Volkswagen Tiguan (2008-2016)

The Volkswagen Tiguan is a small SUV with the same discreet styling, user-friendly cabin, civilised road manners and efficient engines as the Golf. Offered with front- or four-wheel drive, the latter is ideal for those who want to tow, while there’s an Escape version for anyone who wants to do some light off-roading. The Tiguan impresses with its refinement, high-quality cabin and practicality, but if value is one of your priorities you might be less keen as the Tiguan is a premium car. However, its build quality, refinement and spacious cabin make the high prices justifiable, while equipment levels are good too.

Key dates

2/08: The Tiguan arrives with 1.4 TSI petrol or 138bhp 2.0 TDI diesel engines. There are S, SE and Sport trims, with Escape offering greater off-road capabilities thanks to underbody protection, hill descent control and a redesigned nose for a steeper approach angle.

4/08: A 168bhp 2.0 TDI engine joins the range.

10/08: A 2.0 TSI engine is now available in 168bhp or 198bhp guises.

11/08: The Tiguan initially came with 4WD only; from this point on there are 1.4 TSI and 2.0 TDI 140 front-wheel drive options.

9/11: A facelift brings a 2.0 TDi 110 engine, more efficient powerplants and extra equipment.

10/12: R-Line trim brings sportier design features.

8/13: The Tiguan Match replaces the SE


  • The 2.0 TDi engine can stall easily when starting off, if you don’t use the revs, so watch for worn clutches.
  • Rattles aren’t unknown; some owners have found that it’s down to broken front suspension springs.
  • Air-con failures have been known, but it’s usually down to the switchgear failing, rather than the compressor.
  • Faulty electrics can be down to damaged fuseboxes, which can melt because of the high currents going through them.
  • The power assisted steering can fail, especially in sub-zero temperatures. It’s usually a control unit failure, but it can be the steering rack itself.
  • The electronic parking brake can refuse to release, because the driver’s seatbelt isn’t latched, or the clutch isn’t fully depressed.
  • The alarm can sound for no apparent reason, especially in cold weather. Adjusting the sensitivity can make the difference – but not always.

We like

  • Build quality
  • Efficient engines
  • Spacious cabin
  • Clear dash
  • Refinement
  • Tidy handling

We don’t like

  • Some reliability issues
  • Anonymous design


Volkswagen Phaeton (2003-2015)

The Volkswagen Phaeton never made sense as a new purchase thanks to high prices and heavy depreciation. But as a used buy it can be a far more sensible purchase because for surprisingly little money you can buy a luxury saloon that’s spacious, fully equipped, comfortable and refined. As the most expensive mainstream production Volkswagen ever, ther Phaeton also comes with fabulous build quality as standard, but even diesel models are thirsty and other running costs can be high. It doesn’t help that this incredibly complex car isn’t always as reliable as you might hope, so don’t expect to run a Phaeton for Passat money.


Key dates

6/03: The Phaeton arrives, with 3.2 V6 or 6.0 W12 petrol engines.

11/03: There are now 4.2 V8 petrol and 5.0 V10 TDi options. 

4/04: A long-wheelbase Phaeton is introduced. It’s available with all engines except the 3.2 V6.

10/04: A 3.0 TDi joins the range; it quickly became the most popular model. 

1/09: There’s an overhauled interior with revised climate control, new instruments and touch-screen multi-media.

11/09: A further facelift brings a reprofiled nose and extra equipment. There’s now 3.0 TDi power only; a 6.0 W12 is available to special order however.



  • Beware failed headlight bulbs; replacing them is very time-consuming and if you’re really unlucky it may be that an ECU has failed rather than a bulb.
  • There’s a separate motor for each windscreen wiper and failure of one can cause problems with the other if they collide.
  • Some Phaetons have five seats, others have four. Three seats in the back is the most common.
  • Avoid cars without a full service history; even if the history is complete, look at who has done the work.
  • Most Phaeton issues centre on the electrics and electronics, so ensure that absolutely everything works.
  • The wiring loom that runs into the nearside of the bootlid has an outer sheathing. This wears through, potentially leading to short circuits.
  • Footwells can fill with water, damaging the electronics, if the sunroof drain tubes or plenum chambers (at the base of the windscreen) fill with debris.


We like

  • Value
  • Refinement
  • Equipment levels
  • Build quality
  • Spacious cabin


We don’t like

  • High running costs
  • Looks like a Passat
  • Can be unreliable


Volkswagen Sharan (1995-2010)

The first-generation Sharan was on sale for an astonishing 15 years, so it was inevitably long in the tooth by the time it went out of production. A relative lack of cabin flexibility, little in the way of cutting-edge technology or safety features plus a cramped cabin for seven all betray the Sharan's age. But for value, strength and surprisingly good dynamics the Sharan is still well worth a closer look - especially as there are plenty to choose from.

Key Dates

8/95: The Sharan debuts, with 2.8 V6 petrol or 1.9 turbodiesel engines.

