The compact crossover/SUV is the fastest-growing automotive segment in Canada, with more than 20 models now available. With fuel prices on the rise and the minivan horribly out of fashion, these smallish jacked-up hatch/wagon thingies are all the rage.
The Tiguan is a little shorter than some of its competitors, but it has an upright, functional body that, while stylistically won't set your heart a-flutter, makes the most of its size. The front is adorned with VW's large chromed signature grill and stylish halogen headlight clusters. It's a cheerful and chunky little thing, forgoing the trend towards swoopier styling in CUVs as seen in the Nissan Rogue.
All Tiguans are powered by a revised version of VW/Audi's direct-injection turbo 2.0 L four cylinder that puts out a healthy 200 hp and 207 lb.-ft. from 1700 rpm.
The subject of this test is the front-wheel-drive Trendline base model, which comes with a six-speed manual transmission (a six-speed Tiptronic auto costs $1,400). With no options, this Alpine Grey Metallic specimen checks in at $27,575.
Those familiar with Volkswagen products will feel right at home in the Tiguan. The six-way fabric front seats with lumbar adjustment are firm, yet very comfortable over the long haul, and all the controls are logically and ergonomically placed. The dash, although not particularly adventurous in design, is simple and classy.
As in all VWs, the quality of materials in the Tiguan is first rate. Looking around the cabin, there's no doubt you're in a premium vehicle, although this Germanic "coal bin" black thing is getting a bit old in my books.
On the safety front, standard traction control and stability control are partnered with a four-wheel disc ABS with brake assist. Inside are six airbags and anti-whiplash head restraints for the front passengers.
In the Trendline, you don't get a sunroof, but cruise control is standard, as are express up and down for all the windows and an electronic parking brake with "hill hold" function. Lots of useful cubbies and storage too. The standard single CD/MP3 audio system is passable.
The 60/40 split back seats are comfortable with good head and legroom (three abreast is okay for the kids), and with a tug of a couple fabric straps they flip down to create a nearly flat and nicely finished load space. During my test week, I was hauling a bunch of musical equipment, and the Tiguan handled it with ease.
The Tiguan's premium attitude continues as you head down the road. The structure has a Germanic "carved from an anvil" feel and it is free of wind, road and engine noise on the highway. Additionally, the ride is very supple — better than every other cute-ute I've tested save for the Land Rover LR2.
But this cosseting demeanour does not come at the expense of handling. Body control is very good, and with VW's trademark steering feel, the Tiguan is an enjoyable back-road ally. There's enough GTI DNA sneaking through here to keep you grinning.
Adding to the driver's involvement is the Trendline's six-speed manual. The throws are a bit long, but clutch take-up is smooth, and it partners nicely with the robust direct-injection turbo four.
This 2.0 L engine has been on Ward's Ten Best Engines list for the past three years, and here it does a fine job of giving the Tiguan surprising poke and a sporting attitude. It's pretty fuel-efficient too. Most of my week involved highway driving, and it returned 8.8 L/100 km, although this high-tech mill requires premium juice.
Normally, I don't get too excited about driving cute-utes, as dynamically, these default dromedaries of the domestics don't do it for me. But I swear this cheeky Tiguan was winking at me from the driveway, saying, "C'mon, let's go." And I'd usually oblige.
VW has positioned the Tiguan to straddle a couple of markets.
The Trendline is priced right in line with the base Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, whereas a loaded leather-lined Tiguan Highline 4MOTION with a six-speed Tiptronic transmission (starting at $38,375), could easily be cross-shopped with the BMW X3, Acura RD-X, Infiniti EX35 and Land Rover LR2.Freelance auto reviewer Peter Bleakney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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