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The Volkswagen Tiguan is a good example of where the VW brand is today, and where it needs to be. The Tiguan's sized well for the U.S. market, handles capably, and has a neat and clean look that's sure to wear well for years. However, it's not remarkable or exceptional in any way, in its price, its technology, or its interior space. That's a tough place to be in the face of good-looking performers like the Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Escape, and GMC Terrain.As far as VW cars go, the Tiguan skews on the conservative side of what the brand has produced in recent years–but that includes one of the best-built interiors in its class of compact crossovers. It comes with an interior that's nicer than many of the Volkswagen's other small cars, almost as if the Tiguan was designed from the inside out. Outside, it looks a little like a taller version of a Golf–a little bland for the segment–but the larger wheels offered on the upper trims of the Tiguan help it look a little tougher than a smaller hatchback.
Along with a mild refresh in 2012, VW upped the level of standard equipment in the Tiguan; base models remain above the entry prices for many rival models, however. But feature content throughout the lineup is now impressive. All Tiguans have a decent AM/FM/CD sound system, with an iPod adapter and voice-activated Bluetooth, while at the top of the model line you get leather seats and push-button start in the SEL. Mid-level SE models add fog and cornering lamps, heated seats, and VW's V-Tex vinyl seating—which to us is no upgrade, so try them both. The SEL model includes leather seats and push-button start, along with a sport suspension, bi-xenon headlamps and LED running lamps, and automatic climate control. Both SE and SEL trims get roof-rack rails. There's only one equipment surprise in the Tiguan: If you want a manual version of the Tiguan, you'll have to settle for the more basic base model.
The Tiguan doesn't betray its homely exterior too much. Although the specs might sound promising--200-horsepower turbocharged four, manual or automatic transmissions--this is a vehicle tuned for family duty, not for VW precision. It's more nimble and responsive than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, for sure, but the goods simply aren't here to satisfy driving enthusiasts. It can tow up to 2,200 pounds—good for jet-skis or ATVs—while all-wheel-drive versions also make good picks for those in snowy climates.
Really, the Tiguan is what it is: a very tall small car with a lot of usefulness, an affordable price, and good gas mileage. This vehicle is probably the best fit for a growing family that wants something with a little more utility, or to the older driver who likes the easier entry/exit and seating position of a city-oriented crossover. Most crossover shoppers also want an interior that's straightforward and versatile—as well as comfortable—and the Tiguan delivers on those expectations. Front seats feel sporty and supportive, with good comfort and an excellent driving position, while the second-row seats slide and tilt, leaving ample space for adults. With the 60/40-split seatbacks folded you get 56 cubic feet of cargo space (nearly 24 with the seat up), with a small 'hidden' storage bin under the floor plus a twin-compartment glovebox and various other cubbies throughout the vehicle.
Throughout the Tiguan, there really isn't a hair out of place. And while it isn't a design leader in any way, just a quick glance around the cabin may be enough to understand where this crossover really shines: Materials and details feel polished, assembly quality is tight, and overall there's a feel that this could conceivably be a vehicle from a premium brand like Audi.
Crash-test results for the Tiguan have fallen to subpar, though Volkswagen continues to offer a few more safety features than you'd typically expect to see in a small crossover. In addition to the usual front and side airbags, rear side thorax airbags—not often available in this class—are an option here. On all-wheel-drive versions, hill descent control is also included, to help control speed on steep slopes, while for 2013 hill-hold control and an electronic parking brake have been added to the entire model line.