German design and technology usually brings to the table a certain sense of rigidity and business-only attitude to it that tends to make things, um, shall we say, no fun? The exception through thick and thin, though, has always seemed to be Volkswagen. The little company from Wolfsburg keeps showing their humorous side through the new Beetle, the Eos, the GTI, among others (notice we didn't mention the Phaeton!)

VW chose the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, Colorado and the campus of Colorado University / Boulder as the debut point for their new compact crossover vehicle, the Tiguan.

What Is It?

Really? A Tiguan is a made up name, a conjunction of Tiger and Iguana, I suppose. Sort of like the Liger as made famous in the film "Napoleon Dynamite." (For those out of the loop, the Liger was the hybrid result of crossbreeding a Lion and Tiger!)

Nevertheless, the Tiguan is Volkswagen's new small CUV. In light of current fuel prices and economic strife, it is a good fit for those who, for whatever reason, think they need a CUV. Except this one is fun.

What's It Up Against?

Volkswagen targets the Tiguan squarely against the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-7, and Ford Escape. On the extreme outside, consider the Infiniti EX35 and the BMW X3

Any Big Breakthroughs?

Available in S, SE, and SEL trim levels, the "GTI of Crossover Vehicles" shows nothing new in the engine department, as Volkswagen has turned to its tried and true 2.0T turbocharged four-cylinder. But it does make things perfectly clear with the extra-large panoramic sunroof. VW claims it opens up almost 13-square feet of topside real estate. Add some innovative electronics as well as a new navigation and audio system and the entire package looks as though Wolfsburg has a winner this time around.

Safety is also featured prominently in the Tiguan. Like all its VW stablemates, the Tiguan features the Prevent and Preserve Safety system with 45 safety features. Among those are six airbags, with rear side airbags as available options.

How Does It Look?

Like a scaled-down Touareg. But more contemporary and up to date. With crisp lines and brightwork around the two-stage grille surround, the Tiguan appears blingy in a rather refreshing way. Jewel-like bi-xenon headlamps lead into a clamshell style-hood, which further leads to turn signal equipped side-view mirrors. In a nod to simple elegance, the Tiguan sports VW logos in the middle of grille and on the rear hatch, along with a Tiguan and 2.0T 4Motion logo on either lower corner of the rear hatch.

A tall greenhouse imparts the feeling of space, while at the rear, large shoulders blend into the fenders below the D-pillars to give off the implied feeling of strength.

And Inside?

Much cleaner than its big brother. The dashboard design features high quality materials in a much more satisfying display than the Touareg. The gauges only include what you absolutely need in a nicely done two-tone two-stage appearance. The dark upper hard plastic shelf prevents glare while driving during sunny days, while the lighter colored lower bout highlights the dials and knobs in an easier fashion.

Circular vents, knobs and controls carry a theme that has been simplified over some of Wolfsburg's other offerings, and contribute to their ease of use. The HVAC controls are well placed directly under the navigation / audio system, which itself is much improved over the previous generation offered by VW. The 6.5-inch high-definition display is touch sensitive and includes iPod connectivity along with a 30 gb hard drive for downloading and storing of MP3 music and files through the use of SD memory cards.

The shift lever is well marked and is surrounded by cubbyholes fore and aft of its position. The seats are very supportive and cause no un-due stress on long drives which led us from the Colorado University campus in Boulder up to Estes Park and onward through Ft. Collins before our return to Boulder. Although standard with cloth coverings, our SEL model was equipped with a blonde leather seating surfaces.

The rear-seating features stadium-style boosters, which allow up to three rear-passengers to see over the front-seat occupants. A/C ductwork keeps the rear-riders warm or cold depending on their needs. The three-passenger bench folds forward in a 60-40 manner or fully forward for an extension of the finished cargo hold which is equipped with tie- downs and anchor points throughout. The front passenger seat also features a fold forward option, which adds to the overall space. Cargo capacity measures up to 23.8 cubic feet with seats in their normal position and 56.1 cubic feet with the seats folded forward.

But Does It Go?

Oh yeah! With the proven 2-Liter TSI engine pushing out 200-turbocharged horses and 207 lb-ft of torque, how could it be a slug? Especially when you consider the curb weight of this crossover is 3631 pounds. And that's in 4Motion (AWD) high-zoot trim.

The transverse-mounted inline four-cylinder is mated to a Haldex-built, six-speed, all-wheel-drive automatic gearbox. The gearbox, in hands-off mode works just fine, although it didn't drop down far enough during several passing maneuvers. We are not sure if the Tiguan is equipped with an adaptive control system, which takes the driver's preferences into account. If so, we will need to erase the previous drivers prefs before we start driving, the next time we are in the vehicle. There is a work around, though: Push the shift lever into Tiptronic mode and take advantage of clutchless shifting to your heart's content.

What we don't like is the fact that VW strongly recommends PREMIUM fuel in the Tiguan. It will run with other grades, but to achieve optimal performance, the good stuff is what's required. As of deadline, in South Florida, that will set you back $4.45 a gallon. By the way, the Tiguan's fuel mileage checks in at 18 mpg city / 25 mpg hwy, for an average of 21.5 mpg. That's not terrible, but it's not stellar, either.

The suspension is a mix that is typical on CUVs today: MacPherson struts with lower wishbones up front, and a four-link independent rear suspension help to grip, and handle virtually every type of road an owner will encounter. Cruising at speed on Colorado's highways sees the electro-mechanical power steering doing its thing as expected. The wheel displays no sloppiness or wallowing, and offers direct input that makes the Tiguan feel like an extension of its driver. VW engineers have also done a spectacular job in isolating road noise from the optional 18-inch all-season radials on all but the most difficult of paved surfaces.

Why You Would Buy It?

If you can't break the CUV/SUV habit and have a need to haul all sorts and sizes of cargo, in a fun to drive German package, your ride has arrived.

Why You Wouldn't?

If you star in your own reality TV show about you, your wife, and eight kids (Jon & Kate Plus Eight on the TLC network), you'll end up around five seats short.

Words and Photos by Mark Elias