First, about that name: Tiguan is a blend of the German words for "tiger" and "iguana." Blame it on a contest involving a German automotive magazine's readers. (Who said Germans don't have a sense of, uh, humor?) Though the rationale behind melding two animals into one nameplate escapes us (anything both furry and scaly is kind of creepy), the Tiguan is so appealing that its quirky name shouldn't deter shoppers in the explosive compact SUV market from taking a close look at the full-size Touareg's little brother.
Tiguan comes to America with front-drive or 4Motion all-wheel-drive models, in three trim levels, and all are powered by Volkswagen's vaunted 2.0L turbocharged engine, which puts its 200 hp to the road through either a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission or, unique in this segment, a six-speed manual gearbox. In line with Volkswagen's determination to provide more content per dollar than the competition, the base front-drive-only S model comes in at a very attractive $23,200, while the better equipped SE ($26,925) and SEL ($30,990) models can be ordered with 4Motion all-wheel drive for a bit less than two grand above their MSRPs.
Our first drive of a U.S.-spec Tiguan, a base S, took us high into the Rocky Mountains, where its turbo powerplant made optimum use of the thin air, pulling the 3400-lb sport/ute over 8000-ft passes without a wheeze. The 2.0T is the same engine found in Volkswagen's GTI sport hatch (hence, VW's marketing of the Tiguan as "the GTI of SUVs"), but, because of the Tiguan's weight, the turbo doesn't deliver quite the snappy response it does in the GTI. However, neither does the Tiguan feel anemic. Power delivery is pleasingly linear, with a total absence of turbo lag, and though the performance won't win any Friday night brackets, it will take the Tiguan far beyond legal limits with exquisite composure.
The factory cites 0-to-60-mph numbers of 7.8 sec for the front-driver and 7.9 sec for the 200-lb-heavier 4Motion model, but making mad dashes away from the stoplight is less significant than the comfortable ride and sporty handling that emanates from the Tiguan's remarkably solid substructure. Built on a platform that combines some parts Passat and some Rabbit, the 102.5-in.-wheelbase SUV feels no less of a piece than so-called "luxury" sport/utes, and the familiar VW front strut and rear four-link suspension is tuned to near perfection. Body roll is kept to a minimum, even in acute turns, and bumps in the road are dampened just as capably as in any upscale sedan.