Escape offroad in the Tiguan

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VOLKSWAGEN'S Tiguan is a bulky hatchback with all-wheel-drive, aka a crossover or sport utility vehicle. It is based on the platform of the Golf/Passat, seats five people and could appeal to anyone who fancies a bit of one upmanship at the shops and can't afford a BMW X3 or Land Rover Freelander. In size it is similar to VW's Touran. However, it is not cheap.

It has a familiar range of VW Group engines driving the front wheels, with an electronic Haldex coupling transferring power to the rear wheels when they slip.

The maximum trailer weight is 2,500kg so this is a useful towing vehicle should you have a boat, caravan or horse flesh to move.

The model range is S and SE (1.4 TSI and 2.0 TDI motors), Sport and Escape (2.0 TDI). The latter is the one for semi-serious offroading. It has a steeper front overhang to avoid ditches, with under-body protection, and an offroad button which remaps the throttle and engages a limited slip differential between the front wheels to enhance traction. This offroad mode is a 100 option on other models, and it is worth specifying because it will help you tackle icy main roads.

The road manners are almost blameless, let down slightly by wheel-popping over poorer surfaces. The Escape model's offroad ability is admirable, even with normal road tyres. Ground clearance is adequate too, coping with a rutted, muddy, mostly flat trail. It grips grass well enough to reverse up a rain-soaked field, so full marks as an all-roader.

Considering that you can get a 4x4 version of the Nissan Qashqai for 16,499, the starting price of 19,370 for the 1.4 TSI Tiguan S looks rapacious. OK, this is a turbocharged and supercharged 150bhp motor and you do get semi-automatic air conditioning but it is still a vast price hike over the Qashqai.

The Tiguan diesel in S trim is 20,500 or, with Tiptronic, 21,750. The price step from S to SE is 1,300 and from SE to Sport it is 700. A 170bhp diesel engine will be available with SE. Sport engines are the awaited 200bhp petrol TSI, and 140bhp and 170bhp diesels. Escape is offered only with the 140bhp diesel and costs 22,050 (Tiptronic is 23,300), but is not expected to be a big seller.

I think the Escape model may be more in demand than VW GB anticipates. The steeper approach angle, shorter front overhang and the under-body protection including a sump guard make it a useful tool on farms. There is extra protection for the radiator and flanks, and a compass for those lost moments.

The best sellers will be S and SE versions of the 140bhp diesel, with 86% of sales expected to be for diesel power.

Options include a rear-view camera for safer reversing, in conjunction with parking assistance. The system measures the gap as you drive slowly past and confirms it is large enough. You select reverse, take your hands off the wheel but control the speed (and cover the brakes in case of an unforeseen emergency), and the Tiguan swings back into the gap. You brake, and that's it. Dodgy parkers may think it is worth 450.

Creature comforts include a sliding rear seat, with which you can achieve more leg space than in the larger VW Touareg. The front passenger seat folds flat too.

An interesting option is a new radio system which incorporates music storage and a navigation system that will also record a route. This is a benefit if you are deeply offroad and need to find your way back to proper roads and civilisation. Or if you just want to repeat a random, unplotted journey.

I think the Tiguan will appeal to someone who feels they are a rung above owning a Nissan Qashqai, or are already VW people.

It is more car-like in appearance than the admirable Honda CR-V, whilst Land Rover has priced the Freelander at a higher level. It may attract Touareg owners who are getting fussy about fuel economy.

You can expect around 40mpg from the 140bhp diesel, or a little over 30mpg from the 150bhp petrol engine. These figures are not bad, but they are not brilliant.

The VW Jetta I am using has the same 140bhp diesel engine and is rated at 50mpg. It doesn't have all-wheel drive but carries just as many people and, after all, for most owners the SUV thing is a lifestyle affectation rather than a motoring necessity.

They lift you up from the crowd and, I confess, the elevation feels good in an emotional, illogical way. You can also see over field walls. Priceless.

Vehicle Volkswagen Tiguan

Price 19,370

Engine 1.4-litre petrol

Top speed 119mph

0-60mph 9.3 seconds

Fuel 33mpg