The last time a 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan appeared in our garage, the compact crossover came up short against competitive offerings from Ford, Mazda, Honda, and Kia. That Tiguan, however, was a base front-drive model. Would a well-equipped all-wheel-drive Tiguan SEL 4Motion change our tune?

In a word, no. But the crossover does have its strong points, one of them being its powertrain. The Tiguan SEL 4Motion is powered by Volkswagen's tried-and-true 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4 producing an ample 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, with power routed through a six-speed automatic transmission. While we're more enamored with VW's six-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox, the automatic shifts quickly and smartly, especially when Sport mode is engaged. But in the default drive setting it seems too eager to upshift and likes to drop the engine revs below 1000 rpm while coasting, leading to a minor (and annoying) delay in power delivery when you get back on the throttle.

Despite the addition of two extra drive wheels, the 2012 Tiguan SEL 4Motion handles about as well as the front-drive Tiguan SE we tested. It rolls over itself during any semblance of aggressive driving, its seats are just as flat, and it has the same rough-riding suspension. The SEL's attractive 19-inch wheels didn't seem to help matters much.

On the track, the slightly heavier 4Motion turned in roughly the same numbers as the front-drive Tiguan. The dash to 60 mph took 7.8 seconds and it ran through the quarter mile in 16.0 seconds at 87.2 mph, matching the Tiguan SE to 60 mph and besting it by 0.2 sec and 0.8 mph in the quarter. It out-braked front-drive Tiguan SE too, needing 121 feet to stop from 60 mph, versus 123 feet.

The Tiguan SEL slightly out-handled the front-drive version, managing to pull an average 0.82 g on the skidpad (versus 0.80 g), and completed the figure eight in 27.5 seconds at an average of 0.61 g, as compared to 27.9 seconds at 0.62 g (avg). In the fuel efficiency arena, the Tiguan SEL returned 19.9 mpg combined in mostly city driving during our test, close to the city number of the Tiguan 4Motion's 21/27 mpg city/highway rating.

Inside, the Tiguan SEL 4Motion predictably felt more upmarket than the SE model. The tester featured real leather seats, a navigation system, and the Dynaudio premium audio system. The power, tan leather seats provided a nice contrast to the dark black plastics on the dashboard, making the interior a more pleasant place than the dim and dark Tiguan SE.

Despite the interior improvements, the Tiguan SEL's insides still felt flawed. For example, with the seats up the cargo area is just 23.8 cu-ft -- barely enough cubes to squeeze in a single hockey bag. Though there are no fewer than 11 cubbies spread throughout the cabin, they don't do much to make up for the lack of space. With the heavy, clunky rear seats folded down (though not completely flat), the cargo area grows to a decent 56.1 cu-ft.

Up front, the SEL's seats are as hard and flat as the last tester we had in, and the Tiguan is also cursed with the worst driving position this side of a bus. The instrument panel and steering wheel are angled in such a way that no matter what position you're sitting in, the wheel feels like it's coming up out of the floor at you. At just over 6-feet tall, I figured maybe it was just me. Other editors agreed, however, with one even going so far as to say the angle of the wheel and instrument panel make it feel like you're falling forward.

Now to a touchy subject for the VW: price. Our top-of-the-line Tiguan SEL 4Motion tester rang in at $38,600. Our tester came fully loaded with a navigation system, leather seats, HID headlights, and the aforementioned Dynaudio sound system. That hardly makes the Volkswagen a bargain proposition. A similarly equipped 2013 Ford Escape (the top finisher in our recent comparo) rings in about $3000 cheaper, and a comparable 2013 Mazda CX-5 (the No. 2 finisher) is even cheaper still. Our Tiguan SEL tester's value proposition is even more muddled when you compare it to its Audi sibling, the Q5. A base Q5 costs $36,475, though a comparably equipped model retails for just over $40,000.

While the Tiguan is marketed as a premium alternative to its rivals, the driving experience and included content simply don't live up to those expectations, despite having arguably best powertrain in its segment. Whether it's an SE or SEL, two-wheel drive or four, the overpriced Tiguan ultimately underdelivers.


2012 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL
BASE PRICE $36,750
PRICE AS TESTED $38,600
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/200-hp/207-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3751 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 102.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 174.5 x 71.2 x 65.6 in
0-60 MPH 7.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.0 sec @ 87.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 121 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.82 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.5 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 21/27 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 160/125 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.83 lb/mile