2012 Volkswagen Tiguan

The small SUV is one of the most popular and fastest growing car buyer segments in the automotive industry. I’ve had countless car executives go out of their way to tell me so.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Volkswagen elbows its way into that market with the 2012 Tiguan. Aimed to stand alongside the Ford Escape, the Subaru Outback and the Toyota 4Runner, this compact SUV is generally more expensive than the competition. But, the Tiguan just might be the best drive in the class.

The 2012 Tiguan comes in seven individual setups. Yes, that’s too many for most drivers to keep track of or care about, but options and snob appeal always play a roll at VW. The Tiguan starts at an approachable $22,840 for the S version, and edges up to $35,930 for the kitted out SEL 4Motion.

All seven models come with a 2 liter, 4 cylinder engine. Volkswagen was well ahead of the curve in the high compression engine business, so that little engine puts out 200 horsepower and averages about 25 mpg. Actually, I expected VW to squeeze out a few more miles out of that fuel efficiency number, but 25 for a vehicle of this size is acceptable.

Along the way, you can build in improved audio systems and connection, all-wheel drive, satellite radio and a satellite navigation system with two different sized screens.

The satellite navigation system did leave something to be desired in practice. I’ve seen the setup described as “reasonable” in other reviews of the Tiguan, but I found it frustrating en route across Los Angeles. The understanding with the sat nav systems we see in modern cars is that we trust the technology to find the fastest, clearest path to our destination without unnecessary detours, turnarounds, etc.

I had to pull off the busy 101 freeway to get the navigation straightened out because it was sending me in circles. I ended up turning back to my iPhone to complete my guidance. Now, bear in mind, we only get these cars for a week during these extended road tests. A week might not always provide enough time to master a car make’s individual technical quirks, so your mileage may vary.

Of course, no one buys a car based on the reliability of a sat nav system. These days, they’re looking for fuel economy and reliability in a time where gas is expensive and cars are a major investment. Since we’ve already established that the fuel numbers are livable, it comes down to ride quality.

The 2012 Tiguan provides one of the smoothest, classiest drives in the small SUV class. There’s a pleasant heaviness to the cruising feel – a sensation not at all dissimilar to the feel of an entry level Mercedes Benz. Yes, there’s something to that legend of German engineering and construction quality. Acceleration is steady and ample. Steering is tight for an SUV. There’s simply very little to complain about once you’re behind the wheel.

If we thrown in build quality as a bonus, the 2012 Tiguan’s comfortable interior has the character of a Lexus or Merc SUV – providing a bargain at any of its ticket price levels. If you can afford the Tiguan over its rivals, and if you’re not afraid of VW’s higher repair costs, this small SUV is a pleasure to drive.