Whether you like them, crossover utility vehicles are here. They come in various sizes. Each has a station wagon-like platform, additional height and optional all-wheel-drive. Unlike truck-type, body-on-frame SUVs, CUVs promise auto-like ride, handling and fuel economy. Few make good on that pledge.
That hasn't stopped the industry from flipping out crossovers like hot cakes. They offer so many--you can hardly see the cars for the CUVs. An exception: VW. It didn't offer a compact CUV in North America until 2008, when it pulled the Tiguan (tiger/iguana) out of its metaphorical hat. Despite the wait and the name, its charming; it handles people and roads with aplomb.
There's Golf DNA underneath each trim, functional Tiguan. Good sight lines aid city driving. Motivation: a 200-hp turbocharged, four-cylinder mill. Two-wheel drive versions have six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. With 4Motion (all-wheel-drive), a six-speed automatic is standard.
I tested a paint-it-black Tiguan SE 4Motion. Its entry fee: $29,000. Add options--including a panoramic roof than won't blot out SIR Jagger's sky--and the asking price tops $33,000. That's serious change, but no more than a Mazda CX-7.
Climb into VW's wagon and you'll find firm seating for five and a nicely tailored dash. The sculpted door panels have stout handles, slanted controls and sturdy pockets. Interior ambiance is rich.
Passengers like the split, fold rear seat, which slides fore and aft. You can customize space for cargo or people. With the sunroof, you've got a ceiling that VW's designers probably thought topped the Sistine Chapel's. That top's rotary, rocker and pushbutton control, which apes roof action, allows one-touch tilt, slide and/or uncover like Brian Jones playing a sitar.
Center stage is VW's latest DVD-based navigation system with satellite-radio traffic alerts, a sound system that records tunes and a wide touch-screen that reduces knob twirling. It also displays the backup camera with parking aid. Dash controls are simple. And you wont go loopy pulling seat-release straps. Unlike many CUVs, VW's dimpled thrones have few strings attached. A rattling left 'A' pillar annoyed.
Goose the throttle; power delivery bests some V6s. When things get slippery, torque is distributed toward the appropriate axles. Add the alphabet soup of mobility aids and that fancy roof won't become the floor of a glass-bottom boat.
In motion, the Tiguan's electro-mechanical, power steering is too light at low speeds. Nonetheless, it's free of unpleasant jolts and dials in enough firmness as you increase momentum. Moreover, this crossover grooves on twisty roadways. Its ride is good, road noise muted and impact harshness numbed. Choppy pavement elicited modest snapping motions.
How thirsty? Its EPA-rated 18 mpg city and 24 hwy, premium recommended. I observed 22 overall. You'll do better with two-wheel-drive and pleasant manual tranny: EPA numbers are 19 city and 26 hwy--I eked out 25. After a week of Tiguan trekking, I discovered that good things come in small packages.
VW paints the doors red, too.