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You’ve decided you need a mid-sized crossover. But at the same time, you don’t want some boring econobox with snooze-worthy performance.

You want something with at least the pretence of being a little dynamic, because you’re still a car-lover. In another era you may have owned a hot hatch or nimble coupe.

Here are two of the best options you can buy, especially if you can’t stretch to a proper premium offering.

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The just-launched Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI Highline and the well-established Subaru Forester XT Premium both offer turbocharged petrol engines, all-wheel drive and extensive lists of standard features in practical and high-riding bodies.

Moreover, they both offer a little brand cache, given their links to the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Subaru WRX respectively. Neither may be perfect examples of having your fast and practical cake and eating it too, but they come closer than most.

Which is our pick?

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-27

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Price and specifications

The Subaru Forester 2.0 XT Premium costs $48,240 plus on-road costs, compared to $48,490 for the Volkswagen Tiguan 162 TSI Highline. However, options on the German totalled $6700 as tested, widening the differential. Yes, as you’ll see, they’re desirable.

Both models come with seven airbags, ISOFIX points, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane assist and a rear-view camera. Both also have five-star ANCAP ratings, though the Forester was tested back in 2013, against easier metrics than the Tiguan.

Each also comes with leather seats (both have heating and electric operation up front, driver-only for the VW), rain-sensing wipers, touchscreens, satellite-navigation, eight speakers, Bluetooth audio/phone, USB/Aux-in points, push-button start, keyless go and electric tailgate.

Other features on each? Try LED headlights and daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels and roof rails.

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Despite being the cheaper car, the Forester has a few standard features the Tiguan lacks, including adaptive cruise control, a traffic jam start reminder, a sunroof ($2000 extra on the Volkswagen) and an extra USB point — two in total.

Countering this, only the Tiguan gets park assist, a bigger touchscreen (8.0-inch compared to 7.0-inch), Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone mirroring and climate control temperature adjustment in the back.

At base level it’s actually a close battle, though the Forester get the nod, despite its inferior infotainment, because adaptive cruise is more practical every day than park assist, and a sunroof is an everyday joy. But it’s damned close.

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One thing to note: the Volkswagen’s options on test include the $2000 Driver Assist pack (adaptive cruise, side assist, rear cross-traffic alert, the brilliant 12.3-inch Active Info Display digital driver’s instruments, power-folding door mirrors and a 360-degree camera).

There’s also the $4000 R-Line package as fitted, which brings the menacing 20-inch wheels that really ‘make’ the car, a subtle body kit, adjustable dampers to soften the ride, and a progressive steering rack. There’s also $700 extra for metallic paint.

Once you add these extras, and take the price towards $56k, you’re stepping on the toes of premium brands. However, you’re also getting a number of very premium features that put the Tiguan into a new ballpark entirely. If you can afford to splurge, you should.

Cabins

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-8

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-17Pictured: Subaru Forester

If hard-wearing materials and simple operation are your priorities, you’ll do well with the Forester.

All the niceties of a near $50k car are here – good leather seats and steering wheel, glossy black and nice metallic highlights – but there are also watch bezel-like knurled ventilation dials and numerous tough and easy to clean contact points. 

Additionally, the large sunroof, deep rectangular side windows and slim A-pillars make outward visibility outstanding, given all occupants a ‘breezy’ feel. And the brilliant front extendable sun-blinds are perfect for dawn/dusk.

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2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-16Pictured: Subaru Forester

Yet some of the material quality is inferior, one example being the flimsy (albeit deep) door pockets. It doesn’t quite exude the same premium feel as the German, despite the price parity sans options.

We also found the air conditioning a little lacking on a very hot day with three occupants, and the seven-inch screen lacks the modern phone mirroring of the Tiguan.

At least the Bluetooth is rapid to re-pair and offers good sound quality, and the small digital display atop the fascia has some cool tech-y information such as torque distribution.

