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2012 VW Tiguan (Photographer:/Volkswagen)
2012 VW Tiguan (Photographer:/Volkswagen)

Road Test

Volkswagen Tiguan: The price is not right Add to ...

You’ll find more than a dozen completely capable compact SUVs for sale in Canada, with one, the Jeep Patriot, starting for less than $18,000. Why does a 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan, the tidied-up-for-2012 version with front-wheel-drive, have a base sticker of $27,875?

Why, indeed? Ford’s all-new Escape starts at $21,499. The just-arrived and also all-new 2013 Mazda CX-5: $22,995, base. Honda re-did its popular CR-V earlier this year and the base version there is $25,990. Toyota’s RAV4, due for a re-do later this year, starts at $24,865.

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The point is, VW is charging a premium for the Tiguan, even though just about everyone sells a compact SUV with all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive and eight of those in this segment are Top Safety Picks of the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety – including the Tiguan (and the CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Patriot, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi Outlander and Subaru Forester).

The premium pricing surely is one reason why the best-sellers in this segment – CR-V and Escape so far this year – run at 3,500-4,000 sales a month, and VW Canada sells 500-600 Tiguans a month. Canadians watch their wallets as a general rule. They may love their compact SUVs, with sales since 2008 up 46 per cent, but they comparison shop on price, just the same.

And they do shop rigs like the Tiguan. Nearly one in three lights trucks sold in Canada is a compact SUV and the growth continues unabated. Intermediate sedans and minivans are fading as the family and fleet vehicle of choice. In their place: the compact SUV, which is essentially the new family station wagon in Canada.

As auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers points out in sharing the sales figures, vehicles like the Tiguan, CR-V, CX-5 and such offer “space and everyday capability.”

The Tiguan does this, but is hardly alone. Yet, where the Tiguan comes with just the one engine choice – a very good 200-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine – rivals offer more. The Sportage and Hyundai’s Tucson, for instance, between them offer a range of four-cylinder engines, including Kia’s monster turbocharged four in the sportiest version (260 horsepower).

The new Escape is offered with three different engine choices and Mazda is boasting that its CX-5 delivers stunning fuel efficiency from a new SkyActiv four-cylinder engine. Heck, it’s not unfair even to throw the Mini Cooper Countryman into this mix. It, too, is a small SUV and the base price is $26,450. That’s less than the starter Tiguan, if you hadn’t noticed.

So about that price premium? Well, we are talking about a VW, that while a mainstream brand also can argue that it’s German. By definition, the story goes, the Tiguan is a cut above the rest. Perhaps.

But if you believe the research, three made-in-Canada compact SUVs boast the highest quality. The latest long-term J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Dependability Study says the Chevrolet Equinox is No. 1 in dependability after three years, with the CR-V and RAV4 runners-up.

Design? The 2012 Tiguan is handsome enough, something of a downsized version of Volkswagen’s Touareg. I like it, though I doubt many love this look. It’s a family VW-ish design and that’s good for the brand and VW loyalists. The grille with a pair of horizontal chrome louvers framed by the headlights is the standout exterior design feature. I also like the taillights, though the L-shaped illuminated bit is a common VW design element.

The Tiguan’s cabin is all-VW, too. It is well-conceived, filled with high-quality materials and you find everything where it should be; it’s all sensible and intuitive. But is it one of the stunning interiors we’re seeing come to market in so many new cars? No. It’s functional, well-made and a little dull.

The interior is big, too – big enough for large adult males, in particular. I like that you can recline the rear seat by up to 23 degrees. For cargo, there is plenty of room, the rear seat-backs fold flat and, if you do the same for the front passenger seat, you can stuff in a ladder.

As for the driving, the direct-injection turbo will do 0-100 km in 7.8 seconds, says VW. A six-speed manual is the base gearbox, but most of you will want the six-speed automatic with Tiptronic.

If you want 4Motion permanent four-wheel-drive you will need to upgrade to at least the $31,275 Trendline model. This system puts 90 per cent of the power to the front wheels (for fuel economy) but if the situation calls for it, 100 per cent will shift to the rear automatically. Overall, the handling is competent and the ride quality good, but not exceptional.

And that sums up the Tiguan – good but not exceptional. Sure, it’s a Top Safety Pick, and so are seven others like it. Sure, it has a good engine, and so do so many others – and many rivals offer far more choice in the engine department. Sure, the Tiguan looks like a VW, feels like a VW and handles all sorts of chores with no muss, no fuss. And so do many others.

So again, why the price premium?

Tech specs: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TSI Trendline 4Motion

Type: Compact SUV

Price: $31,275 (freight $1,580)

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged

Horsepower/torque: 200 hp/207 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.8 city/7.4 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Jeep Patriot/Compass, Dodge Journey, Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Mini Cooper Countryman

jcato@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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