What stands out?

The Tiguan is a small-medium SUV from Volkswagen that drives beautifully and offers a choice of three great engines – among them a high-performance turbocharged petrol. Most versions drive all four wheels, and a driver-fatigue warning system is standard. This review covers Tiguans on sale prior to September 2016.

What might bug me?

Stop-start driving with the auto transmission: the Tiguan’s DSG auto gearbox is great once you’re moving, but many drivers do not find it as smooth and easy in town as a conventional or CVT auto.

Driving after a puncture. The Tiguan has a space-saver spare wheel, which limits the recommended top speed to 80km/h.

Paying more for fuel: all three petrol engines require premium unleaded, which costs more than regular.

What body styles are there?

Five-door wagon only.

The least costly Tiguan drives its front wheels only; the remainder drive all four wheels.

The Tiguan is officially classified as a small SUV, lower priced, but it is nearly as big as many mid-sized SUVs. This review treats it as a mid-sized SUV.

What features do all versions have?

Cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen that controls phone and audio functions.

A USB interface for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and MirrorLink. These work with Apple and Android phones. If you plug your phone in through the USB socket, many of its apps – including mapping and music – are mirrored on the touchscreen display and can be controlled from there.

A reversing camera, and rear parking sensors.

Aluminium alloy wheels, which are lighter and more stylish than steel wheels. A space-saver spare wheel (with a recommended top speed of 80km/h).

Daytime running lights, which make your car more visible to others.

A fatigue detection system, which monitors your steering inputs and warns you if there are signs you are falling asleep.

Lumbar adjustment for both front seats, which allows you to tailor support for the centre of your back and makes it easier to get comfortable (it’s particularly handy for people with chronic back pain). Most similar cars have this only on more expensive variants.

Six airbags: Two at the front for a frontal impact; one on each side to protect the bodies of front-seat occupants from a side impact; and a curtain airbag down each side to protect the heads of front and outer rear passengers from a side impact.

Electronic stability control, which can help control a skid or slide. All new cars must have this feature.

The Tiguan is covered by a three-year warranty, with no limit to the kilometres travelled.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

Until October 2015, the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel was the most fuel-efficient of four engines available in the Tiguan, consuming 6.2 litres/100km in the official test (urban and country combined).

However, about that time diesel Tiguans were withdrawn from sale, having been identified as among Volkswagen Group cars that could cheat on emissions tests. (Volkswagen has since outlined a recall program for owners, specifying only a change to the engine software.)

The diesel was available only in the 130TDI model, a four-wheel drive automatic which cost about 40 per cent more than the cheapest Tiguan.

The diesel also has a particulates filter, which is not suited to predominantly urban driving. You need to drive at highway speeds for a 30-minute stretch every couple of weeks, so that the filter can self-clean.

Of the three petrol alternatives, the engine in the least costly Tiguan, the front-wheel drive 118TSI, uses the least fuel. Its 1.4-litre supercharged and turbocharged four-cylinder uses 6.9 litres/100km with a manual gearbox and 7.3 litres/100km with an auto, in official tests.

The 132TSI and 155TSI Tiguans, both four-wheel drive automatics, use 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines. Both consume 8.8 litres/100lkm in official tests.

All three petrol engines require premium unleaded fuel.

The 118TSI comes with a six-speed manual or six-speed DSG (direct shift gearbox) auto. The 130TDI, 132TSI and 155TSI models come only with a seven-speed DSG auto.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least costly Tiguan, the 118TSI, drives only the front wheels and has a manual gearbox, with the auto gearbox an extra-cost option.

Spend more for the 132TSI and you get four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox standard, and a bigger and more powerful 2.0-litre petrol engine.

The 132TSI also has dual-zone air-conditioning, which allows separate temperatures to be set on each side of the cabin. Headlights come on automatically in low light, and wipers operate automatically when water is on the windscreen. Front seats are trimmed partially in Alcantara (fake suede) and have more side bolstering, which helps hold you in place through corners. Wheels are an inch bigger, at 17 inches, and the tyres are wider and lower in profile, enhancing grip and steering response. A tyre pressure monitor warns you if a tyre is going flat.

The 130TDI is the diesel-engined Tiguan. Again it is a 4WD auto, and for features it matches the 132TSI.

The most expensive Tiguan, the 155TSI, has a more powerful version of the 2.0 litre petrol engine. It too is a 4WD auto. In addition it has Adaptive Chassis Control, which allows you to soften the suspension (for more comfort) or stiffen it (for sharper steering and handling) while driving. Wheels are bigger again at 18 inches, and the tyre profile is lower.

Seats on the 155TSI are trimmed in leather, with heating for the front seats and power adjustment for the driver’s seat. There is an upgraded infotainment system with satellite navigation, and a 30GB hard drive on which you can store music. The 155TSI also gets an R-Line pack (R for racing) that includes a rear wing and side skirts, to make it look sportier. Among myriad smaller touches are metal plates with an R-Line logo on the door sills.

