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Pros: Peppy turbocharged engine; good fuel economy with automatic transmission; uptown interior; roomy back seat; smooth and quiet ride.

Cons: Limited cargo capacity; disappointing fuel economy; potentially pricey.

What's New: Standard features now include an electronic parking brake and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Additionally, the SE passenger seat receives a power-recline function, and the SEL gets a rearview camera and a full power passenger seat with memory. Unfortunately, the hard-drive-based navigation system and Dynaudio stereo are no longer available.

Introduction

The 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan is a compact crossover that does more with less. Its modest size suggests cramped accommodations, but in fact there's adult-sized room all around. Its turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is rated at just 200 horsepower, yet the Tiguan feels quick. And although the badge on the grille says VW, the driving experience says Audi, as the Tiguan is impressively quiet and composed at speed.

But the Tiguan does tend to cost more money than its rivals, and not just when you first get the keys. The Tiguan's fuel economy is behind the times, topping out at just 26 mpg on the highway, so you'll be paying more at the pump. For reference, the 260-hp Kia Sportage SX gets up to 29 mpg highway. You also need to think about lifetime maintenance costs, which are generally higher on European vehicles like this VW.

But we think the Tiguan is worth paying extra for. Every time you fire it up, you'll be reminded that you didn't settle for a run-of-the-mill crossover; you made the stretch and got one of the best. The Tiguan's unassuming Golf-on-stilts styling might set a humble tone, but there's a lot more to this crossover than meets the eye.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan is offered in a number of different trim levels. Note that all-wheel drive is optional on every model that has an automatic transmission.

The Tiguan S starts with 16-inch steel wheels; an electronic parking brake; heated exterior mirrors; 8-way manual front seats with height and lumbar adjustments; cloth upholstery; a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob; reclining rear seats; a trip computer; Bluetooth connectivity; cruise control; and an 8-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input.

Adding the automatic transmission to the S replaces the steel wheels with 16-in alloys. Optional on the S with automatic transmission is a sliding panoramic sunroof.

The SE model adds 18-in alloy wheels; fog lights; silver roof rails; chrome trim; heated front washer nozzles; leatherette upholstery; a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel; partial power front seats with heating; and the Premium VIII audio system with a 5-in touch-screen display, satellite radio, a 6-CD changer, an SD-card reader and iPod connectivity. Optional on SE is a package that adds the panoramic sunroof and an SD-based navigation system that uses the same 5-in display.

The Tiguan SEL comes standard with the sunroof and nav and it tacks on 19-in alloy wheels; a sport-tuned suspension; Xenon headlights with LED accents; rain-sensing wipers; power-folding mirrors; the panoramic sunroof; keyless entry with push-button ignition; silver interior trim; power front seats with memory; leather upholstery; a rearview camera; dual-zone automatic climate control; and power-folding heated exterior mirrors.

Regrettably, the SEL can no longer be optioned with last year's hard-drive-based navigation system and stellar Dynaudio stereo.

The Tiguan's interior won't blow you away with its beautiful design; the prevailing theme here is German austerity. But it's a top-quality environment, with premium materials almost everywhere you touch. Indeed, although the Tiguan starts in the mid $20,000s, its cabin wouldn't be out of place in a luxury crossover costing $35,000 or more.

The Tiguan's front seats lack lateral support, which makes perfect sense, as this crossover has zero sporting pretensions. Its forte is comfortable highway cruising, and the standard adjustable lumbar support for both driver and passenger ensure that the cruise will be a comfortable one. The standard seat-height adjustment and tilt-telescopic steering wheel help tall and small alike find an agreeable driving position. It's worth noting that the panoramic sunroof really brightens up the interior, and unlike many supersized sunroofs, it actually slides back for open-air motoring.

The back seat is perhaps even more impressive. On the outside, the Tiguan looks like a pretty compact vehicle, but the rear quarters are full size. Thanks to a high bottom cushion, ample headroom and standard reclining seatbacks, six-footers can ride all day without complaint. That's definitely not always the case in a compact crossover.

Cargo capacity is below average, however, checking in at 23.8 cu-ft behind the second row and 56.1 cu-ft with the rear seatbacks folded. That's barely more than some compact hatchbacks can manage.

Technology

Even the entry-level Tiguan S has Bluetooth and a solid 8-speaker stereo with an auxiliary input, so the Tiguan means business on the technology front. It's a bit more challenging to get iPod connectivity, but the first model to feature it, the SE, is still fairly attainable. Our main objection is that a USB port isn't offered on any Tiguan, though higher trims do get a touchscreen audio interface with an SD-card reader that lets you bring your mp3s along for the ride.

In previous years, the Tiguan offered a choice of two navigation systems, but this year the hard-drive-based unit with the larger screen has been discontinued. So if you want navigation for 2013, you're stuck with a relatively small 5-in screen and SD-based technology that precludes onboard digital music storage. That's a little disappointing, even though the nicer nav was only available at a steep price.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Available with either front- or all-wheel drive, the Tiguan is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 rated at 200 hp and 207 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on the front-wheel-drive S, but the Tiguan otherwise gets a conventional six-speed automatic (not to be confused with VW's dual-clutch DSG automatic, which isn't offered here).

The 2.0T engine is a real gem, delivering sprightly acceleration almost from idle to redline. We appreciate that VW still offers a manual shifter, and it's a pleasant one that helps make the S model a real bargain, but most Tiguans will have the exceptionally smooth automatic.

Fuel economy is just 18 mpg city/26 mpg hwy with the manual transmission, while the FWD automatic isn't much better at 21/26 mpg. Adding AWD yields 20/26 mpg. We expect more from a small turbocharged engine in this day and age.

Safety

The Tiguan comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front side, and and full-length side curtain).

The government hasn't crash-tested the Tiguan using its latest methodology, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Tiguan its highest rating of Good in every testing category.

Driving Impressions

It's been said that the Tiguan drives like a jacked-up GTI, but let's be honest: This crossover is all about comfort. Yes, the Tiguan shares the GTI's engine, but the suspension has been tuned primarily to isolate occupants from the elements. And you know what? We wouldn't change a thing. The Tiguan is a lovely car on the highway, suppressing road and wind noise so thoroughly that it might as well have an Audi badge on the steering wheel. It's equally at home on patchy urban streets, thanks to its combination of decent ground clearance and generous ride compliance. We can't think of a more pleasant compact crossover to drive at this price point.

Other Cars to Consider

Kia Sportage SX: The SX model has that excellent 260-hp engine we mentioned earlier, and it's also more of an athlete than the Tiguan.

Mazda CX-5: Similar in spirit to the Tiguan, the CX-5 is a compact crossover with a premium feel, and it's got genuinely nimble handling. The Tiguan's considerably more powerful, however.

Toyota RAV4: The RAV4 is an oldie but goodie. Its optional V6 is still the best engine in this class, and it also features an available third-row seat and Toyota's reputation for reliability.

AutoTrader Recommends

We think the Tiguan is at its best toward the low end of its price range. Our choice would be either the S with the panoramic sunroof, or the undeniably better-equipped SE. Either way, you're getting a lot of crossover for $25,000 to 30,000. Pricier Tiguans compete surprisingly well with entry-level luxury crossovers, but remember, the S and SE have the same drivetrain and interior.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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