Rating: 8.1
Bottom Line:
VW hits the compact SUV scene with the GTI-powered Tiguan. From its base FWD S model ($23,200) to the upscale 4Motion-equipped SEL ($32,940), the Tiguan provides Euro-inspired driving dynamics and Old World sophistication.
  • Outstanding ride, handling, shifting
  • Great entry-level model
  • Quite, quality Euro-inspired interior
  • Uninspired, run-of-the-mill SUV bodylines
  • GTI motor struggles with extra 500 pounds
  • Base audio system is horror show

What do you get when you crossbreed a tiger and an iguana? Volkswagen answers this query with the Tiguan, the automaker’s first offering in the ultra-competitive compact SUV segment. The newcomer gets a dose of classic Fahrvergnügen courtesy of a turbocharged engine swapped out of the venerable GTI, and a decidedly European road feel compliments of a well-sorted suspension. Add an elegant interior and you have a rookie that’s ready to roll.

Model Lineup
The Tiguan is offered in three model trims: S, SE and SEL. The base S is available only in a front-wheel-drive (FWD) configuration with standard 16-inch wheels and tires, and VW’s base ‘Metro’ cloth interior. The S has a limited list of options.

Moving up to the SE opens the door to VW’s optional 4Motion all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, standard 17-inch rolling stock or an optional 18-inch combination, as well as an upgraded Urban cloth interior.

The top-line SEL features 18-inch rolling stock, a 300-watt Dynaudio audio system, dual-zone climate control and a leather interior as standard fare. There are many options to choose from, including 4Motion and a trick touch-screen navigation system.

Under The Hood
All Tiguan models get the same powerplant, the GTI’s turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. This mill pumps out 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque from 1700 to 5000 rpm. Front-wheel drive Tiguans enjoy 19/26 (city/hwy) mpg ratings while 4Motion versions check in at 18/24.

VW has covered all the bases when it comes to gearboxes. Three-pedal fans can opt for a 6-speed manual while set-it-and-forget-it types can select a 6-speed automatic with Tiptronic. The automatic provides authoritative, smooth gear transitions and, when in Tiptronic mode, driver-selectable shift points. Shift speed was adequate but we found constantly reaching for the shifter to change gears a tad tedious. Paddle shifters would calm the scene considerably and intensify the Fahrvergnügen factor.

Inner Space
The Tiguan’s functional interior layout features easy-to-reach ventilation controls, a clear and concise gauge cluster, a sophisticated yet simple navigation system and a big panoramic sunroof. The sunroof is an impressive 12.7 square feet, and when you press the button it feels like the heavens are opening up above your head.

There is a definite upscale feel to the leather-clad SEL-trim interior, but the cloth-skinned cabins of the S and SE models are also quite posh. We especially liked the contrast of the tan upholstery with the black upper dash. The absence of flimsy plastic trim pieces and use of cushioned surfaces throughout served to reinforce the highly refined aura inside the Tiguan.

On The Road
The overall shape of the Tiguan was much more subdued than we expected, with the likes of the bawdy TI in its bloodlines. There is no standout feature that visually grabs at you, and the gray rocker cladding upsets the vehicle’s proportions. It’s unfortunate because, once at speed, the Tiguan lives up to its genetics, clawing like a tiger in the turns while moving down the road with the veracity of a spike-laden iguana.

The suspension is the star of this show, as even the base S FWD and its commuter-esque 16-inch rolling stock make all the right moves when pressed. Hot-shoeing a 4Motion-equipped SEL and its four-corner propulsion means you can really press the issue. A touch slower to react — but much more able to retain traction when pushed to the edge — the 4Motion SEL feels more substantial, and you can feel the talons come out when it’s driven hard.

The AWD system normally sends 90 percent of the engine’s torque to the front wheels, until conditions require more torque to be sent aft. Given the proper circumstances, the system can provide up to 100 percent rear-wheel drive. This makes for an adept all-season performer that can retain its agility in slippery conditions.

The 2.0-liter GTI engine feels a bit stressed dealing with the 500 additional pounds of heft in the Tiguan (3,631 lbs. for a 4Motion automatic). The 2.0-liter’s wide torque band provides ample grunt under moderate acceleration, but when the stakes go up so does engine strain. The turbocharged mill lets the Tiguan easily keep pace, but there is no ascertainable onset of boost — no sudden, deep breath followed by an onslaught of power like in the GTI.

Right For You?
Euro-inclined buyers will appreciate the Tiguan’s on-road dynamics, cozy, comfortable cabin and its overall attention to detail. The $23,200 base Tiguan S is worthy of consideration for those looking for a bargain. Furthermore, VW’s Carefree Maintenance Program makes it easy to keep the flame of desire alive with full coverage of the vehicle’s 10,000-, 20,000- and 30,000-mile scheduled maintenance.

There are many competent propositions in the compact SUV segment, which will see more and more action as gas prices rise. The Tiguan is a player. It’s up against stiff competition, but the VW is certainly deserving of a test drive and a shot at the big time.

Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compact tuning. Today Griffey freelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.

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