Not the prettiest SUV. Volkswagen rarely makes beautiful cars, and the 2023 Tiguan is no exception. In some respects, it’s quite an unhappy-looking beast, with elongated rear side windows necessarily broken up with an unattractive divider strip, ahead of a BMW-aping quarterlight window. Your eyes slide off the boxy rear without really acknowledging it, while the dog-bone lower front grille is messy rather than stylish.

Step inside, and things are no better. There’s not much fun in the functional dashboard, and we have concerns about the practicality of VW’s touchscreen climate controls – they look good in a brochure, but they’re frustrating to use. The dash has none of the subtlety or character Volvo (among others) imparts through contrasting materials and colors, though everything is assembled well and logically arranged. On a (literally and metaphorically) brighter note, there’s good front, and side visibility.

Leading from the middle. There’s a standout model in the Tiguan range, and it’s the mid-range SE model. Priced at around $33,000 with the all-wheel drive that’s optional on all trim levels, it brings goodies like wireless smartphone mirroring, power adjustment for the driver’s seat, adaptive cruise control, synthetic leather, and larger 18-inch wheels. These don’t damage the ride, but they do improve road-holding slightly.

Even if your budget allows, we’d steer clear of the $39,000 SEL R-Line model that tops the Tiguan range. Not only is it quite expensive, but its 19-inch or 20-inch wheels also harm the ride without delivering any payoff – lifeless steering means you’d never throw this heavy SUV into a series of tight bends. The lack of paddle shifters or a manual transmission further reduces driver appeal, and the R-Line’s external bling detracts from its aesthetics rather than adding to them.

2023 Volkswagen Tiguan Interior

A smooth performer. The Tiguan is no driver’s car, then, but passengers will be perfectly happy being shuttled around in it. If you stick with front-wheel drive, you can fit a couple of kids into a pair of third-row seats, though your teenagers will hate you even more than usual if they’re dispatched back here. The second row is a far more pleasant place to be – the side windows give a panoramic outlook, and the seats are comfortable if firm. Middle-row passengers have almost 39 inches of legroom in AWD models, and they’re not missing out on much drama in the front where an eight-inch infotainment screen is fitted. A larger 10.3-inch screen replaces it on top trims.

On the move, the Tiguan is refined and smooth, with an eight-speed auto ‘box excelling everywhere apart from at standing starts. There’s not much road noise, the ride is good if you stay away from R-Line wheels, and the AWD cargo capacity of 38 cubic feet almost doubles once the second-row seats are dropped. Combined fuel economy across the range is in the mid-twenties, which is poor but hardly truck-like, and at least specifying all-wheel drive gives you good road-holding in any conditions.

Playing it safe. SUVs are bought with safety in mind, and the Tiguan has been given a Top Safety Pick+ rating by the IIHS. Even S models come with blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking, while SE trims and above receive adaptive cruise with active lane control; you can specify features like a surround-view camera from the options list. Additional peace of mind is provided by a four-year warranty that includes two years of free maintenance.

Final thoughts. In isolation, the Tiguan seems like a fine car. It’s bland inside and out, but that won’t bother buyers who are more interested in transporting their families in safety and comfort. Indeed, its lack of image and style will appeal to people who value dependability and discretion above all else. Mid-range SE models are well-equipped and refined on the road, the infotainment system is tried and trusted, and the sheer space afforded to second-row occupants in AWD models is remarkable.

The Tiguan proposition only starts to fall apart when you consider its rivals. This is a market saturated with high-caliber Japanese and Korean competitors, from the unburstable Subaru Forester to the seductive Mazda CX-5. Hyundai’s Tucson has styling that makes its VW rival seem like a product of the Noughties, and Hyundai’s opulent Calligraphy-edition Santa Fe has vastly more showroom appeal. The Tiguan is a good car with no major weaknesses, but it's a head-over-heart purchase in a market where many rivals successfully appeal to both.

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