The compact crossover market is now a very vibrant place, with makes and models that have gone beyond the ungainly chunkiness of vehicles like the original Ford Escape and the older Toyota RAV4s to emerge in a rather sophisticated place.
In the German end of the pool, the Volkswagen Tiguan has been rocking along for a half-decade now, through a couple of focused face-lifts. Despite its age, it’s still a cutting-edge machine and still very much like an SUV version of a Volkswagen GTI — one amply propelled by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder and some 200 horsepower.
The design is outstanding, the handling is quite cunning and comprehensive and, dear goodness, so much more composed and sporty than the similarly sized (and priced) brand-new Jeep Cherokee — or a few of the other newer members of the competitive set.
Yes, the Tiguan’s overly plastic interior and its high-platformed seats might be called a little austere, especially compared with flashier and newer arrivals (that new Cherokee does get a serious leg up here, as do the new Toyota RAV4 and most recent Ford Escape).
But that’s part of the appeal of Volkswagen, overall — simple, functional, straightforward. There are not a million buttons and bells and whistles, just an attractive and utilitarian vibe. There are cup holders with a sliding gate cover, a rubbery cubby for your phone, an iPhone input cable in the soft-topped center console box and … not much else. Simple instrumentation, simple HVAC controls, a utilitarian navigation system. A push-button starter, and a space for a cigarette lighter.
And with the remarkable grounding of VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, you’ll still be able to do the rugged and ridiculous things that you’d think were possible only in a jacked-up Jeep Wrangler or a Land Rover. Tiguan will get you there, for real, with an on-tarmac ride that truly is more like a tall GTI.
The motor does not gurgle and chug around like the competitors’ engines; it buzzes with mechanical authority. Get into it and its 200 horses are easily accessible, though there’s a modicum of flatness during prolonged lower-speed cruising, which can be addressed by popping the car into the higher-revving Sport mode.
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 and comfortable proportions. Flat-chromed roof rails, shiny exhaust ports and attractive 18-inch alloy wheels are the most audacious parts of the whole package.
The set of eight tweeter-sized air vents for the AC, the on/off light controls and even the single electronic control for the seatbacks all are simple, not snazzy.
For 2014, Tiguan’s major changes include the availability of an optional R-Line interior and exterior package featuring special 19-inch wheels, as well as the Fender premium audio system that made my test vehicle rock like a boom box.
Tiguans were buoyed a bit a few years back with a new electronic parking brake and hill-hold control, but there were not many other changes; the most bare-bones of the models retails for the aforementioned $23,305 (front-wheel-drive) and major options include bi-xenon headlamps, the gigantic panoramic sunroof or your choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
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.