I'll be honest, I'm not a big fan of small SUVs. It's the classic story of why not just buy a wagon. Wagons get better mileage and usually have more space. Plus, they don't look dorky like many small SUVs. Well, after a long delay, VW enters the mini SUV market with the Tiguan. This basic-spec, automatic, front-wheel drive Tiguan S costs $24,990. Not bad but quite a bit more than a similarly equipped Jetta wagon. At least you get the torquey, 2.0-liter turbo engine as standard in the Tiguan.
I was surprised to grip a plastic steering wheel in the VW sport-ute. You need to bump up to the Tiguan SE for a leather-wrapped wheel, as well as for other features like heated seats, nicer cloth fabric, satellite radio, a trip computer, et cetera. At least the base VW gets you height and lumbar adjustment on the front seats, adjustable rear seats, and stability control. It's a shame you need to spend almost $30,000 if you want all-wheel drive as, to me, this is one of the only selling points of the Tiguan over a Jetta wagon.
On the road, the Tiguan feels quite good, like a taller Rabbit or Jetta. I think the ride is a tiny bit brittle, but would undoubtedly only get worse with the 17- and 18-inch wheels that come on the SE and SEL model.
The interior is quite nice but very basic. There are a ton of cubbies, and it's cool that you can slide the rear seats so you can play with cargo versus people room depending on the size of your passengers. Still, it isn't huge inside.
Overall, buy the Jetta wagon, unless you need all-wheel drive. That said, I wish the Jetta wagon were better-looking - not that the Tiguan is that impressive to look at, either.
Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor