Vishwas and I cautiously approached the hill-climb section. At some point, I had to let go of the brakes, which I did with visible nervousness, given that the descent was quite steep. As I let go, I silently whispered a prayer to avoid dinging the car. The Volkswagen Tiguan’s traction control system immediately came into play, allowing me to just point the steering wheel in the right direction. Now we were in the pit, about to attempt the hill-climb, which appeared steep enough to force the morning coffee out of me.
While I come from a family of auto enthusiasts, the art of off-roading has eluded me, despite the fact that my cousin’s 2003 Scorpio occupies the centre-most parking spot in our house. As I stared at that incline, Vishwas said ‘Once you’re on the throttle, don’t step off till you’re at the top.’ Sounds simple, but you might be surprised how fear can manipulate the human mind into doing silly things.
I decided to go for it, and I made it halfway through before backing off the gas, disrupting the required momentum. Vishwas, a rally driver and our instructor for the session, reassured me with the fact that the car could only move backwards if we didn’t make it to the top, which was fine. Armed with that reassurance, this time I went full-commitment. With some help from Vishwas to point the wheels in the right direction, I stepped on the gas and didn’t ease off until we made it to the top. The Tiguan’s 4Motion system and the 2-litre TSI engine made it a lot simpler than I had anticipated, but I never thought it could be THAT simple. Having tackled the steep incline, I thanked the powers that be for my return to motoring journalism.
We moved on to the side-slope sections, which redefined going ‘sideways’ for me — the Tiguan leans at a specific angle and it had to be driven through without toppling over. How do you do that? Again, the key was maintaining a slow pace and making sure the wheels were pointed in the correct direction. While the introduction unsettled me at first, we navigated it fairly easily, the Tiguan effortlessly handling the side-slope.
The axle-articulation sections were the most intriguing — this was going to be a game of balancing, timing, and precision. With one wheel hanging in the air, it was imperative to move at a slow pace, all the while providing just enough gas to make it from one dip to another, keeping the movement as smooth as possible. My adrenaline was surging, but maintaining composure was crucial — whether or not I managed to do that is a question for my instructor to answer. The thrill of moving the Tiguan from one dip to another, with at least one wheel in the air at all times — that was completely new to me. Having tackled the axle-articulation sections, the Tiguan, with guidance from our aptly-named instructor, instilled even more confidence in me.
The water-wading section was the final obstacle in the course, and while it may have been tempting to emulate social media daredevils and splash water all around, it’s never wise, even in real off-roading conditions, as you run the risk of damaging the underbody of the car. As instructed, we moved slowly into the water section, keeping a feather-light foot on the pedal, giving minimal to no gas and letting the Tiguan crawl by itself. There was no dramatic exit here, just a small pause to allow the water level to settle, before finally crawling out.
Off-roading is clearly not about speed; it’s about getting from point A to point B in the safest way possible, or as Vishwas put it — ‘going as slow as possible, and as fast as required.’ No knee-jerk reactions, no sudden inputs on the brake or accelerator — just slow, steady and consistent movements. Even during the initial autocross section with undulations and speed bumps, it was imperative to let the Tiguan crawl on its own, with only minimal use of the brakes, so as to not carry a pace too rough. The Volkswagen Tiguan, though a soft-roader, navigated the intelligently-designed course with ease. Most of all, it provided an off-road novice like me with the perfect introduction to the art of driving when the road gets dirty, or when there’s no road at all.
The experience was also not only just an introduction to off-roading — it was also a good reminder of certain life lessons as well. Obstacles will always present themselves, but life has a way of helping you navigate them. Moving at a slow and steady pace is key, as there is no point in rushing plans that are set out. Also, having a few good people around to guide you always helps in tackling situations much better than you can ever manage alone.