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In the vast expanse of the exceptionally crowded compact crossover segment, it is inevitable that otherwise worthy alternatives will fall through the cracks. Yes, while the likes of the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4 sport new sheet metal and are snatched up no more slowly than chocolate cupcakes at a dessert table, certain models tend to be completely overlooked.
The Volkswagen Tiguan finds itself in this rather unfortunate predicament, much like the red-velvet cupcake. It, too, plays second fiddle to chocolate at the dessert table, but take a bite and one is instantly drawn in by its delectably sweet core and layer of frosting. But I digress.
Like the car on which it's based, the Golf, it has been around for a while. It boasts neither the sexiest sheet metal, the most powerful engine nor the most cutting-edge technological wizardry. Rather, it does many things well, despite its rather high price, without making much of a fuss.
Take the styling, for example. Onlookers in a shopping-mall parking lot would be hard-pressed to stop in their tracks, bewildered by the Tiguan's unrelenting beauty. It eschews the rounded-off styling so common with many other crossovers, embracing a more traditional two-box design.
From the front, it doesn't look half-bad, with its split two-bar chrome grille, finished off by a set of Xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights. Look closer and there is a badge on the grille denoting what makes our particular tester special -- the R-Line package.
New for 2013, it is available exclusively on the fully loaded, $37,440 Highline trim level. The package adds a handful of goodies to the Tiguan, including the aforementioned headlights as well as tinted tail lights and a spoiler on the hatch. It rides on a set of 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped around 255/40 series rubber, surprisingly (and pleasantly) wide for a car in its class.
The choice in tire width, something otherwise seemingly inconsequential, does wonders for the ride, in tandem with another R-Line exclusive, the sport-tuned suspension. Though the Tiguan is not the best option for the autocross or the racetrack, its driving dynamics are a wonderful surprise considering its high stance. It feels very planted ascending on-ramps, rough pavement and even tight bends, far from the numb and wallowy tendencies of other crossovers.
Steering is tuned toward the light side of the equation. It takes little effort to manoeuvre around town and in tight parking situations, and gives the driver a reasonable idea of what is going on under the wheels. As a Golf offspring, the Tiguan is not as direct as the GTI or Golf R, but is definitely up there with the Mazda CX-5 and the Subaru Forester XT. Outward visibility is good despite the small side mirrors. Thankfully, the backup camera is standard.
Powering the Tiguan is Volkswagen's ubiquitous 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. As with many other VW products beating with this heart, it does not take an engineering professor to figure it produces identical numbers to the GTI: 200 horsepower at 5,100 r.p.m. and 207 pound-feet of torque at 1,700 r.p.m. Like the GTI, the Tiguan feels as if it produces much more, thanks to minimal turbo lag and a fairly linear powerband. If you keep the radio off and the go-fast pedal pressed far enough, you can even hear the turbo spool up, something more than welcome considering its sporting genealogy.
Where it differs from the GTI is how it puts the power to the ground. The Tiguan is equipped with VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. Whether or not it has the chops to compete with Subaru and Audi's systems is yet to be determined, but it certainly inspires confidence knowing all four wheels get horses and torque, regardless of weather conditions.
My only nitpick with the car lies with the transmission. Though the six-speed automatic is respectably smooth and responsive, it is not Volkswagen's magical-elf-and-pixie-dust-powered dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) automatic. Rather, it is a standard, run-of-the-mill tiptronic slushbox.
Slotted into Manual mode, it does not detract from the sporty drive, but I do miss the lightning-quick upshifts and downshifts.
Another wonky transmission fact: Volkswagen offers a six-speed manual. Lest you hang me from the gallows for making such a heinous statement, the stick is only offered on lower-trimmed Tiguan models (base Trendline and mid-range Comfortline) and only when front-wheel drive is selected.
Very few automakers let you row your own gears in the crossover segment, especially on top trim levels, but if manual shifting and all-wheel drive are required to tickle your driving fancy, regardless of trim level, look elsewhere. Specifically at a Subaru showroom.
The changes as part of the R-Line package continue inside. It nets you goodies that include a black headliner, metal pedals and most importantly, the delightfully thick flat-bottom steering wheel lifted from the GTI and Golf R. This addition alone makes the package worth it. The rest of the interior is finished in Volkswagen's typical Teutonic way, with solid materials throughout and an logical, all-business, no-gimmicks layout.
VeeDub gives you the option of having the seats coated in an exceptionally handsome hide known as Saddle Brown. Unfortunately, it can only be selected with either one of two monochromatic colours on the Tiguan's palette -- silver or dark grey. Oh, the things I would do for a dark blue Tiguan R-Line with Saddle Brown leather...
Yet another reason the Tiguan falls through the cracks is its price. Our tester, also equipped with the Technology Package, rings in at $42,490. That is a tough pill to swallow, considering it treks into the niche dominated by pseudo-luxury crossovers such as the Audi Q3, BMW X3 and Mercedes GLK. Nevertheless, delete some options or start at a lesser trim level and Volkswagen's red-velvet cupcake known as the Tiguan quickly establishes itself as the superior choice to the chocolate (and vanilla) compact CUVs on the dessert table.
-- Postmedia News