One consumes meat. The other eats fruit. One romps from zero to 60 miles per hour in seconds. The other slithers to safety, looking both ominous and, employing camouflage, inconspicuous in the process. One is a tiger. The other is an iguana. In nature, they exist separately and place great value on remaining that way.

But marketing is an often unnatural act. So, the two have been brought together in the form of the 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan, as in "tiger" plus "iguana."

Marketing aims for the memorable more than it does the sensible. Therefore, it matters not that the name "Tiguan" makes little practical sense. It is memorable, and that is good enough for something that essentially is a station wagon.

Let's put things in perspective:

The Tiguan is a very late arrival to a vehicle segment party put on for what we now call "crossovers" -- another marketing exercise, this one meant to calm consumer revulsion to the names "station wagon," "minivan" and "sport-utility vehicle."

That means the Tiguan fits neatly into the class occupied by the Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-7, Nissan Rogue and Toyota Rav-4, all of them compact station wagons masquerading as something else.

But fitting in does not a sales hit make, especially if you are the last piece inserted into the puzzle. Thus, the Tiguan's name and overall presentation are meant to help it stand out.

The finding here is that the Tiguan does that successfully. Much to our surprise, it does it against the imminently worthy Honda CR-V, which, until we drove the Tiguan, had been our favorite in the compact wagon category.

First, we like the Tiguan's styling better. It looks like what it is, a wagon. But the appearance is more elegant, more upscale. The Tiguan's interior space is not the most useful. Honda, Toyota and Nissan have Volkswagen beat here.

But the Tiguan's interior is the most comfortable for backs and bottoms, as amply demonstrated by nearly 1,000 seat miles traveled by my family and that of Ria Manglapus, this column's associate for vehicle evaluations.

"We just felt safe in the Tiguan," Ria said. Aesthetics also helped. The Tiguan's well appointed, exceptionally well executed interior looks and feels rich. And for Ria, a self-described "roofy person," the Tiguan's optional double, panoramic glass roof sealed the deal.

For my part, I remained less than impressed until I drove the Tiguan on Interstate 87 North heading up toward Cornwall on the Hudson in New York. The state's police force makes lots of traffic stops on that route. But even their best enforcement efforts seem to do little to slow down driving speeds.

I-87 traffic is crazy! Zip! Zip! Zoom! Tailgating seems to be the rule of the day. Placing a car length or two between your vehicle and the one in front is an open invitation for another driver to cut in front of you. Nuts!

In that traffic milieu, it helps to have a wagon that behaves more like a good sports car, a job the Tiguan does nicely. Its two-liter, inline four-cylinder, turbocharged, 200-horsepower engine is a spunky, wonderfully responsive little thing. It has a four-wheel independent suspension arrangement -- MacPherson struts up front, multi-link in the rear, front and rear stabilizer bars -- that is one of the best in the business. Steering is easy, responsive. Gear changes in the tested model, equipped with a six-speed gearbox that could be used automatically or manually, were easily accomplished in either mode.

Premium unleaded gasoline is recommended for the Tiguan's high compression, turbocharged engine for best performance. But we fueled it with regular unleaded gasoline -- cash was running low -- on one occasion, and detected no differences in the Tiguan's generally excellent driving mannerisms.

Mileage was decent at 24 miles per gallon on the highway, which is mostly where we kept the Tiguan. We would prefer better mileage, which is why we hope Volkswagen would consider offering this one in the United States with a diesel engine.

But we like this odd amalgam of tiger and iguana. It might not work as an animal in the wild. But as a wagon on America's highways, it works just fine.

ON WHEELS WITH WARREN BROWN Listen from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays on WMET World Radio (1160 AM) or