The number in each Tiguan model name reflects the engine’s maximum power output in kilowatts – so that the 155TSI produces 155kW. TSI signifies a petrol engine, and TDI the diesel.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

If you want more luxurious features – such as leather trim or dual-zone air-conditioning – you also get lumped with the four-wheel drive system and a bigger, more powerful engine, which you may not want or need. That can make the trim upgrade quite expensive.

The lower profile tyres on the more expensive variants ride more roughly – because there is less air between the wheel and the road – and could cost more to replace.

White is the only standard colour; the other five cost extra.

How comfortable is it?

There’s good head and leg room up front. While the Tiguan doesn’t ride as high as some SUVs, the driving position is higher than a regular hatchback’s, which combines with good vision all around to deliver a decent view of traffic. Seats in all models are supple and comfortable, with the sports seats in all but the 118TSI providing a more cossetting feel.

The Tiguan is also ergonomically friendly, with controls falling easily to hand, from the power window switches high on the driver’s door to the touchscreen mounted high on the dash. Well-placed storage binnacles provide handy cubbyholes for odds and ends.

The suspension is taut, delivering good control for the driver, but the ride is not uncomfortable.

All engines are turbocharged and have plenty of punch in most situations. The petrol engines are quieter than the diesel, which rumbles lightly at low speeds.

The DSG auto transmissions help save fuel and feel smooth and slick on the run.

However when starting from rest, the DSG autos are less fluid and forgiving than conventional or CVT autos. They rely on computer-controlled manual-type clutches, and may feel snatchy when starting on uphill slopes, or jerky in stop-start traffic.

What about safety?

The Tiguan gets good airbag coverage, and seatbelt warning lights for the front seats but not the rear.

Daytime running lights and a fatigue detection system help you avoid a crash.

Auto headlights – which respond more reliably than the driver to poor visibility – and auto windscreen wipers are on all but the cheapest Tiguan.

Automatic emergency braking is not available.

(To see a full list of the safety features on any model, select the car and look under the features tab. Safety-related features are listed in red.)

The Tiguan’s safety has been rated at five stars by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP).

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

When it arrived in 2008 the Tiguan raised the bar for SUV driving manners, and it’s still one of the more competent mid-sizers in corners. Grip levels are quite high, so you can relish the challenge of a winding road. The Tiguan provides good feedback from the steering, which is accurate and well weighted (light enough for ease of use, but not so light that you feel no connection with the tyres).

The steering is also direct and very responsive. A feature called Extended Differential Lock sends more power to the more heavily loaded, outside wheels when cornering, reducing wheelspin and improving acceleration.

Over bumps and undulations, the Tiguan stays impressively flat.

The 155TSI brings you a choice of three settings that adjust both the ride and the steering feel – Comfort, Normal and Sport. In Sport the ride can feel quite bumpy but the accompanying heavier steering is reassuring through flowing corners.

The 1.4-litre engine in the 118TSI is surprisingly punchy and enjoyable to drive. The 2.0-litre turbo diesel climbs hills more easily. The 2.0-litre petrol in the 132TSI accelerates faster than the diesel if you work it hard, but the diesel still cruises up hills with less fuss.

The 155TSI is the performance hero and feels quite brisk. It’s helped by slick shifting from the DSG auto transmission, which is very good at picking the right gear.

Four-wheel drive versions of the Tiguan are light-duty off-roaders, effective on gravel or snow covered roads and easy tracks.

How is life in the rear seats?

The Tiguan’s rear seats can be slid 16cm back and forth, and provide great leg room in the rearmost position. Head room is adult friendly, too, and you can adjust the angle of the seatbacks.

All but the 118TSI get a fold-up tray table on the back of each front seat.

How is it for carrying stuff?

The Tiguan’s boot is short from the tailgate to the backs of the seats, so a decent sized pram or suitcase can quickly fill it up. The sliding rear seats can increase space slightly, but it’s still not as commodious as some mid-sized SUVs.

There is a 60/40 split-fold rear seat, and in addition a small opening (or ski port) in the middle that allows a long item to protrude into the passenger compartment while the outer seats are occupied.

The 118TSI is rated to tow 1800kg, the 132TSI 2000kg and the 130TDI and 155TSI up to 2200kg.

Where is it made?

All Tiguans are made in Germany.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Automatic emergency braking, which is available on some Mazda CX-5s, Subaru Foresters, Hyundai Tucsons, and Kia Sportages, for example.

Lane departure warning (which alerts you when the car wanders out of its lane), and blind spot warning (which alerts you if you indicate to change lanes and a car is alongside). Both are available on the CX-5, the Tucson, the Sportage and some Nissan X-Trails, for example.

Among other cars you might consider are the Nissan Qashqai, Subaru XV, and Ford Kuga.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

The 118TSI version of the Tiguan is solid buying, with a frugal but responsive petrol engine and a tempting price tag.

When did Volkswagen update this Tiguan?

An all-new, second-generation Tiguan went on sale about September 2016. It was significantly bigger, offered five diesel and petrol engines, and supplied automatic emergency braking as standard, among many other changes.