10/97: Two new petrol engines appear; a normally aspirated 2.0 and the 1.8T.

5/00: A facelifted Sharan brings a redesigned nose, tail and interior, plus slightly increased track and wheelbase.

1/03: A 130bhp 1.9TDi engine is now available.

11/03: Another facelift brings a new grille, bonnet and tail lights.

11/04: A 4WD Sharan 1.9TDi debuts.

2/07: A 2.0TDi engine is now offered.

5/08: The 2.0TDi Bluemotion appears.

Volkswagen Sharan (1995-2010) Checklist

  • Some early cars were personal imports; check they're to UK spec.
  • Wiper motors get waterlogged, so the wipers won't switch off. Repairs are costly.
  • Some earlier cars suffer from water leaks into the cabin. Water gets in through the ventilation system and wrecks the ECU/electrics.
  • Turbochargers can fail on TDi models; look for black exhaust smoke and check the service history for signs of regular oil changes.
  • Five and six-speed manual gearboxes on TDi models can be weak.
  • Cam belts are best replaced after 60-70,000 miles, or they snap and wreck the engine.
  • Oil pumps can fail on 2.0TDi engines.

We Like

  • Seats seven
  • Strong
  • Good to drive
  • Excellent diesels
  • Plenty about

We Don't Like

  • Cramped interior
  • Inflexible cabin


Volkswagen Passat (2005-2010)

When it comes to rock-solid reputations, few are as unshakeable as Volkswagen’s – emissions scandal notwithstanding. Whatever the segment, the company has a contender which is bought for its dependability, comfort and refinement. That’s exactly how it is with the German outfit’s fleet favourite, the Passat, offered in saloon and estate forms in a multitude of guises. But reliability isn’t always as good as that Volkswagen badge might have you believe and you won’t stand out from the crowd if you drive a Passat. You also won’t be excited by the Passat, but this is still a polished performer.

Key dates

5/05: The seventh-generation Passat saloon arrives (codenamed B6) with 1.6 FSi or 2.0-litre petrol engines along with 1.9 or 2.0 TDi units.

11/05: The estate goes on sale and a 3.2 V6 petrol engine joins the range.

6/06: A 2.0 TDi 170 engine appears.

2/07: The 300bhp 3.6-litre Passat R36 debuts.

4/08: The 1.6 FSi engine is replaced by the 1.4 TSi

10/08: The Passat Bluemotion 1.9 TDi arrives.

11/08: The Bluemotion 2.0 TDi appears.

5/09: The high-value R Line is introduced.


  • Oil pumps can fail prematurely, especially on diesel engines – but they go without warning so you can’t check them.
  • You can have four-wheel drive if you want; the 2.0 TDi 140 and 3.2 V6 petrol were offered with it. They’re rare though.
  • There are ECUs in the footwells; water leaks can lead to these failing, followed by lots of electrical problems
  • Without sensors, parking can be a nightmare, especially where saloons are concerned.
  • All cars come with an electronic parking brake, which doesn’t always release properly as the pads can stick to the disc.
  • Batteries can go flat because of a current drain somewhere, often the radio – which in itself can be highly unpredictable.
  • Premature and uneven tyre wear is common on Passats with Dunlop rubber.

We like

  • Build quality
  • Image
  • Engines
  • Spacious cabin
  • Choice
  • Equipment levels

We don’t like

  • High purchase costs
  • Bland design


Richard Dredge


VW Polo (2002-2009)

To the uninitiated, this is the small hatch with everything; image, high levels of safety and bullet-proof build quality. While it has the first two, the Polo isn't always as well engineered as you might think, with some high parts prices into the bargain. So while the Polo can be great (and especially with a TDi powerplant), make sure you're not buying a car that's given its previous owner unending grief.

Key Dates

1/02: The fourth-generation Polo debuts in three or five-door hatchback forms, with 1.2 or 1.4 petrol engines plus 1.4 or 1.9 turbodiesel engines.

5/02: An ultra-efficient 1.4 FSi petrol engine arrives.

4/04: A trio of rear head restraints and three-point seatbelts are now standard for all Polos.

5/04: The Polo Dune pseudo off-roader is now in the showrooms.

6/05: A facelifted Polo goes on sale with a redesigned nose and tail.

6/06: The Polo GTi joins the range, with a 148bhp turbocharged 1.8-litre petrol engine.

7/07: The Polo Bluemotion arrives.

VW Polo (2002-2009) Checklist

  • Gearboxes can prove weak, especially on diesels.
  • Corrosion can take a hold under the window seals.
  • The suspension can be creaky and dampers can fail.
  • Check the footwells for water; door seals often fail.
  • If there's an 'Individual' radio fitted, check the display works; they often become illegible.
  • Timing chains and tensioners can break on the 1.2-litre petrol engine, if the service schedule isn't adhered to religiously.