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-42

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-50Pictured: Volkswagen Tiguan

The Tiguan is familiarly semi-premium, as befits Volkswagen’s brand positioning. The thudding doors, flocked door pockets, soft-touch materials and good build quality all feel worthy of the price, though the plastic surrounding the touchscreen is a little cheap.

There’s a sense of class lacking in the Subaru, which is comparatively long in the tooth, something that explains the VW’s superior display with swiping and phone mirroring, and better audio quality overall. Yet it’s a little slower to load, oddly.

The R-Line pack’s seats, as tested, are also marginally more comfortable, but unlike the Forester, the passenger chair’s adjustments are manual.

2017 Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI.

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-45Pictured: Volkswagen Tiguan

The optional Active Info Display, which was first seen as the Virtual Cockpit on the Audi TT, takes the technology for the segment to a new level, allowing you myriad of driving displays.

You can display the tacho and speedo in two sizes, and between them you can view your playlist, see driving data, track your map, and more. Simple buttons on the wheel make the adjustments.

In terms of storage, the Volkswagen uses the lack of a standard sunroof to offer a series of flip-down storage compartments in the roof. It also has clever touches like a small net along the transmission tunnel.

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-6

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-36Pictured (from top): Subaru Forester and Volkswagen Tiguan

As the pictures above show, neither model is lacking back-seat space, though each have strengths and weaknesses. The common denominators are leather trim, ISOFIX points and reclining back-rests, plus simple entry/egress on account of ride height.

The Subaru offers superior legroom despite having a 41mm shorter wheelbase, though both will easily handle two adults of up to two-metres in height. We’d note that the new Tiguan is way better than the old one in this regard.

Those large side windows and the sunroof also make it feel brighter and airier, which will be especially appealing to kids. Less appealing is the lack of rear air vents.

The Tiguan offers superior amenities, including rear vents with temperature controls, nifty flip-up tables and sliding rear seats. You also get LED reading lights.

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-2

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-34Pictured (from top): Subaru Forester and Volkswagen Tiguan

Despite being the shorter car here, the Tiguan actually offers superior cargo space (615L, compared to 422L for the Forester).

This comes from the fact that the Subaru has a raised boot floor, though it’s the only car here with a full-size spare wheel. Instead of this, the Tiguan has a two-level cargo floor, to either hide valuables or liberate a deeper loading area.

The Forester’s sliding cargo cover is superior to the VW’s more space-hungry single-piece unit, though the latter’s is at least lighter to carry.

Both cars have clever levers to flip the back seats down from inside the cargo area, and both also have electric tailgates, though the Forester’s is painfully slow.

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Drivetrains

Under the bonnet of the Forester is a 2.0-litre turbocharged Boxer petrol engine with a potent 177kW at 5600rpm and 350Nm between 2400 and 3600rpm.

The Tiguan gets a 2.0-litre turbo-four as well, lifted from the Golf GTI, with 162kW between 4500rpm and 6200rpm and 350Nm between 1500 and 4400rpm.

In other words, the Subaru has more power, but the Volkswagen accesses its peak earlier, while the peak torque levels are the same, but the German has a wider band.

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-52

Despite comparable kerb weights of just over 1600kg, the Tiguan is actually a full second faster than the Forester to 100km/h from standstill, managing the feat in 6.5sec. Though you’d need to nail the technique off the line.

That’s largely down to the incredibly muscular bottom end of the VW Group EA888 engine, and the snappier shifts from the DSG dual-clutch auto box compared to the Subaru’s CVT with paddles and artificial ratios.

We’re well familiar with this engine, and it remains a cracker, with a crisp note and a urging linear torque delivery that makes its capacity feel 50 per cent larger.

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-71

The Forester’s engine is also excellent, less characterful than the Tiguan’s but equally strong and even happier at high revs.

What dims the performance when you’re driving hard is the CVT which, despite the flappy paddles and stepped ‘ratios’ in Sport # mode, lacks the DSG’s rapid-fire shift times and ability to double downshift, and brings on torque delivery in a surge rather than a leap, with the familiar dull droning soundtrack.

