2009 Volkswagen Tiguan

Jurgen Skarwan

Zinnwald-Georgenfeld, Germany, late Wednesday morning.

The Schengen Agreement has eliminated almost all Eastern European border-crossing points - but the mothballed buildings have not yet been torn down, and you can still sense the intense animosity, fear, and mistrust that once prevailed under the piercing overhead floodlights. Progress, in the guise of the new A17 motorway bypass, has also put most of the villages that lined the old Czech country road to sleep. Dead and gone are almost all the street markets that used to peddle cheap counterfeit goods; the shady sex clubs and their scantily dressed, long-legged billboards; and the discount roadside restaurants with enough parking space for a dozen buses.

Meandering through the nearby Saxon-Swiss mountains, the Tiguan found enough freshly surfaced twisties to demonstrate its handling and roadholding talents. With 2.8 turns from lock to lock, the steering is quick enough to help you sail through switchbacks. The chassis provides ample grip, and it produces only mild understeer when pushed, although the ride is mediocre most of the time. Deceleration is strong, prompt, and linear.

Berlin, Germany, Wednesday afternoon.

This is the navel of contemporary Germany, the one big meeting point for the established in-crowd and the younger generation. Berlin rocks, swings, and clicks with just about every visitor. Eighteen years after reunification, the fusion between East and West is still an ongoing process - but you better be quick to catch a piece of the crumbling Wall or a glimpse of the doomed Palace of the Republic. Monumental new buildings are mushrooming left and right, and with the help of famous architects like Daniel Libeskind, the long-divided city is changing its face almost as rapidly as that other magnetic melting pot, Shanghai.

Berlin's multicultural vibes are best sampled at night in hot spots such as Prenzlau or Charlottenburg. To recover, insiders recom-mend a trip to the green lungs (Grunewald, Spandauer Forest), the downtown lakes (Wannsee, Mggelsee), and the rivers (Spree and Havel), which are crowded with pleasure boats, water taxis, and container ships.

Over the last 2000 miles, the Tiguan has become a much-appreciated mobile living room. We enjoyed the powerful Dynaudio sound system, the well-contoured heated leather seats, the roomy cabin with its lofty driving position, and the easily accessible cargo area that holds a generous 23.8 cubic feet. Just about the only missing convenience item was the optional sunroof. We also would have welcomed a bigger fuel tank - when pushed hard, the 16.8-gallon reservoir runs dry after less than 300 miles.

We arrive at the Polish border near Szczecin before sunset. Although the old trade port is only a stone's throw from Germany's comparatively clinical civilization, this is exactly how, as a youngster, I pictured the bad, black East of yore. The pockmarked streets look like forgotten set pieces from a play by Bertholt Brecht, the tired high-rises haven't seen fresh paint since Ignacy Daszynski became the Republic of Poland's first prime minister in 1918, and the spring air is pregnant with the smell of coal and diesel. Streetcars and buses are the true kings of the road; fuming trucks rank a close second. To confirm that this really is 2008, you better check the front page of the Polish newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza.

Swinoujscie, Poland, Wednesday evening.

The end of our journey is only a ten-minute ferry ride away. The farewell photograph shows the bug-covered Volkswagen, a rundown Polish border-patrol building, the estuary of the badly polluted River Swina, and, in the distance, the Bay of Pomerania, which is part of the Baltic Sea. To the west beckons the sleepy island of Usedom, and to the east is the full length of mighty Poland.

Foul, low-octane, so-called "super-plus" fuel that we filled up with in Wolin, Poland, was rough on the poor Tiguan, but this minor hiccup was the only incident that troubled us between Trieste and the Droga Nadmorska nature preserve. Come to think of it, this was a remarkably uneventful journey.

How come? Because Europe is fast becoming a united and thus more uniform continent. The new Iron Curtain has been reestablished much further east, near the borders of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. In a determined move toward globalization and enhanced competitiveness, the old terrain is undergoing serious modernization, which typically starts with a brand-new road network. Until this is complete, competent all-around vehicles like the Tiguan are ideally suited for both worlds - the jam-packed, hyped-up West and the fast-growing, ever-changeable East.

2009 Volkswagen Tiguan

Base Price$29,565 (SE 4Motion)
Engine16-valve DOHC turbocharged I-4
Displacement2.0 liters (121 cu in)
Horsepower{{{200}}} hp @ 5100 rpm
Torque207 lb-ft @ 1700 rpm
Transmission type6-speed automatic
SteeringPower-assisted rack-and-pinion
Suspension, frontStrut-type, coil springs
Suspension, rearMultilink, coil springs
Brakes f/RVented discs/discs, ABS
Tires{{{Continental}}} ContiProContact
Tire size235/55HR-17
Measurements L x W x H174.3 x 71.2 x 66.4 in
Wheelbase102.5 in
Track f/r 61.8/61.9 in
Weight3631 lb (per manufacturer)
EPA mileage18/24 mpg
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