2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline; photo by Michael Clark
2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline; photo by Michael Clark. Click image to enlarge
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2009 Volkswagen Tiguan

Winnipeg, Manitoba – Remember fahrvergnügen? According to VW’s tagline from 1990, it’s what makes a car a Volkswagen. Literally translated, it means driving pleasure.

While that memorable slogan is long gone, the German automaker hasn’t forgotten how to build into its vehicles that quality that gives its driver a sense that they’re behind the wheel of something special. When I first heard that VW would be producing a CUV (crossover utility vehicle) that’s smaller than the Touareg, my interest was piqued, but I worried that its price would be dear compared to comparable Japanese vehicles of the same size. Either that, or perhaps worse, it just wouldn’t feel like a Volkswagen.

I’m happy to report that the new Tiguan is a great value, with fahrvergnügen fully intact. Prices start at $27,575 for the front-driver with six-speed manual. Make that tranny an automatic with the same number of ratios and the price jumps to $28,975. Next up the Tiguan totem pole is the automatic with 4Motion all-wheel drive with a sticker price of $30,975 before options.

2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline
2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline. Click image to enlarge

The standard equipment list on all Tiguans includes 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, cruise control, stability control, eight-speaker audio system, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Passive safety measures are taken care of via side curtain airbags with rear seat thorax bags as a stand-alone option.

Powering all models across the range is VW’s direct-injection turbocharged two-litre four. While 1,984 cubic centimetres doesn’t sound like much, this force-fed mill packs a punch with 200 hp and 206 lb-ft of torque, the latter perched atop a broad plateau between 1,700 and 5,000 rpm. That makes the VW the most powerful four-banger in its class, save for the pricier CX-7 from Mazda. However, many competitors offer gutsier V6 engines, something that’s not on the Tig’s option list.

My tester was a Tiguan 4Motion dressed in Comfortline trim. At $33,975, it includes 17-inch alloys, roof rails, heated seats with upgraded cloth, a trip computer, upgraded audio, and a huge panoramic sunroof. A Highline is also available for $38,375. The extra $4,400 buys 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, xenon headlights, leather seats, rain-sensing wipers, and Sirius satellite radio.

2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline
2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline
2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline; bottom photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

Both of the upper-level Tiguan models can be equipped with the $3,450 Technology Package which includes a navigation system, 300-watt audio system, rearview camera, and integrated satellite radio. For that price I would have liked to see a DVD entertainment system with screens integrated into the front seat headrests (we wouldn’t want to lose that glass roof).

The turbocharged four provides a great balance between performance and fuel consumption. Smooth, refined, and spirited, the mill teams up with the six-speed for a satisfying powertrain. The transmission works just fine in Drive, or even Sport if you want slightly higher revs. The manual mode is largely redundant; its most useful purpose being to prepare for a quick pass or a smart exit out of a corner.

Surprisingly, after a week of primarily city driving, the Tig consumed less than 12 litres for every 100 km of driving during my test drive, very close to its published rating of 11.6. For me, that’s a rarity given my daily ‘burbs-to-downtown commute and the stop-and-go nature of Winnipeg’s road network (what’s a freeway anyway?). It would be nice, though, if VW were to bring the TDI version of its newest CUV to Canada for even lower fuel consumption and torquier performance. How cool would that be? Were such an animal available here I would personally stand in line.

The Tig’s fully independent suspension manages a well-sorted ride for a car in this class. It’s not too busy or stiff, nor does it exhibit excessive body roll when the roads get bendy. But don’t let VW’s marketing mavens mislead you: this is not a GTI in SUV clothing. It’s just too high off the ground and too heavy to handle at the same level as its pocket-rocket sibling. Does it share some DNA? Sure. But let’s leave it at that.

On the other hand, let’s see a GTI tow 998 kilograms. For a CUV it’s not much (you’re basically limited to a small tent trailer), but as an alternative to a car it does just fine, given its car-like combination of ride, handling and fuel consumption.

2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline
2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline
2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline. Click image to enlarge

The Comfortline’s upgraded cloth seats proved attractive and very comfortable with relatively firm cushions and good side bolstering: typically Teutonic. And the blue-and-red dash lighting makes for an appealing and easy-to-read instrument panel at night. An attractive three-spoke wheel with phone, audio, and trip computer controls on the spokes keeps both hands on the wheel more of the time.

The centre stack is straightforward with audio controls flanked by round vents as its most prominent features. Lower down, simple controls for the HVAC system and seat heaters are located in an ergonomically sound manner.

The Tiguan’s outward appearance is agreeable from almost any angle, the only possible exception being a rear overhang that looks prematurely truncated. A little more length back there would not only increase the Tig’s rear visual appeal, it would allow it to swallow a little more than the 1,589 litres than it currently can with the rear seat folded (that number drops to 700 if the rear seats are in use). Nonetheless, the Tiguan’s cargo hold is nicely shaped and nicely finished, and folding the seats flat is a simple affair.

For those trying to decide whether to move up (literally) from one of VW’s hatchbacks or wagons, you should know that the Tiguan isn’t exactly a monster when it comes to swallowing cargo: the Rabbit can hold 1,303 litres, the mid-sized Passat will accept 1,751, and the new Jetta wagon takes a surprising 1,897 litres of stuff behind the front seats. So if you want car-like handling with cargo versatility, there are other choices in the VW stable.

As far as direct competitors are concerned, I expect folks who are interested in the Tiguan to cross-shop it against the Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, and a number of other $30-something entries from the U.S., Japan, and Korea.

There’s no question that Volkswagen is late to the mini-ute party with the Tiguan, but there’s finally an affordable German CUV that’s attractive and full of character.

Pricing: 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline 4MOITION

Base price: $27,575
Options: $6,400 (automatic transmission, $1,400; all-wheel drive, $2,000; Comfortline package, $3,000 )

A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,550
Price as tested: $35,625
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

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