Neither gearbox facilitates instantaneous throttle response like a Mazda CX-5’s well-calibrated auto with torque converter, though both are well-behaved in urban settings for their respective configurations.

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Fuel use on the combined cycle is similar. The factory claim for the Tiguan is 8.1L/100km, against 8.5L/100km for the Forester. In both cases, we exceeded the claim by the regular 20-ish per cent, because unlike the ADR testers, we aren’t driving these things on a dyno, sans variables. The difference proved minor.

A less minor difference is the way the drivetrains direct the outputs to the road.

The Tiguan has a familiar front-axle-biased all-wheel drive (AWD) system that sends torque to the back on demand in a reactive way, when the sensors on board detect front-wheel slip, whereas the Forester has a variable (front-to-rear) permanent symmetrical AWD setup that’s ‘always on’, or proactive.

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-64

 

Ride and handling

You generally wouldn’t demand a family crossover handle with alacrity, but given the fact both the Subaru and Volkswagen are ‘performance’ derivatives, you’d expect above-average dynamism.

The Forester has a few more years under its belt than the Tiguan, but it still has merits. It rides over broken roads, corrugations, cobbles and even ungraded gravel with a high level of smoothness.

The higher-sidewall tyres and soft springs mean it absorbs hits and cushions occupants nicely, while noise suppression is acceptable. The permanent AWD system also gives surety on wet or low-grip surfaces.

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The plethora of active safety features controlled by a stereo camera near the rear-view mirror are also good, notably the adaptive cruise and traffic-jam prompt to take off if you’re dozing, but we’d like to see Subaru’s Vision Assist with blind-spot monitoring, despite the excellent outward visibility.

Off-road, the Forester has also established a niche for itself as one of the more accomplished offerings, though it lacks conventional low-range gearing.

It has 220mm of clearance (the Tiguan has 201mm) and there’s a X-Mode system that incorporates hill-descent control, and adjusts throttle mapping, gearing and brakes slipping wheels in a solid imitation of an LSD.

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On the downside, the steering is a little wooly – meaning light for easy urban use, but lacking in feedback – and its body control is conventional for the class, meaning there’s some body roll against lateral forces and tyre squeal past six-tenths.

The Tiguan behaves quite differently to the Forester. It’s squatter and lower, and feels more hatch-like. The steering has more adjustability and offers greater feedback, the body control is superior and the turn-in sharper.

Our test car had the R-Line pack that has the stylish 20-inch wheels, but thankfully it also gives you adjustable dampers alongside the regular modes to fettle throttle mapping, shift points and steering weight.

2017-subaru-forester-xt-v-volkswagen-tiguan-162tsi-comparison-67

As a result, the Volkswagen rides over bad urban and extra-urban roads well, balancing a hint of floaty-ness without sacrificing handling or hit recovery, though the slimmer rubber and firm-ish springs means you’ll thud over sharp edges more notably than the Subaru.

Where the Volkswagen really owns the segment is noise-vibration and harshness suppression (NVH). There’s supreme refinement at speed. The adaptive cruise control system is also more subtle and less jerky than Subaru’s, though it should not be an extra-cost option. That’s stingy behaviour from VW.

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Cost of ownership

Both cars come with three-year/unlimited kilometre warranties and both companies offer 24-hour roadside assistance plans.

Subaru Australia’s importer has acknowledged its service costs need to drop, and it’s starting the process with the new Impreza. However, the Forester still sits under its older structure.

Service intervals are six months or 12,500km, whichever comes first, and the cost for the first five visits at current levels comes to: $307.41, $307.41, $388.62, $517.62 and $307.41.

Meanwhile, the Volkswagen’s service intervals are 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first), and the first five visits are current levels cost: $417, $606, $674, $1183 (ouch!) and $417.

Neither offering is cheap, then. If you’re doing an average of about 15,000km per year, the Volkswagen’s higher visit costs are countered by the fact you’ll only need one visit per year.

