No full-line car company has been slower to embrace the global popularity of sport utility vehicles than Volkswagen, and even with the arrival of the near mid-size Touareg in 2003, it took until now for VW to add a more rational compact model, the 2009 Tiguan. Yes, its animalistic name is distinctive, but in the crowded utility jungle, the Tiguan will need more than a wild name to survive.

The Tiguan name comes from combining the German words for “Tiger” and “Iguana”, and it works for America too.  As various car writers have said before us, we get the “tiger” part - athletic, and even a bit exotic.  But how the lazy iguana fits in, we’re all still scratching our heads.

Nevertheless, the 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan is on the hunt for sales in the expanding compact utility population.  Based on the Rabbit/Golf/Jetta platform, the Tiguan measures a tidy 174.3 inches from stem to stern, with a short 102.5 inch wheelbase. Both measures are shorter than a Honda CR-V.

But the Tiguan’s look is closer to its hefty Touareg brother - clean, with more than a hint of ruggedness.  The front-end wears a chrome two-bar grille flanked by our uplevel SEL model’s bi-xenon steerable headlamps and well protected fog lamps.

The concise length of the Tiguan gives the profile a tall appearance, accentuated by roof rails and plenty of glass.  The rear has the sporty look of a spry hatchback, with a roof spoiler as an exclamation point - and, this little crossover rolls on 16, 17, or our Tiguan’s 18-inch alloy wheels.

Inside is a comfortably tall, and smartly-configured cabin.  What you would expect from Volkswagen.  The dash has a refined appearance, blending artful lines with good quality materials.  Gauges and controls are straightforward, yet just sophisticated enough to both dazzle and please.

Our SEL has standard 12-way power adjustable front seats with heat, and the tilt telescopic steering wheel came with audio controls which commanded our Tiguan’s 300-watt Dynaudio stereo system.  An optional navigation system uses a bright 6.5-inch screen.  The system includes a 30-gig hard drive, DVD playback, and Sirius Traffic.

A nearly full length sunroof, with power sunshade is optional on the SE and SEL models, and safety comes from six standard airbags, plus rear side airbags as an option.

The rear seat area is roomier than most rivals. Six footers loved the fore and aft seat adjustments, as well as the recline. It also is 60/40 split with a fold flat feature.  But, you pay for that room in reduced cargo volume - 23.8 cubic feet seats up, and 56.1 cubic feet seats down, small for its class. To compensate, the front passenger seat folds flat for long hauls.

To match its lively looks, the Tiguan in the U.S. is outfitted with a 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 rated at 200 horsepower and 207 pound-feet of torque. Max towing capacity is 2,200 pounds.

Transmissions are 6-speed manual or our front drive tester’s 6-speed Tiptronic manual-mode automatic. Traction control is standard while all-wheel drive is an option with Tiptronic.

On the track, our Tiguan ran from 0 to 60 in a nicely quick 7.7 seconds and finished the quarter-mile in 15.9 seconds at 91 miles-per-hour.  It launched strong, with the sound and fury more akin to a diesel.

Ride and handling are Euro taut and come from an all-independent suspension with McPherson struts up front, a four-link geometry in the rear, and Electronic Stability Program.

Through the cones the Tiguan felt solid and smooth, if a little heavy on the steering.  To its credit, Tiguan drives more like a mid-size car than an SUV. While no GTI, we were able to push it pretty hard, and it never felt tipsy as body roll was mild.

Halts come from 4-wheel discs with ABS and Brake Assist. Stops were stable and fade-free, averaging a status quo 129 feet from 60 to 0. 

Government Fuel Economy Ratings for our front-wheel drive Tiguan with automatic are 18 city/24 highway on premium gas.  We managed a very good 23.8 miles-per-gallon in normal driving.  The Tiguan’s Energy Impact Score is a moderate 16.3 barrels of oil consumed per year.

But, pricing for the Tiguan is on the high side for a small utility.  It begins at $23,890 for the base ‘S’ model and ratchets up to $27,615 for the mid-level SE.  The uplevel SEL starts at $31,680.  Add all-wheel drive to the top two models for an additional $1,950.

A compact utility from Volkswagen has been long time coming.  But now that it’s here, it’s pretty impressive if a bit expensive.  The 2009 Tiguan should easily survive with its bevy of features, refined drivability, and even a touch of wildness to garner the ‘Tiger’ in its name.  But we still can’t find the Iguana.



  • Engine: 2.0 Liter Turbocharged 4
  • Horsepower: 200
  • Torque: 207 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 7.7 Seconds
  • 1/4 Mile: 15.9 Seconds @ 91 MPH
  • 60-0 MPH: 129 Feet
  • EPA: 18 MPG City/ 24 MPG Highway
  • Mixed Loop: 23.8 MPG
  • Energy Impact: 16.3 Barrels Oil/Yr