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car review

2013 Volkswagen Tiguan

Volkswagen's Tiguan R-Line isn't a compact crossover version of the rocket-quick Golf R hatch, but its racy package of options does add a dash more sporting flavour to a vehicle with an already well-defined performance personality.

Volkswagen came late to the compact crossover segment with the 2009 Tiguan, but it has managed to carve itself a worthwhile share of the market.

Not by being the most competitive vehicle, in a class in which many buyers put a premium on price and practicality. But by pitching a distinctly premium level European look and feel, an amalgam of smart exterior style and a pleasing interior, with strong performance and taut handling.

It's doubtful anybody buys a Ford Escape, Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4 – last year's top compact sellers – because they think they'll look cool driving around in one, but it's a good bet many buy a Tiguan because they do.

Tiguan's marketing approach may have kept it well down the compact segment ranking chart. Sales last year totalled 5,657, a long way from the 40,099 Escapes Ford sold or the 33,339 CR-Vs Honda moved. But that was a sizeable, and growing, portion of VW Canada's 59,132 sales (incidentally, the highest sales total the brand has posted since its arrival here in 1952). And VW dropped prices up to $3,000 in March to boost sales further this year.

The Tiguan is also proving a popular choice worldwide, the fourth best-selling vehicle in VW's lineup and accounting for 20 per cent of global sales.

Volkswagen R GmbH was launched as a subsidiary three years ago to create performance-oriented packages that would enhance the sporting flavour of vehicles across the company's range, along with special high-performance models such as the 256-hp Golf R. Think of it as VW's version of BMW M GmbH, Mercedes AMG and Audi's S-Line.

In the Tiguan test car's case, the $2,750 R-Line package is mainly cosmetic, providing 19-inch Mallory alloy wheels, flared wheel arches, a rear spoiler, bi-xenon headlights, a black roof-liner, special flat-bottomed, leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob, metal pedal caps and sills, and R-Line badging. The only things that actually improve performance are the sport-tuned suspension and the low-profile, 255/40 R19 rubber wrapped around the wheels.

This array of goodies was added to a $37,440 Highline Tiguan with 4Motion all-wheel-drive. A base front-drive, manual transmission Trendline lists at $24,990 and rapidly ramps up from there through automatic transmission, AWD and other option choices.

The Highline features list includes: power driver's seat, automatic headlights, chrome window surrounds, dual-zone climate control, compass, leather, rain-sensing wipers, heated power mirrors and a panoramic sunroof. The tester also came with a $2,300 Tech package that included nav, Dynaudio digital sound and a rear-view camera.

All this elevated the price to a decidedly premium level $44,100 including destination charges, but also enhanced the sense you were driving and enjoying an upscale European vehicle.

The Tiguan has always felt great to drive, with enough turbo power and torque to produce a flexible performance feel more usually associated with V-6-engined compact crossovers. And a suspension and steering that make the driver feel he or she is fully engaged in the process of guiding it down the road rather than just being along for the ride.

The Tiguan's only engine is VW's 2.0-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder that generates 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque and, while doing so, produces a hard metallic sound that suits the R-Line character. In the Highline Tiguan's, this is mated to a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic paddle shifting and a more aggressive sport mode, which transmits drive to all four wheels through a sport mode 4Motion all-wheel-drive system. Allied to 175 mm of ground clearance, the AWD system makes the Tiguan a good winter roads vehicle, and rough cottage road capable.

The Tiguan may be partially named after a tiger, but isn't exactly one in the crossover jungle, with a 0-100 km/h lunge requiring more than nine seconds, compared to the four-cylinder, turbocharged, 240-hp Ford Escape 2.0L that does it in less than eight.

But thanks to the turbo, its torque is available over a broad rev range – 1,700-5,000 rpm – and that makes it feel strong in virtually all driving situations you'll encounter. Highway merging, from 80 km/h to 120 km/h, requires just more than seven seconds.

Fuel economy is rated at 9.6 litres/100 km city and 7.2 highway, numbers that give only a nod to reality, as vehicles in this category, including the Tigaun, aren't particularly fuel frugal.

The sport-tuned suspension works with the just-about-right-weighted steering to make it pleasantly responsive and it corners with minimal roll. But things haven't been stiffened up enough to hurt ride quality much, although the low-profile tires thump a bit over tar strips.

The test Tiguan looked classy in Pepper Grey Metallic outside and black over saddle-brown leather with dark chrome trim inside. Seats with bolsters shaped to hold you comfortably and firmly in place, and which let you set up a good driving position behind that neat, R-Line, flat-bottomed and substantial-feeling wheel add to the Tiguan's sporty feel.

In practical terms, it is best to think of the Tiguan as a four-seater you can load (to the roofline) with 674 litres of cargo with the rear seat occupied and 1,588 litres with its seatback folded. It's also rated to tow 998 kg.

With the crossover segment burning so hotly these days, Canadians are spoiled for not only choice, but good choices. And the Volkswagen Tiguan stands out in this crowded field.

Tech specs

2013 Volkswagen Tiguan R-Line

Type: Compact Crossover

Base Price: $37,440; as tested, $44,100

Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 200 hp/207 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.6 city/ 7.4 highway; premium recommended

Alternatives: Ford Escape 2.0L, Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue