Tiger's career was fairly uneventful; for the majority of her active duty career, she was activated only for the summer training maneuvers in June and July. She participated in a major cruise to Germany in 1890, which saw numerous visits to other countries along the way. In 1897, she took part in an international naval demonstration off the island of Crete to prevent enforce limits on the Greco-Turkish War. In 1906 she was converted to an admiralty yacht and renamed Lacroma. She saw no significant service during World War I, and was used as a barracks ship from 1916 to the end of the conflict. Following Austria-Hungary's defeat, she was ceded as a war prize to Italy and was broken up in 1920.
The Austro-Hungarian Marinekommandant (Navy Commander), Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) Maximilian Daublebsky von Sterneck, outlined in a memorandum of 8 September 1884 the requirements for a torpedo cruiser. Such a vessel should have a reinforced bow for ramming as well as torpedoes for attacks on larger warships. The cruisers would also be small and fast enough to undertake patrol and reconnaissance duties. The first two ships of Sterneck's program, the Panther class, were built in Britain so the Austro-Hungarian Navy could gain experience building small cruisers. The program was overseen by the naval engineer Siegfried Popper, who was tasked with designing a third cruiser in July 1885, to be built domestically. The Panther class provided the basis for the third ship, Tiger. A commission was convened on 16 September to discuss the parameters for the new cruiser; among the questions were whether the ship would replicate the Panther-class ships or it would be an entirely new design. Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Alexander Eberan von Eberhorst, who headed the commission in charge of the cruiser program, instructed Popper that the commission had decided that the new ship should have a speed of not less than 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph) and carry two 12 cm (4.7 in) guns like the Panthers, but the ship should be some 50 metric tons (49 long tons; 55 short tons) larger.
The Marinesektion (Naval Section of the War Ministry) requested tenders from Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino (STT) and the British shipyard Armstrong, which had built the Panther. class. The Armstrong proposal incorporated four 12 cm guns and was slightly longer than the Panther class, allowing for finer hull lines for less hydrodynamic resistance. STT's design was slightly smaller than Panther, but was otherwise similar to Armstrong's ship; both firms guaranteed a speed of 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph) normally and 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph) at forced draft. The navy determined that Armstrong's design would have reduced maneuverability compared to Panther, and the hull was too lightly built, so the STT proposal was chosen on 16 March 1886. STT received the contract on 25 May, for a price of 780,000 gulden; the contract stipulated a minimum speed of 18 knots, along with a bonus for every one-tenth of a knot over 18.5 knots (34.3 km/h; 21.3 mph). Popper, who had been in Britain supervising the completion of Panther and Leopard, returned to oversee the construction of Tiger. Before work began, the builders decided to increase the length of the hull slightly to provide more space for the boiler room. Much of the steel used in the hull was domestically produced, but some material was purchased from British steelmakers.
Tiger was 74.16 meters (243 ft 4 in) long at the waterline and 76.02 m (249 ft 5 in) long overall. She had a beam of 10.6 m (34 ft 9 in) and a draft of 4.3 m (14 ft 1 in) on a displacement of 1,657 to 1,680 t (1,631 to 1,653 long tons; 1,827 to 1,852 short tons). Her crew numbered 13 officers and 175 men, though this later decreased to a total of 177 officers and men. She was fitted with two pole masts.
The ship's propulsion system consisted of a pair of two-cylinder compound steam engines, with steam provided by four double-ended, coal-fired fire-tube boilers. The engines were ducted into a pair of funnels located amidships. The engines drove two screw propellers. The engines were rated at 6,222 metric horsepower (4,576 kW) for a top speed of 19.2 knots (35.6 km/h; 22.1 mph), though her service speed was 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph) from 5,692 PS (4,186 kW). Storage capacity for coal amounted to 322 t (317 long tons; 355 short tons). She had a cruising radius of 1,260 nautical miles (2,330 km; 1,450 mi) at a more economical speed of 17.5 knots (32.4 km/h; 20.1 mph).