We Like

  • Solidity
  • Image
  • Refinement
  • Ride
  • Great diesels

We Don't Like

  • Costly to buy
  • Not always reliable
  • Indifferent dynamics
  • Cramped cabin
  • Dull interior


VW Lupo (1999-2005)

Ask any Lupo owner what they think of their car and you'll be regaled with tales of how it's under-rated, able to cope with anything, and the best thing to come out of VW in years. And it's not just hype; the Lupo may have been a tad costly when new - used values can also be steep - but the car makes up for it by being quite brilliant. While the 1.0-litre engine struggles on long-distance journeys, the bigger units are great, the car is brilliant around town and it's much more practical than you might think. Proof indeed that sometimes the best things do indeed come in small packages.

Key Dates

2/99: The Lupo is launched with a choice of 1.0 or 1.4-liyre petrol engines plus a 1.7SDi normally aspirated diesel.

5/99: The 100bhp Lupo Sport debuts.

6/99: Isofix mountings are now standard for all Lupos.

1/00: Power steering is now standard across the range.

7/00: There's now a 1.4TDi turbodiesel offered.

12/00: The 125bhp 1.6-litre Lupo GTi arrives.

5/01: The GTi gets a six-speed manual gearbox

5/03: All engines are now Euro4 compliant.

4/04: All cars now have ABS.

Volkswagen Lupo (1999-2005) Checklist

  • The automatic transmission can increase the fuel consumption more than you'd expect.
  • The GTi is costly to insure, despite its diminutive proportions; get a quote first.
  • The electrics can play up, so make sure everything works.

We Like

  • Agility
  • Solidity
  • Cruising ability
  • Fab diesel
  • Great for two

We Don't Like

  • Cramped for four


VW Golf Mk5 (2004-2008)

The car that bridges mainstream and premium, VW's evergreen Golf is a cracker in Mk5 form. Some earlier editions of the Golf proved fragile, but this marked a return to form for VW - although complete reliability is still not assured. However, the Golf is great to drive, spacious and comfortable, while it's got a rock-solid image too. But the Golf is also a relatively costly car compared with its rivals, so expect to pay for the privilege of owning one.

Key Dates

2/04: The fifth-generation Golf goes on sale.

1/05: The GTi reaches showrooms.

1/06: The 247bhp R32 joins the range.

6/05: A high-roofed Golf arrives, called Golf Plus.

6/06: The 138bhp 1.4TSi replaces the 2.0 GT.

6/07: The Golf estate is launched and a 170bhp edition of the 1.4TSi engine appears.

8/08: The sixth-generation Golf is unveiled.

Volkswagen Golf Mk5 (2004-2008) Checklist

  • Check the stereo and climate control work properly, as they can prove temperamental.
  • Get the engine up to temperature then leave the car idling to see if the radiator's electric fan cuts in; it sometimes doesn't.
  • The rear light lenses can fill up with condensation, as their seals can fail, allowing water in.
  • The door seals can fail, allowing rainwater to get into the cabin, rotting the carpet.
  • On turbodiesels the turbocharger's oil seals can fail; repairs are very costly.
  • Air conditioning compressors and condensors can fail on the Golf GTi.
  • The FSi engine likes high-octane fuel; using 95-octane petrol can lead to running and starting problems.

We Like

  • Strength
  • Image
  • Dynamics
  • Cabin

We Don't Like

  • High prices


Volkswagen Golf (1997-2004)

Whether you want an unassuming shopping hatch or a race car for the road, there's a Mk4 Golf for you. With a wide choice of engines and bodystyles, there was a bewildering array of Golfs available. Considering its ubiquity, the Golf's image is strong (sometimes undeservedly so), meaning residuals are high. Despite this, there's no shortage of examples - but with frequently high parts costs don't buy an example that needs lots of fixing.

Key Dates

11/97: Mk4 Golf arrives with 1.4, 1.6, 2.0, 2.3 V5, 1.8T petrol engines. Also 1.9-litre diesel with turbo (TDi) or without (SDi). 3 or 5-door hatches available.

11/98: 2.3 V5 on sale.

8/99: Estate launched.

1/00: 2.8-litre V6 4Motion on sale.

5/02: ESP now standard. 25th Anniversary Edition GTi 1.8T appears.

11/02: R32 on sale.

5/03: 1.4, 1.8T, 2.0 get Euro 4 engine

Volkswagen Golf Mk4 (1997-2004) Checklist

  • Check headlight condition; they're pricey to replace
  • Leather interiors are durable, but costly to fix; watch out for plastic coating coming off the door armrests.
  • TDi 110 ECU can fail - make sure the engine doesn't stall when coming to a halt.
  • Interior trim often fragile.
  • Front windows come out of their carriers.
  • Pipe for rear wash/wipe can come adrift, staining headlining and filling boot with water.
  • 1.4-litre water pumps leak - which can lead to cam belt failure and destruction of the engine.
  • Rear brake calipers hoses fail.

We Like

  • Strong image
  • Solid and safe construction
  • Superb TDi engines

We Don't Like

  • Build quality isn't always great
  • Not great to drive
  • Equipment levels often poor