2023 Volkswagen Tiguan Review: Family Heirloom

  • Perky performance
  • Solid safety equipment and tech as standard
  • Handsome styling likely to age gracefully
  • Dark cabin feels dreary
  • Fuel economy is lower than electrified rivals
  • Third row seats exclusive to non-AWD SUV

You could forgive Volkswagen for playing it safe with the Tiguan. Perennially popular in the U.S. and abroad, the compact SUV is a star in the automaker's sales charts, occupying the sweet spot of price, practicality, and a little upscale charm. While VW's focus is clearly on electrification these days, it's models like this 2023 Tiguan SEL R-Line which are covering the cost of all that EV development.

Year on year, then, the tweaks to the Tiguan are small but potentially meaningful. Pricing for the 2023 crossover starts at $25,950 (plus $1,295 destination) for the Tiguan S; at the other end of the scale, this fully-loaded SEL R-Line rocks up at $38,614 all-in. That sets the VW up against heavyweights like Honda's CR-V, upstarts like Kia's Sportage and Hyundai's Tucson, and wildcards like the Mazda CX-50.

With its fascia-spanning light bar, reserved application of chrome, and the R-Line's grille and silver roof rails, the Tiguan is a classy and restrained option in a category where outlandish proportions and fashion-chasing creases are now commonplace. Even salt-crusted from my snow-slicked Midwest roads, it looks grown-up and reassuringly stolid.

Not fast, but peppy

All Tiguan trims use Volkswagen's 2.0-liter turbo-four gas engine paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. It's a familiar combo, here mustering 184 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard, while 4MOTION all-wheel drive is a $1,500 option. Spec that, and you get Snow and Off-Road modes alongside the standard Eco, Normal, Sport, and Custom settings.

All-wheel drive isn't the only decision you'll have to make, though. Rare for SUVs in its segment, you can have the Tiguan as a three-row model with space for seven. However, that's only the case with the front-wheel drive version; if you want VW's 4MOTION system, then you only get five seats. Given that AWD is standard on this Tiguan SEL R-Line, it means you can't have Volkswagen's top-spec trim and also get the seven seats.

Riding on the R-Line's standard 20-inch alloys, things are definitely on the firm side. That keeps pace nicely with the turbo engine's pep: even without tugging the transmission shifter back into "S" mode, it's clear VW tuned the Tiguan to feel eager, even if it's not actually all that fast in reality. Nonetheless, the all-important zip in city driving is present and correct.

A sober cabin

As we've already seen elsewhere in Volkswagen's range, there's a real sense of a dividing line in design between the gas-powered models and the newer, ID. branded EVs. That's no surprise, really, given the automaker has been vocal about electrification being its future. Still, it means that the Tiguan's cabin clings to the old-school, dour aesthetic that we've seen on models like the Passat, Arteon, and Golf R.

It's not bad, just very dark. Volkswagen's plastics feel sturdy, and the Noisette Brown leather seats straddle the line between firmly supportive and comfortable for extended drives. The piano black control panels for the climate control and on the steering wheel pick up fingerprints and smudges eagerly, though, and VW's silver trim could be more expansive.

I'm not a huge fan of those touch-sensitive controls in use, either. Whether you're swiping or tapping the temperature or fan adjustment, it's all too easy to over-shoot. Happily the buttons on the wheel actually click, rather than just being capacitive, which gives a little extra confidence that they'll do just what you expect them to.

Decent equipment for the price

Volkswagen's Discover Media infotainment system gets an 8-inch touchscreen on all but the base S trim (which has a miserly 6.5-inch display), and SEL R-Line trim has both navigation and SiriusXM. The Fender audio system is solid, but not as intense as its 480-watt rating might imply. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto encourage the use of the wireless charging pad, and there are multiple USB-C ports in the first and second rows to plug into. Those in the third row, however, must go without.

As for the driver, there's a 10.25-inch digital instrument display rather than traditional gauges. That supports multiple layouts, from information-overload through to a pared-back UI. The front seats get both heating and cooling — along with a heated steering wheel that offers an unusual three levels of temperature adjustment — but the second row lacks even heating. It's not the only odd omission. This top-spec trim gets remote start and a power tailgate, and even heated windshield washer nozzles, but no auto brake-hold for when you're waiting at the lights.

Spacious, but be sure you really need a third row

The first and second rows are spacious and adult-scale. While this Tiguan SEL didn't have the fold-flat third row, I've tried those seats before and they're definitely kid-sized. The second row folds 40/20/40 and supports sliding and reclining; the third row, if present, splits 50/50.

The two-row Tiguan has 37.6 cu-ft of cargo space behind the second row while folding that down expands it to 73.4 cu-ft. With a three-row configuration, there's a compact 12 cu-ft behind the third row of seats, expanding to 33 cu-ft with them dropped, and then 65.3 cu-ft with the second and third rows folded.

As for fuel economy, this Tiguan SEL R-Line 4MOTION is rated for 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined. Opting for a lesser trim with all-wheel drive sees those numbers climb by one point apiece.

A good warranty, but not the best

VW's standard safety equipment is solid. All 2023 Tiguan trims get blind spot monitoring with rear traffic alert, forward collision warning, and front autonomous emergency braking, plus pedestrian monitoring. The IQ.DRIVE Package — with adaptive cruise control, Travel Assist, Lane Assist, and Emergency Assist — is an $895 option on the base Tiguan S trim, but standard above that.

By the time you reach the Tiguan SEL, there's also a bird's eye view camera to go with the standard reversing camera, plus front and rear parking sensors. Park Assist will help with steering into spaces, too.

As for the warranty, Volkswagen covers the Tiguan with a four-year/50,000-mile standard limited warranty, plus two years/20,000 miles of scheduled maintenance. There's also three years/36,000 miles of 24-hour roadside assistance. Not bad, but Hyundai will give you five years of standard limited warranty, and three years of scheduled maintenance, if you buy a Tucson.

2023 VW Tiguan Verdict

The Tucson also comes as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid, while Honda's excellent 2023 CR-V can also be had in electrified form. That doesn't seem like something VW has in mind for the Tiguan, given its goal of replacing the current gas-powered range with ID. alternatives. It's a shame, as for a lot of families the combination of electric economy with gas reassurance is a compelling one.

On that front, the Tiguan feels like an SUV that's in VW's rear-view mirror. A highly successful one, make no mistake: the automaker's best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for the past two years, no less. It definitely comes across as more sensible than not only the EVs that Volkswagen is working on, but most of its competition, too.

That doesn't make it a bad SUV, just a familiar one. If you really must have seven seats, with no outlandish footprint, then the VW fits the bill. Still, rivals best it on economy, driving enthusiasm, and cabin design, and even with the R-Line exterior upgrades, the 2023 Tiguan feels like a conservative choice in a fiercely contested segment.