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Motoring: Two SUVs you can afford in today's market

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | September 14th, 2009

With our recent economic downturn still holding strong, many consumers are not just toying with the idea of downsizing, but in fact are forced to face the reality that their pockets are swimming in shallower waters these days. However, diminished dough does not necessarily have to mean lower quality or less fun.

In the case of Volkswagen's Tiguan and Subaru's Forester, you can still have your bigger, better, faster and more, irrespective of being tied to a tight budget. With base prices of $27,575 and $25,995 respectively, though both of these SUVs are available at bargain rates, their performance, in my view, is anything but slashed.

As for the superior vehicle, let's have a look at each one more closely in regards to its styling, interior and overall functioning.

Looks-wise, I'd say both the VW and Subaru are decent looking automobiles. While they may not rank “poster car beautiful” their appearances are undeniably smart and savvy. I particularly like the design details on the Tiguan, while the Forester is much prettier than its previous model, so kudos to Subaru for this improvement.

When it comes to interiors however, the Forester is the clear victor. Although both SUVs were obviously designed with comfort and practicality in mind, the Forester is not only roomier, but its function keys are much more user-friendly; this latter feature can be attributed to Subaru's cross-vehicle design consistency.

Yet, in terms of power options, it's quite a different story. The VW Tigaun is only available in a single engine model: a turbo-charged 2.0-litre, inline four cylinder which can reach 200hp, while the Subaru Forester has two engine styles to choose from: a 2.5-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder that produces 170hp or a turbo-charged version that can attain a top speed of 224hp.

The Tiguan does have the added advantage of being able to send all its power to just its front wheels as on its base model, or via VW's trademarked 4MOTION all-wheel drive system as equipped on the car that I test-drove. You also get a choice when it comes to its gearbox: a six-speed manual or automatic with Tiptronic manual-override shifts.

As for planting their power to the ground, all Foresters come standard with all-wheel drive systems and offer two gearbox styles: base is a five-speed manual and the upgrade is the four-speed automatic.

The comparison on paper is very close indeed. As soon as one of these cars gets the edge in one department, the other comes back to trump it with some other criteria. Accordingly, the only just way to settle the debate was to take each vehicle out on the road for a spin.

Both the Tiguan and Forester handled corners very well, but thanks to its shorter wheelbase and sportier suspension settings, the Tiguan proved to be a faster and more nimble machine.

Next came working the brakes. Not only did the Tiguan stop very well, but even despite repeated use, I found no sign of fade. In my view, this was very impressive, and I sincerely loved having my hands behind the wheel of this truck. Though the Forester's halting system worked effectively, it definitely was nothing worth boasting about. With that said however, it more than made up for this downfall in its ride and mileage departments.

The Forester is a vehicle that is 100 per cent responsive to a driver's needs. Throughout the duration of my test-drive it was evident to me, that the brains behind its manufacture were those of engineers, not accountants.

I have always believed that Subarus are among the least appreciated cars on the market and most people do not understand the type of engineering that is hidden underneath their hoods. They move with poise and control no matter the terrain or conditions. The only sin of Subaru's past was its poor fuel-economy, but with their latest models, they seemed to have nicked that out too. During my weeklong test with the Forester, I averaged 10-litres/100km, which for a vehicle of this stature, I'm sure you'll agree, is excellent.

The Tiguan averaged slightly higher in its fuel consumption rate (10.8-litres/100km) during my test week, but I'm willing to admit that this was likely due to the fact that I was toe-ing the throttle on this vehicle much more heavily. Because you see, the Tiguan is a quick truck, and I simply couldn't resist putting its turbo-charged engine and automatic gearbox to work.

Based on my test drives, my preference falls in favour of the VW. However, if its practicality, space and reliability you want, then the Forester would absolutely be the better choice.

But, before drawing any ultimate conclusions (and therefore decisions if you're in the market to purchase a car), one thing worth mentioning is Subaru's reputation of dependability. They are widely known for making some of the longest lasting vehicles in the industry, and this new one looks to carry on that tradition. As for Volkswagen as a company overall, when it comes to the aforementioned points, I can tell you from first-hand experience, they definitely have some catching up to do.
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