Johannesburg – The notion of a ‘sporty’ SUV is in principle somewhat absurd, like trying to cross-breed a cheetah with a hippo.

But to cater for motorists’ love affair with high-riding turf tamers, combined with some motorists’ need for speed, the auto industry’s done a pretty good job of creating gravel-crunching SUVs that crank up the adrenalin. At the higher end, look no further than SUVs from the likes of Porsche, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Maserati and Jaguar for evidence of this.

In a more modestly-priced sector of the market, Volkswagen’s Tiguan TSI is a newcomer to this league. With its gutsy Golf GTI engine it rises from the prosaic ranks of a practical shopping/family car, yet still offers an SUV’s ground clearance and practicality.

Available in a single derivative – a top-spec Highline model with 4Motion all-wheel drive and a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch auto transmission – this top-of-the-range Tiguan sells for R550 900 which includes a 3 year/120 000km warranty and 5 year/90 000km service plan.

The 2-litre petrol turbo engine driving all four wheels is the same unit that gives pace to the Golf GTI and generates 162kW of power. The Golf was just recently bumped up to 169kW but both cars have the same 350Nm of torque.

The Tiguan TSI goes toe-to-toe with hot hatches in straight line acceleration. VW quotes a 6.5 second 0-100km/* sea-level figure and we achieved 6.8 secs in our performance test at Gauteng altitude – just 0.2 secs slower than we managed at the same altitude in the 162kW Golf GTI.

That’s quick, and the Tiguan’s punchy power is delivered in a smooth and linear way without any low-rev lag, delivered through one of the slickest auto gearboxes in the business. It makes for pleasantly accessible performance in the cut and thrust of busy urban driving, and is carried over onto the open road with swift overtaking ability and easy high speed cruising, topping out at 220km/h.

It’s not a particular fuel guzzler, with our test car averaging 10.1 litres per 100km (against VW’s claimed 7.8 litres).

This Tiguan goes about its business in the typically refined, fuss-free way of modern VWs. It isn’t a car that grabs you by the lapels and shouts its sportiness in your face with an overly-sensitive throttle or steering, nor a raucous exhaust note. It’s all quiet and civilised but the pace is there when you need it, and it’s delivered with neat handling and a compliant ride.

The Tiguan changes direction cleanly, without feeling overly wallowy, even though it doesn’t corner with the hunkered-down slickness of its GTI hatchback cousin. There’s traction aplenty whether the car’s being driven on slippery dirt or being raced over twisty roads, thanks to the 4Motion system which uses a Haldex coupling centre differential to share power between the front and rear axles. It works in conjunction with the car’s electronic stability control and ABS brakes to react to the slightest wheel slip, delivering extra traction where it’s needed.

The optional 20” wheels fitted to the test car (18s are standard) sharpened up the looks and handling without having a too-negative effect on the tar-road ride quality, but those 255/40 R20 low-profile tyres aren’t particularly suited to gravel.

This sportier version of the Tiguan is unlikely to be used for offroading, but just in case it is, there are different driving modes for road, offroad and slippery conditions which the driver can select on-the-fly by turning a dial next to the gearlever.

The ground clearance of all Tiguan 4Motion versions is 10mm higher than two-wheel drive derivatives (201 mm versus 191 mm). The vehicle also comes standard with hill-descent control and a parking brake with auto-hold. An optionally available Off-road package comes with a special front end that provides an improved approach angle.

The Tiguan is more masculine looking than its rather blandly-styled predecessor, and our test car also wore an optional R-Line body kit that lends it a racier, more purposeful look. We could even see it appealing to some boy-racer types who wouldn’t have previously considered an SUV.

Inside, the cabin is all about upmarket appeal and classy finishes, although the interior styling’s more businesslike than sporty.

In its top-of-the-range Highline trim the Tiguan comes fairly comprehensively stocked with items like a 16.5cm touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and USB interfaces, cruise control, three-zone climate control, park distance control, a rain sensor and automatic headlamps, along with safety provided by six airbags.

But the options list is very deep if you have matchingly deep pockets, including a larger touchscreen with navigation, head-up display, panoramic sunroof, electrically released towbar, auto actuated bootlid, active cruise control, Vienna leather seats, and LED headlights among others. The test car also had the Active Info Display, a digital instrument panel that offers six different driver-selectable views and adds a nice touch of high-tech appeal.

The Tiguan’s family-sized interior is very spacious, and along with plenty of leg and headroom, rear passengers are able to adjust their backrest angles for comfort and also slide their seats forwards to increase space in the already large 520-litre boot. With the rear seats tipped down the cargo space grows to a cavernous 1 655 litres.

VERDICT

This love child of an SUV and a hot hatch succeeds fairly admirably on both sides of the utility-sporty divide, even though it’s compromised on either end. Think of it as a Golf GTI in hiking boots and you’re getting the picture. Roomy and racy, the VW Tiguan TSI brings some athletic spirit into an adventure vehicle.

FACTS: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0TSI 4Motion Highline

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: 7-speed automated dual-clutch
Power: 162kW @ 4500-6200rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1500-4400rpm
0-100km/h (tested, Gauteng): 6.8 seconds
Top speed (Claimed): 220km/h
Price: R550 900
Warranty: 3-year/120 000km
Service plan: 5-year/90 000km

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