- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

Into the crowded sea of compact crossovers sails another entry. Volkswagen is adding to its 2009 lineup a car-based crossover Sport Utility Vehicle, dubbed Tiguan.

This new VW got its name in a novel way - through polling data on the World Wide Web. Volkswagen let the public decide the new name of their latest offering. Tiguan, the result of an Internet poll, is part Tiger, part Iguana.

Tiguan is sneaky big. By that I mean that the VW looks small from the outside, but inside, this crossover proves to be right-sized and versatile. Tiguan will handle people or cargo with equal aplomb. Overall, there’s room for four adults - five in a pinch.

VW uses two-tone colors and varied textures to bring some variety to the interior plastics. Notable among the optional equipment is an oversized moonroof (almost 13 square feet), and a newly designed touch screen navigation system. The 6.5-inch screen projects the view behind when in reverse, and will play DVDs when the vehicle is parked. Also available is Sirius satellite radio, and the content includes real-time traffic information in select markets. Notably absent inside: slide-forward capability for the center console cover/armrest and a plain ol’ pull-up parking brake. Tiguan benefits from an unusually flexible floor plan. Rear seats will slide up and back, split, fold and recline.

The front passenger seat also folds flat forward, enabling Tiguan to carry long items under cover. The cargo bay holds a generous, 23.8 cubic feet of space, expandable to 56.1 cubic feet. The one-piece liftgate swings high out of the way, and the floor lift-over height is comfortably low.

Volkswagen is marketing Tiguan as the GTI of compact crossovers. GTI, for those unfamiliar with it, is VW’s hotrod hatchback. It’s not a bad comparison, as Tiguan is one of the few crossovers on the market that’s truly fun to drive. With four-wheel independent suspension and electro-mechanical rack and pinion steering, Tiguan corners confidently and has a smooth ride. The compact crossover is offered in Front Wheel Drive and 4Motion All Wheel Drive, with three available trim levels (S, SE, SEL). Prices start at $23,200.

Front Wheel Drive versions can be had with either six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic transmission. The All Wheel Drive model is automatic only. The automatic has a manual setting for those who like to shift it themselves. However, we found the best results were to be had by leaving it in full automatic mode. The sole engine choice is VW’s well-regarded 2.0T four-cylinder - the same one that provides the power for GTI.

The turbocharged engine makes 200 horsepower and 207 pounds-feet of torque. Of course, the front drive, manual transmission Tiguan weighs about 300 pounds more than a GTI, so it’s no surprise that it exhibits snappier acceleration than the AWD Tiguan with automatic, which is over 500 pounds heavier. The EPA estimates Tiguan’s fuel economy at 18 mpg city, 24 highway for the AWD/auto, while the FWD/ stick version checks in at 19/26 mpg.

Volkswagen is studying the idea of adding a turbo diesel to the Tiguan option list, but has made no decisions as of yet. VW’s 4Motion All Wheel Drive system operates in Front Wheel Drive mode under normal circumstances. But, when driving conditions dictate the need for more grip, it shifts automatically from its normal, 90 percent front/10 percent rear power distribution to as much as a 50/50 front/rear split.

Volkswagen is in the midst of a busy year for product rollout. In addition to Tiguan and the new Jetta SportWagen, VW showrooms will also see the CC - an upscale sport sedan - and Routan, a minivan. None of these new models will face more competition than Tiguan. The compact crossover class is one of the fastest growing segments in the auto market.

VW’s marketing approach is to trade on its Euro sport heritage, putting the accent on the “sport” in Sport Utility Vehicle.

And, in a show of corporate confidence, VW has announced that they’re adopting free, standard scheduled maintenance for all 2009s, for the length of the 3-year/36,000-mile warranty.

That’s just the icing on the cake for Tiguan, which has the goods to be a success in this segment, despite the established, strong competition. It’s as versatile as any crossover and sportier than most.

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