The Tiguan faces fresh competition in the compact SUV market and Volkswagen has responded with a mid-life overhaul that brings the capable soft-roader back to the top of the class.

The changes are much more than skin deep. There are now seven engines (three diesels and four petrols) with improved fuel use along with a suite of potentially life-saving technology that has flowed down from the luxury models in the VW Group.

Explore the 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan Range

VW Australia spokesman Karl Gehling said the company is still evaluating which drivetrain combinations will make it Down Under, the only confirmed engine is the 155kW 2-litre petrol lifted from the Golf to replace the 147kW donk that now sits at the top of the range.

As a result the company has yet to set prices for the cars, which will go on sale in Australia in October or November.

VALUE

Gehling admitted VW is keen on an entry level front-wheel drive model to give it a direct competitor to the two-wheel drives from the likes of Hyundai ix35 and Toyota RAV4.

That should translate into a $30,000 starter price. All front-wheel Tiguans and one of the AWD models will carry the BlueMotion badges indicating they're particularly fuel efficient thanks to features such as stop-start engine technology and regenerative braking.

The inside is virtually unchanged from last September's local update that included the button-loaded three-spoke steering wheel. It's a typical VW layout - black plastics that feel better than most in the class and which past experience shows to be easy to keep clean. A few touches of chrome around the controls reinforce the understated look.

The AWD Tiguan will still be the only car in its class sold in versions biased for on and off-road use. The road-focused car has an 18 degree front approach angle; choose the off-roader and that rises to 28 degrees. They're easy to spot - the off-roader ditches the deep air intake in favour of a smaller unit atop an engine bash plate.

One thing that hasn't changed is the boot space. It's still not close to class-leading and will cost the Tiguan sales when growing families realise they'll struggle to load a double pram and the associated baby bits into the back.

A deep tray under the cargo floor has pockets that will store wet and dirty shoes and clothes for the run home. It lifts out and can be hosed down. It's clever, but not particularly sturdy which may affect its durability - Ford's Territory does it better. It also replaces the spare tyre - there's a puncture repair kit in one of the side pockets.

DRIVING

The Tiguan has always been one of the more capable soft-roaders and the updates have improved the experience.

The really good stuff, though, lies in the options catalogue - adaptive damping that firms the suspension for a quick fang or soften the bumps when the baby's asleep, systems that detect driver fatigue, warn when the car drifts out of its lane and can even park the compact SUV.

Climbing 2.5km up the Grossglockner High Alpine Road in Austria proved the versatility of the 132kW petrol engine mated to the seven-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission.

It never laboured though the 48km run, in constrast to the six-speed manual and 125kW turbodiesel Carsguide was driving.

The diesel/manual combo couldn't keep up - the gap between second and third gears dropped the Tiguan out of the torque curve and meant it struggled to keep pace with its petrol sibiling.

There wasn't any problem negotiating the 36 curves in either car. The steering is light, but carmakers obviously think that's right for this segment, because all soft-roaders drive like it.

Body roll is another feature of the compact SUV class but the Tiguan has less of it than some rivals. It was noticeable but didn't upset the suspension and the cars either tracked true or progressively understeered with a whine of the tyres if entry speed was too high.

At autobahn speeds the car was quiet and poised with only the distant rush of wind over the roof racks giving any indication we were travelling at 200km/h.

The seating position isn't as upright as many in the class, which is a blessing and between the height and reach adjustable steering and height adjustable seat there was never an issue in finding a comfortable driving position.

VERDICT

Clean styling and solid performance will give the Tiguan a deserved kick up the sales charts. Prices aren't set but it should continue the VW approach of tempting buyers with European cachet at Japanese and South Korean prices.

VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN

Price: $29,990 (2WD, estimate)
Warranty: Three years, unlimited km
Service intervals: 15,000km/one year
Crash rating: Five stars
Engines: Three 2-litre turbodiesels, 1.4-litre turbo petrol, 1.4-litre "twin-charge" (turbo and supercharged) petrol, two 2-litre turbo petrol
Power/torque: Diesels: 81kW/280Nm, 103kW/320Nm, 125kW/350Nm. Petrols: 90kW/200Nm, 118kW/240Nm, 132kW/280Nm, 155kW/280Nm
Transmissions: Six-speed manual, seven-speed DSG auto
Body: Five-door wagon
Dimensions: Length 4426mm (on-road) 4433mm (on-road); width 1809mm, height 1703mm
Weight: 1641-1695kg
Thirst: Diesels: 5.3 litres/100km, 139g/km; 6.3 lites/100km, 167g/km; 6-litres/100km, 158g/km. Petrols: 6.5 litres/100km, 152g/km; 6.7 litres/100km, 156g/km; 8.5 litres/100km, 199g/km (132kW and 155kW variants).