Should anyone feel so minded one day to write the history of the compact SUV, that curious breed of car known more commonly and excruciatingly as the ‘soft-roader’, it’s hard to see the Volkswagen Tiguan making much of an impact on its pages.

While the original Toyota RAV4 or Range Rover Evoque might merit a chapter to themselves, the Tiguan would do well to make it out the footnotes.

It’s not because the Tiguan is a poor car, or unsuccessful. On the contrary after the staple Polo, Golf and Passat, VW sells more of them in the UK than any of its many other cars.

But it’s not exactly an extrovert, a car designed to get itself or, indeed, its occupants noticed. Like so many VWs over so many generations, its self-appointed role is to quietly and discreetly get on with the job and leave the posturing and posing to others.

But while that confers a certain pleasing honesty on the car, you have to question the relevance of the approach in the 21st century. It has long been known that this breed of car rarely ventures furthers from the tarmac than the nearest school playing field and that the real reason for their burgeoning popularity has little to do with how well they fit family life relative to, say, a conventional small estate and rather more with how their owners think such cars will help them be perceived by the neighbours.

Happily we need not delay ourselves too long with such considerations. We’ll leave it to do you decide whether the Tiguan makes the right kind of statement and concentrate instead on letting you know whether it’s actually any good at the real job it’s been designed to do.

The range is quite complicated, spread across four grades, S, SE and R-Line with a special Escape off-road version with revised bodywork to improve approach and departure angles.

Four wheel drive is optional on on all but the base spec diesel and all engines carry forced induction. Petrol engines range from a 158bhp 1.4-litre motor past a 177bhp 2-litre and end with the 207bhp unit used in the last generation Golf GTi.

But the vast majority of sales will be diesels, so VW provides three specs of the same 2-litre motor – a 108bhp for the entry level S, a 138bhp variant available in all models and a 174bhp range topper only for SE and R-line customers. The Escape is available only with the 138bhp diesel.

Top 5 Compact SUVs

  • A huge improvement over the old model and now among the class leaders

    BMW X3

    1
  • The new Land Rover Discovery Sport is the successor to the Freelander

    Land Rover Discovery Sport

    2
  • The Swede's XC60 compact SUV is a rival for Range Rover's Evoque

    Volvo XC60

    3
  • The Q5 is Audi's response to the Land Rover Freelander 2, BMW X3 and Volvo SC60

    Audi Q5

    4
  • Kia's seven-seat Sorento SUV is now in its third generation

    Kia Sorento

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    29 May 2015
    New compact Vauxhall shows lots of promise, but sluggish performance and intrusive road noise leave it trailing its rivals
  • First Drive
    28 May 2015
    BMW's luxurious coupé has been given a style refresh and more equipment. This is our first chance to drive the popular 640d Coupe on UK roads
  • First Drive
    28 May 2015
    We drive Ssangyong's new small SUV, which isn't up with the best in class but is certainly worth consideration as a budget option
  • Car review
    26 May 2015
    Hardcore 493bhp GT3 RS represents a new level for the Porsche 911 - faint hearts need not apply
  • First Drive
    25 May 2015
    Track drive of Lamborghini's astonishing limited-run special, the Aventador LP750-4 Superveloce