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Review: The all-round success of VW’s Tiguan compact SUV

Those of us who can remember the pre-digital age will recall the heroically posing Che Guevara annoyingly being here, there and everywhere, especially the flats of female fellow students. But even more hirsute – and every bit as revolutionary – was the similarly ubiquitous, so-called March of Progress, the controversial scientific illustration imagining the millions of years of evolution that led from Pliopithecus, ancestor of the gibbon, to Homo sapiens – us.

From left to right our predecessors stride across the poster, page and now tablet; and if you look closely at modern versions of this celebrated depiction (which has been mangled repeatedly to push everything from soft drinks to a Doors album to The Simpsons), you can just make out Volkswagen Man, proudly strutting his upright stuff and gazing confidently future-ward.

But in the words of the great sage, Alan Partridge, revolution, not evolution, was what was required of VW Man after The Great Debacle of 2015. The company’s diesel-emissions scandal should by rights have busted VW Man back down to Cro-Magnon Man on that long March. Volkswagen’s installation of illegal software on some of its VW, Porsche and Audi diesel vehicles to cheat in American tests exposed its Clean Diesel range as an exhaust-pipe dream. Or a shabby lie, if you prefer.

Yet remarkably, despite being caught soot-handed and finding a multibillion-dollar hole in its piggy bank, Volkswagen hasn’t really been shamefaced about the affair; nor does it appear to have eviscerated its prices, for example at its Kowloon Bay showroom, in any plea for mercy. Rather, it has speculated by stacking its shelves with a miscellany of new models: a better Beetle; the glamorous Golf GTI Clubsport; a jumpier Jetta that actually comes with horsepower; and the bizarrely named Tiguan, which in German supposedly means a cross between a tiger and an iguana. Given the implied biological impossibility, thankfully, it’s simply a word.

Now let’s not blow smoke up its air intakes here: the Tiguan is about as exciting to drive as an ice-cream van. Without the ice-cream. But that’s not the point. To its credit, Volkswagen, not content with leaving the Tiguan looking like a boring box, booked it in at the beauty salon, then took it to the gym – with the upshot that even at close quarters it now resembles a BMW X5. Unlike all the infernally boring boxes still out there, chuntering along to the shops, the five-seat Tiguan, first spotted in 2007, now has muscular flanks. It has positively steroidal 17-inch alloy wheels and the sort of streamlined bodywork you’d expect on a much pricier car. That’s partly because if you swap some of your salary for one, what Volkswagen will throw in is part of an Audi.

And not just any old part, either. The basic, 1.4-litre Tiguan 110 TSI is powered by a turbo-charged four-cylinder Audi engine that, in its 148bhp iteration, cleverly shuts down two cylinders when cargo is light and passengers few, saving petrol. The top-end Trendline, meanwhile, borrows the digital console from the high-performance Audi R8 coupé.

The second-generation Tiguan, longer and wider than the first, is surprisingly spacious and comfortable for a vehicle billed as a “compact SUV”. Happily, it’s not one of those eight-seater monstrosities with curtained windows (which, for visibility’s sake, must be illegal). So successful has it already become in its role as an all-rounder that the Tiguan is outsold in its own stable by the Golf and Polo only.

Should you desire a little luxury in your SUV – of course you do – you’ll find the SEL and SE models have the requisite interior trim and all the electronic dashboard toys; the range-topping R-Line edition gives you both, plus a sporty aspect. As with most VW vehicles, the optional extras and personal tweaks available mean that for individual units the permutations are almost incalculable.

As befits a car with off-road pretensions, beefy looks and high ground clearance, the Tiguan is available in four-wheel drive with any engine size. Volkswagen’s DSG (for “direct shift”) gearbox comes in six- and seven-speed garb, with six-speed, semi-manual control standard on all models.

While not a practice exclusive to VW, a great many DNA transfusions are carried out in its factories, to the extent that everything from the Audi TT to the Skoda Superb to the Golf and the Tiguan shares common components from the chassis upwards. Given that VW manufactures more than 200 models under 10 marques, this approach makes sense when it comes to maximising profits. And paying large fines to US regulators.

Whether savings are passed on to the customer is another matter, although the 1.4 TSI Sport Edition, covering 100 km for every 7.1 litres of petrol, is yours for the moment for the “special promotional price” of HK$289,980. The 2016 Tiguan is the company’s first all-new model since the BE era (Before Emissions). So is this tariff a sign that VW Man is evolving into Contrite Man?