First Drive: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan

Seven years. Barring the extended lifespan of the original New Beetle, Volkswagen officials say their products have a shelf life of seven years before an all-new replacement arrives on the market. Following that formula, the VW Tiguan, which launched in 2008 as a 2009 model, isn't due to be completely overhauled until 2015.

Although VW isn't due to reinvent the Tiguan for another three years, the compact SUV was ripe for a modest refresh. For the 2012 model year, a handful of changes applied inside and out render it more attractive, more comfortable, and a little less thirsty for fuel -- all characteristics likely to keep sales figures afloat until the replacement arrives.

A familiar look, but with a mature twist
Macroscopically speaking, the 2012 Tiguan is virtually identical to the 2011 model. Beneath the ute-like body lies a chassis that borrows heavily from VW's compact Golf and Jetta platforms, and the majority of its powertrain offerings are the same.

Most of the modifications, it seems, are cosmetic. The outgoing Tiguan's exterior didn't appear to be dated, but Volkswagen's corporate look has evolved since the SUV was first shown as a concept in 2006, so it isn't a surprise that the 2012 Tiguan wears new sheetmetal designed to bring it in line with the company's latest design trends.

The most noticeable change is the front clip, which is patterned after the one on the larger Touareg. New projector headlamps flow neatly into VW's typical two-bar grille and, on SEL models, sport LED daytime running lamps. European Tiguans offer a subdued, car-like front bumper, but vehicles destined for North America are built with an "off-road" fascia, which adds both a prominent skid plate and a little extra ground clearance.

Even fewer modifications are applied aft of the A-pillars. SE and SEL models get chrome-plated side trim molding, and the latter now wears new 19-inch wheels. In back, slender taillamps with L-shaped optical elements replace the goofy-looking CC-inspired lights previously used. VW admits that the exterior changes are mild at best, but all of these tweaks lend the Tiguan a more mature, upscale look that it previously lacked.

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