Winter is lovely and idyllic in Scandinavia, with snow that looks as if a movie prop-master sprayed marshmallow cream on trees, and on the roofs of brightly colored homes that dot

the rolling hills in the countryside. Snowbanks sparkle in a way that cannot be reproduced on the big screen. Yet the realities of winter are harsh. Driving in snow and ice can seem normal until you encounter a stretch of black ice or take a turn too fast. That's why it's essential to know that you can rely on a car's all-wheel-drive system before it’s needed. In that vein, Volkswagen gave us the chance to try out the next-generation Volkswagen Tiguan's 4Motion AWD on country roads and at an ice lake test facility in Sweden.

The Tiguans we drove were European-spec models, similar to but not quite what we are getting in the U.S. next year. Our versions will have a long-wheelbase and room for three rows, a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine (with about 185 horsepower) and an 8-speed automatic. We drove the short-wheelbase Tiguan with a little less power, plus adaptive suspension and progressive steering, neither of which are expected to make it to the U.S. Our test was within a stone's throw of the Arctic Circle, and not once did we drive on a paved or snow-free road.

An SUV for All Seasons

There are two key aspects to the Tiguan's AWD setup: 4Motion and 4Motion Active Control. 4Motion is a Haldex-based all-wheel-drive system that allows the crossover to operate primarily in front drive for better fuel efficiency, but it constantly monitors changing traction needs and the potential for slip, and distributes torque to the rear axle in an instant, before slip happens. The system can send either 100 percent of torque to the front or rear or varying amounts to each axle depending on demand. There are also electronic differential locks that control the torque that gets sent to individual wheels.

With 4Motion Active Control, the driver can choose one of four modes, based on the type of weather and terrain you're in. The modes are Onroad, Snow, Offroad and Offroad Individual, and each affects throttle mapping, steering and the transmission's shift points. We spent most of our time either in Onroad or Snow mode. Onroad did a fine job on hard-packed snow on straight flat roads, providing plenty of traction. With 4Motion Active Control, the Tiguan will be the second compact SUV to offer a system like this (the other is the Jeep Cherokee).

When conditions got snowier, we sampled Snow mode. This setting allowed plenty of power when accelerating in a straight line from a stop, but it controlled how much power was available when cornering, and used stability control to subtly intervene when needed. The system brakes the wheel or wheels that are slipping, sending power to the wheels that have traction. So when we accelerated from a stop, the Tiguan felt light and quick, yet getting into a turn, the VW offered confident grip. The transition from straight roads to turns was smooth and quiet, and the system seamlessly transferred torque to the individual wheel (or wheels) that could make the best use of it.

With Offroad mode, Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Assist are automatically activated, and traction control is off. The fourth option in the system is Offroad Individual mode. Here, the driver customizes settings, including steering, Dynamic Cornering, Dynamic Chassis Control (if so equipped), Hill Hold, Hill Descent and more.

What's Coming

The Tiguan is built on Volkswagen's new MQB platform, an excellent foundation for vehicles such as the Volkswagen Golf and GTI, Audi A3 and TT, and will eventually underpin the Passat. While Europe gets the Tiguan within the next month or two, it doesn't go on sale in the U.S. until around summer 2017.

The long-wheelbase Tiguan helps solve some shortcomings that kept the Tiguan from being as competitive with the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4: the Tiguan lacked the rear-seat legroom and cargo space that both of those SUVs offer. Now that the new Tiguan is expected to be about 10 inches longer overall, both the cargo area and the rear seat are roomier. There will be enough space for a third row joining the Nissan Rogue as the only compact crossover SUVs with that configuration.  

If the Euro-spec Tiguan we drove is any indication, the new model we're getting is going to be a much better competitor for the CR-V, RAV4 and Ford Escape. The body's lines are sharper and give the Tiguan a fresher look, and materials quality and more spacious interior layout are quite good for the segment. Power output was impressive and the Tiguan felt firm and taut but compliant, with some of the same spirit as its Golf and GTI kin.

A big question is pricing. For North American markets, the Tiguan is going to be built in Puebla, Mexico. That should mean a reduction in production and shipping costs and a lower MSRP for the Tiguan than it would've had if it were coming from Germany. If the Tiguan offers the right packages and pricing, it can grab some market share in one of the hottest automotive segments.

Browse photography at Denver.Gallery.