2013 Volkswagen Tiguan: Family Checklist

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The 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan can be a little perplexing for families interested in a compact crossover. Its exterior styling and higher step-in height classify it as one, but with its compact cargo area, it seemed like a premium hatchback on stilts.

My family of three enjoyed the five-seat Tiguan immensely, but we're known to pack light. Larger families looking for a roomy compact crossover should move other contenders ahead of Tiguan on their car-shopping lists.

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The Tiguan really shines when it comes to accommodating car seats — as long as you don't need more than two. There was plenty of room for my forward-facing convertible and my friend's car seat, too. The sliding rear seats with reclining seatbacks are also a big help when installing car seats; it lends a few more inches of flexibility and really comes in handy if your kiddos are still in rear-facing car seats.

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Rear legroom is tighter in the Tiguan than in its competitors, so be sure to install rear-facing car seats when visiting the dealership. The Tiguan has 35.8 inches of legroom, which is quite a bit less than the Ford Escape (36.8), the redesigned Toyota RAV4 (37.2) and the Honda CR-V (38.3).

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When it comes to the cargo area, things start looking even less roomy. Volkswagen reports that the Tiguan's cargo area is 23.8 cubic feet, but it didn't seem to live up to that number. My single stroller ate up pretty much all the space, and I swear I could fit more grocery bags in my 2012 Jetta's trunk, which measures 15.5 cubic feet, than I could in the Tiguan. Its competition puts it to shame with 34.3 cubic feet of cargo space in the Escape, 37.2 in the CR-V and 38.4 in the RAV4.

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Yet after the kids are in and the cargo is loaded, things get exceptional up in the driver's seat. The Tiguan is all about the driving experience; I'm no gearhead, but I raved about the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine all week. It's quick and packs quite a punch despite making only 200 horsepower. Let's just say driving to preschool was never a chore. If the Tiguan wasn't so much higher off the ground, which made it difficult for my 3-year-old to climb in, it really would be akin to driving a sporty hatchback. Unfortunately, with an average of 18 mpg for a week of city driving, I may have had too much fun. The turbo engine requires premium gasoline, and that hurts a little.

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Most of my gripes were mainly about upgrades in the Tiguan that fell short when compared to other small crossovers. It feels upscale inside the cabin with quality materials and the panoramic sunroof, but I was annoyed that the midlevel SE model I tested had no backup camera; the top-of-the-line SEL trim has it. I would've loved at least one "wow!" feature to justify its sticker price of more than $32,000.

As great as some features are, I still wouldn't consider the Tiguan as the ideal family-hauler. Its driving experience guarantees good times for parents and the cabin space affords enough room for a brood of three or four, but it isn't quite up to mom-taxi status.

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