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Verdict 

Given the fact the Tiguan 162TSI Highline is the newer offering here, you’d expect it to outperform the Forester. And it did.

However, the surprise in some ways was just how well the Forester is holding up. It’s rugged, timeless in its execution, offers a spacious and airy cabin, and hammers along under heavy throttle.

We can completely understand why one would still float your boat.

The Volkswagen is a more rounded package though, with a premium feel and higher-level driving dynamics. The downside is the fact the German brand has made a series of very desirable options so pricey. Is it worth almost $60k? Your call.

But even sans options it would still nudge the Subaru, which deserves an honourable commendation nonetheless.

 

Subaru Forester XT Premium

Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI Highline

Price (before on-roads)

$48,240

$48,490

Price as tested (before on-roads)

$48,240

$55,190

Made in

Japan

Germany

Engine

2.0-litre turbocharged petrol

2.0-litre turbocharged petrol

Power

177kW at 5600rpm

162kW between 4500 and 6200rpm

Torque

350Nm between 2400 and 3600rpm

350Nm between 1500 and 4400rpm

Drive

Permanent AWD

On-demand AWD

Transmission

CVT with paddles

Seven-speed DSG

0-100km/h

7.5 seconds

6.5 seconds

Combined fuel consumption

8.5L/100km 95 RON

8.1L/100km 95 RON

Tare weight

1617kg

1637kg

Power-to-weight ratio

109.5

99

Length

4595mm

4486mm

Wheelbase

2640mm

2681mm

Width

1795mm

1839mm

Height

1735mm

1658mm

Ground clearance

220mm

201mm

Cargo space

422L to 1474L

615L to 1655L

Wheels

18-inch with full-size spare

18-inch with temporary spare

(optional 20-inch tested)

Tyres

225/55 

255/40 

Brakes

All-round ventilated discs

Ventilated discs/solid discs

Suspension

MacPherson strut/double-wishbone

MacPherson strut/four-link

Turning circle

10.6m

11.5m

Airbax

Seven

Seven 

ISOFIX

Yes

Yes 

ANCAP Rating

Five stars (2013)

Five stars (2016) 

Autonomous braking

Yes

Yes 

Adaptive cruise control

Yes

No 

Lane assist

Yes

Yes 

Park assist

No

Yes 

Rear-view camera

Yes

Yes 

Traffic jam start alert

Yes

No 

Sunroof

Yes

$2000 option 

Roof rails

Yes

Yes 

Daytime running lights

LED

LED 

Headlights

Self-levelling LED

Self-levelling LED 

Centre screen

7.0-inch touch

8.0-inch touch 

Satellite navigation

Yes

Yes 

Sound system

Eight-speaker

Eight-speaker 

Apple CarPlay/Android Auto

No

Yes 

Bluetooth audio and phone 

Yes

Yes 

USB points

Two

One 

Aux-in

Yes

Yes 

Seats 

Leather, heated and electric

Leather, heated and electric 

Rain-sensing wipers

Yes

Yes 

Electric tailgate 

Yes

Yes 

Push-button start and keyless access 

Yes

Yes 

Climate control 

Two-zone

Three-zone 

Options 

None

$2000 Driver assistance pack:
Adaptive cruise control
Side assist
Rear-traffic alert
12.3-inch digital Active Info instrument display
Power-folding door mirrors
360-degree camera

$4000 R-Line package:
Body kit
20-inch alloy wheels
Adaptive chassis control (adjustable dampers)
Progressive steering

$700 metallic paint

Warranty 

Three-year/unlimited km

Three-year/unlimited km 

Servicing intervals 

Six months/12,500km

12 months/15,000km 

Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser and Mike Costello

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MORE: Volkswagen Tiguan news, reviews, comparisons and videos


Podcast

Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss this comparison below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.



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SUBARU FORESTER BREAKDOWN

Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI Highline R-Line v Subaru Forester XT Premium comparison
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