Tire size of one of the few ways to tell one Tiguan from another, as there are few differences among the extensive list of standard items. The S offers only 16-in. running gear, the SE rides on 17s and the SEL on 18s, but virtually every other bit of drivetrain kit comes standard on every Tiguan, including ABS, an anti-slip program and electronic diff lock, engine braking assist, electronic brake force distribution and electronic stabilization, which from 2009 on will be standard on every Volkswagen, beating the government mandate by a full three years. Also newly standard is 3-year/36,000 free scheduled maintenance, which should help counter buyer skepticism about VW's quality.

We moved into a fully equipped SEL for the afternoon, and the 200 additional pounds from the 4Motion system had little effect on the Tiguan's road manners. We did appreciate the extra grip from the Haldex all-wheel-drive system, which helped us power through a spring snowstorm without one slip of a wheel, but the weather did keep us from enjoying the huge, optional panoramic sunroof. The only other options are a new navigation system (including a rearview camera), operated via the 6.5-in. high-rez touchscreen in the center stack, rear side airbags, alloy wheels, and a trailer hitch (2500-lb towing capacity).

The Tiguan will compete with some tough company in the U.S., primarily the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV-4, but it has the performance and interior styling and functionality to do well (VW hopes for at least 20,000 buyers). For instance, the split/folding rear seats, placed slightly higher than the front seats for better sightlines, also recline and slide separately for additional passenger comfort or luggage capacity, which more than doubles from 23.68 to 56.1 cu ft with the seats folded. Plus, for its compact exterior size, the Tiguan is roomy enough inside for four very large adults to ride in comfort; five in a pinch.

Bottom line: Dumb name; super SUV.


2009 VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN
Base Price $23,200 (not including dest. Chg)
Vehicle layout Front engine, front/all-wheel drive
Engine 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged
Transmission 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic
Curb weight 3,397 lb
Wheelbase 102.5 in.
Length x width x height 174.3 x 71.2 x 66.3 in.
0-60 mph 7.8 sec
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 18/24-25 mpg
On sale in U.S. Now