The Tiguan, in $33,630 SEL 4Motion guise, proves the priciest of the group, but does come loaded with leather trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, Dynaudio 300-watt stereo, 12-way power driver's seat, bi-Xenon headlamps, 18-inch alloy wheels (it's curious that our test vehicle had 17s, a fact VW chalks up to a factory oversight), and three options -- $350 rear side airbags, $1300 panoramic sunroof, and $1950 navigation with backup camera -- which ups the price to $37,230. Damn you, Euro! (So much for that perfect timing.)

Nevertheless, the Tiguan justifies its steep sticker, at least somewhat, with the group's richest cabin. "Nicest interior," says senior editor Ed Loh, adding, "It looks actually designed, rather than assembled from a parts bin like the Subaru's." Editor at large Arthur St. Antoine feels the same: "Overall, impression is of high-quality materials and stylish design. The Tiguan looks expensive (and is)." Moreover, the VW boasts the most rear headroom as well as useful features not found in the others, namely an SD memory-card reader for the audio system, a height-adjustable center armrest, a driver-side glovebox with five slots for coins, and a mini-jack auxiliary input (the Forester's aux input is of the RCA variety).

The Deutschland-built Tiguan, not surprisingly, offers a very Teutonic ride: firm enough for responsive moves yet supple enough for everyday liveability. While the standard-but-absent 18-inch wheels might've starched the ride a smidge, they likely would've sharpened handling a bit, too, although the 17s performed admirably, providing quick turn-in and commendable grip (0.81g lateral acceleration). That said, the electromechanical steering feels too light and overboosted at low speeds, a sharp contrast from the well-weighted helm of the Mazda.

Despite its compact dimensions, the Tiguan weighs just south of 3800 pounds, over 300 porkier than the Forester. That scale readout, along with its weakest-of-the-bunch 200-horse engine, results in the slowest acceleration numbers-0 to 60 in 8.2 seconds and the quarter mile in 16.2 at 85.7 mph. Still, we love VW's ubiquitous 2.0T mill, which spins freely and euphonically and unleashes 207 pound-feet of peak torque at just 1700 rpm.

"With more than a 20 percent premium over the Forester, the Tiguan may experience Passat-like sales in the States," opines Loh. "Huge outside of the U.S., where people are used to paying a premium for less performance and more style, but not so big in America." St. Antoine notes, "The VW, with its artful cockpit and premium look and feel, is easy to like, but you can't deny that it's the slowest and by a wide margin the most expensive." The Tiguan is an outstanding first effort, but too pricey to advance beyond third place in this test.