Does the smaller of Volkswagen's offroad-ready SUVs have what it takes for a mountain-worthy driving experience? And does it really have the soul of a GTI, hidden somewhere in there?
The VW Tiguan does, indeed, offer plenty of compelling evidence of being a strong contender in the compact SUV class. And with the turbocharged 2.0-liter found in its more pavement-oriented siblings, there's more than enough jolt to carry the machine around.
Even better, as I found three years back when I took the Tiguan on the same rocky, high-altitude offroad trek I'd used to test the guts of the Jeep Wrangler and a Land Rover LR4, it survived. Admirably.
Tiguan's only drawbacks may be its price and an interior that's pretty heavy on the cold, hard plastic. Those would be the only disagreeable notions about the car, maybe that and the funny name.
And as for the GTI connection, it's mostly true. Tiguan doesn't have quite the same competitive spirit as the similar Audi Q5, which corners like a car but is as light-offroad-rugged as possible; Tiguan's optional 4Matic all-wheel-drive system will keep the automobile grounded even when the ground inevitably turns to deep snow. Its Haldex guts normally put 90 percent of the power to the front wheels, but the full blast can go to the back when traction and acceleration are required. (The SEL features slightly tighter suspension and 19-inch wheels with low-profile tires, for those looking to more accurately replicate the GTI experience).
The 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque are tangible parts of the package and allow the machine some good starts and steady uphill power - the kind of boost I would have loved in the new Subaru Crosstrek, as I will discuss in an upcoming column.
In recent years, there have been minor changes to the Tiguan's looks (LED lights surrounding the headlamps, for instance); the basics remain and it has sharp looks, very nice wheels and comfortable proportions.
You'll find the seating a little higher than other SUVs and definitely stiff, at first, plus a rock-hard, leather-wrapped steering wheel and some slightly hard-to-the-touch surfaces on the armrests. Even in the 40/20/40 splitting rear seat, drop the center leaf and you get a center armrest and cupholder that's as hard as a lunchbox.
The 2012 model I drove got a major suite of redesign tweaks, including interesting but odd silver dollar-sized air vents and the updated but slightly too-small-for-its-own good navigation screen.
The 2013 Tiguans are buoyed a bit with a new electronic parking brake and hill hold control, but no other major changes; the most bare-bones of the bunch retails for $22,995 (front-wheel-drive) and major options include bi-xenon headlamps, a gigantic panoramic sunroof or your choice of either six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
That full-cabin sunroof is lightly shaded by an electronically controlled opaque screen but when parked in the blast of a mid-summer day in Denver, it left the cabin pretty toasty.
In addition to 56 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats flattened, Tiguan is also capable of hauling up to 2,200 pounds of trailer gear - or the hitch can be used to mount a four-spot bike rack.
The competition's becoming a heated race in this segment, with the new, European-styled Ford Escape looking suspiciously Tiguanish; Honda's CR-V and the Kia Sportage are also strong contenders, along with the Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and the getting-on-in-years Toyota RAV4. The little VW is still pretty cool among that bunch.