Volkswagen is trying hard to emphasize the duality of its new compact SUV. First, the name. Tiguan is a combination of tiger and iguana. Presumably, one represents a strong, fast, ruthless predator, while the other's natural habitat is desert, implying the ability to withstand harsh conditions.
For the European market at least, the Tiguan comes in two packages: one designed specifically for off-roading, the other for the everyday function of running from the school to the shops to soccer practice.
The Tiguan is a capable off-road vehicle. The all-wheel-drive system can slog through mud and sand without hesitation. Climbing 28-degree inclines is a cinch, while its descent control keeps it from careening out of control on the opposite side.
In the city, the Tiguan drives very much like a tall version of the Golf. The suspension displays typical VW characteristics. A firm ride and responsive steering adds some entertainment to driving. On winding country roads, it's stable and predictable. Dive, squat and body roll are all magnified by the higher center of gravity, but the motion is well controlled and never feels uncomfortable.
The Haldex 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is completely transparent. There is no binding or squealing tires as found in similar systems. The six-speed manual gearbox has a first gear low enough for off-roading and a sixth gear comfortable for highway cruising. This transmission can handle first gear as low as 1000 rpm without stalling, so it's easy to creep along at just under 5 mph, similar to a reduction box.
The interior is designed for maximum utility. Every seat except the driver's has a fold-flat option. Apparently, the designers used the longest box from IKEA as a benchmark for interior space. With the front passenger seat folded flat, there's just over eight feet of length available for cargo. For towing, the Tiguan has an ingenious hitch that pivots down from behind the bumper. It's completely hidden when not in use and deploys with the pull of a cable.
Possibly the most exciting aspects are the two engines tested: a 1.4-liter TSI engine-equipped with both a supercharger and a turbocharger-and the extremely impressive 2.0-liter TDI. The gasoline-powered TSI engine works surprisingly well in this fairly large platform. The car isn't fast, but certainly quick enough for its intended use.