2009 Volkswagen Tiguan
As Fun As It Is Cute

We Like: Peppy powertrain, multifunctional interior, gas mileage.
We Don't Like: Sticker shock, torque steer, spooky behavior at the limit.

Volkswagen affectionately refers to the Tiguan as "the GTI of compact SUVs." Given that VW's cuddly crossover shares myriad parts-notably, the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder-with the company's pocket-rocket, that statement isn't far-fetched. After extensive on- and off-road driving in a Tiguan SE-Volkswagen provided a midlevel front-driver rather than one with 4Motion all-wheel drive, which is available on SE and SEL trims-we can confirm that VW's assertion is more truth than hyperbole.

"Really superb chassis," says editor at large St. Antoine, adding, "The front end bites hard and delivers really good steering feel." Technical director Markus echoes those thoughts: "I love the way this one steers-quicker ratio than most, very light and lithe, and predictable turn-in with minimal drama." The SE also proved satisfyingly quick at the track, scooting from 0 to 60 in 7.5 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.7 at 88.9 mph.

When pushing the envelope near 10/10ths, however, the Tiguan becomes more frightening than fun. "At speed, the Tiguan gets floaty," says senior editor Ed Loh, who also notes, "Under hard braking in a straight line, it pulls right then left-scary if the wheel is even slightly turned." Our front-drive tester not only struggles to overcome a steep, uphill section off-road (the only one, even among front-drivers) but also displays unnerving torque steer. As Detroit editor Lassa puts it, "With FWD, the Tiguan is built more for slowly building up to speed, not for full-throttle launches."

Assuming an enthusiast can live with some wheel tug, the Tiguan's six-speed manual-available only on the base $23,890 front-drive S-is the transmission of choice. Not that we mind our tester's Aisin six-speed automatic, of course, which provides seamless shifts in its sport and manual modes. We also don't mind the Tiguan's rich, roomy, and cubby-loaded interior. Still, at over $31,000 for a well-equipped front-drive cute 'ute with a cloth interior-about the same as similarly equipped competitors with AWD and leather-the Tiguan SE failed to score high on the value card, a deficit that most likely cost it a chance at the Calipers.
- Ron Kiino

2009 Volkswagen Tiguan
Base price range $23,890-$33,630
Price as tested $31,255 (SE)
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 2.0L/200-hp/207-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (dist f/r) 3556 lb (58/42%)
Wheelbase 102.5 in
Length x width x height 174.3 x 71.2 x 66.3 in
0-60 mph 7.5 sec
Quarter mile 15.7 sec @ 88.9 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 134 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.78 g (avg)
MT figure eight 28.3 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy econ 18/24 mpg
MT observed fuel econ 17.3 mpg
CO2 emmisions 0.96 lb/mile
Engineering ***
Design ****
Interior/functionality *****
Performance ***
On-road refinement ****
Off-road ability **
Value ****
Like an oversized GTI with a big interior and a big price tag.