.0x95.5mm|
|Transmission:||six-speed manual, 4Motion Haldex AWD|
|Front Suspension:||MacPherson Strut|
|Wheels||16x6.5 inch (cast alloy)|
|Brakes Front:||Ventilated discs|
|Fuel Tank Capacity:||64 litres|
|Unladen Kerb Weight:||1630kg|
|Luggage Compartment Volume:||395l seats up, 1510l seats down|
Gallery - Suzuki Grand Vitara