When Volkswagen first announced it would bring a subcompact SUV to the U.S., we harbored hopes we’d get the nifty little T-Roc, a cool crossover from the automaker’s European lineup. Instead of the T-Roc, though—or at least something derived from its bones—we were surprised and perhaps a little disappointed to learn the 2022 Volkswagen Taos is based on the same platform as the larger Tiguan. The Tiguan is not exactly a favorite of ours; we rank it number 12 out of 13 compact SUVs. But now that we’ve had our first drive in a production-spec Taos, we see why VW did what it did. Basing the Taos on the Tiguan pays dividends in space and practicality, but it also extracts a penalty in driver appeal and value.
The Taos Is Bigger and Nicer Than You Expect
Volkswagen’s newest SUV is made to battle the likes of the Subaru Crosstrek, Kia Seltos, and Ford Bronco Sport, and size is its chief weapon: At 175.8 inches end-to-end, it’s not the segment’s largest vehicle, but it’s longer than the Seltos, the Honda HR-V, and even the first-generation VW Tiguan. The Taos’ expansive length and wheelbase translate to a generous rear seat with plenty of legroom and headroom. It also offers a spacious 27.9-cubic-foot cargo hold (24.9 cubic feet with all-wheel drive). The latter is still plenty roomy, though neither setup offers a flat floor when you fold down the seats.
But there’s more than simply space to like about the 2022 Volkswagen Taos: As we cruised through the Malibu canyons, we had to keep remembering we were driving the entry-level Volkswagen SUV. The class-above materials and fine finish of the Taos interior (at least in the mid-range SE and top-of-the-line SEL models we drove) certainly don’t feel like any brand’s least-expensive SUV offering. And yet as handsome as it is, and its all-digital displays notwithstanding, the control layout retains the simplicity and ease-of-use for which Volkswagen is known.
Take the new 8.0-inch digital instrument panel as implemented in the S and SE models: It displays a round speedometer with a ribbon-type readout, with or without an integrated tachometer. We haven’t seen a design like this before, and it’s an innovative approach to bring the simplicity of VW’s soon-to-be-extinct analog gauges into the digital age. The Taos SEL gets the larger digital dash we’ve seen in other Volkswagens, and frankly, we didn’t like it as much. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s just not as innovative as the smaller display.
An Engine Built for Economy
Enough about the cabin, let’s talk about the drive. The 2022 Volkswagen Taos premieres VW’s newest engine, a 158-horsepower, 184-lb-ft 1.5-liter four-cylinder fed by a variable-nozzle turbocharger, also known as a variable-geometry turbo. Though commonly found on diesel engines, VNTs are not commonly paired with gasoline engines (though Chrysler did so to great effect back in the 1980s and ’90s). The goal is a turbocharger that produces good high-end boost with minimal lag, and it’s part of VW’s effort to improve fuel efficiency versus its previous turbocharged four-cylinder engines while still producing strong power.
In terms of fuel economy, the engine seems to work well, at least on paper. The front-drive Taos ties the Nissan Kicks for best-in-class highway fuel economy, at 36 mpg. We’ll need more testing time to see what real-world fuel economy is like, but our first drive was promising: Our test route was a mix of aggressive canyon curves, coastal cruising, and a short highway stint, and the trip computer indicated averages of 27.7 and 26.4 mpg in front- and all-wheel-drive Taos models, respectively. That’s not too far off their EPA combined figures of 31 and 28.
What About Performance?
As for power delivery, that depends on how many wheels the 1.5T can potentially power. We tackled our first loop in a front-wheel-drive Taos, which pairs the 1.5T to an eight-speed conventional automatic transmission. So equipped, it offers snappy acceleration, barely noticeable turbo lag, smooth upshifts, and quick downshifts. As an added bonus, the engine idled so smoothly that once we turned the stereo on, it was difficult to detect when the auto stop/start system (which shuts the engine off at stoplights, then restarts it automatically) was active.
But the all-wheel-drive Taos served up a very different experience. The 4Motion system uses a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission—DSG in VW-speak—and while it’s fine on the move, off-the-line acceleration is brutal. No matter how hard you push the accelerator, the all-wheel-drive Taos strolls gently away from a stop, and then—after a two-second-or-so pause, which feels like forever—it suddenly surges ahead and slams noggins into headrests. No matter how we tried, we could not manage brisk acceleration without this awful pause-and-surge. Making left turns against busy traffic was nerve-wracking. We felt the deficiencies at the top end, too; out on the highway, the all-wheel-drive Taos seems to run out of breath quicker than the front-driver.
Handling: Not Your Father’s Volkswagen
Handling also disappointed us to a degree. Maybe it’s because we’re old enough to remember the “Drivers Wanted” campaign, but we tend to hold VW to a higher handling standard, and the new 2022 Taos doesn’t quite meet it. The precise steering shows great promise, but the Taos feels floaty when driven hard. And like its larger cousin, the Tiguan, it doesn’t do a great job of ironing out bumps at higher speeds. The combination of a tall driving position and soft suspension exacerbates the sensation of body lean.
The all-wheel-drive Taos gets an independent rear suspension in place of the front-driver’s twist-beam axle. It feels a hair’s width more buttoned down than the front-drive setup and offers a bit more grip before yielding to understeer, but the two versions largely delivered a similar feel. The sad part is, we drove an all-wheel-drive prototype with a better suspension tune, one that handled better yet still maintained a perfectly comfortable ride. Why couldn’t we get that version? We can understand why Volkswagen would tune the Taos’ suspension for comfort and compliance—no rock-hard cheap-crossover ride here; it’s all part of the up-market feel—but that doesn’t mean we like it.
Safety and Sticker Shock
The 2022 Volkswagen Taos offers a comprehensive catalog of active safety and driver-assist systems, but in order to keep the base price out of the stratosphere—$24,190 for the front-drive cloth-upholstered Taos S—VW left it on the options list. Spend $995 and you get the IQ.DRIVE S package featuring forward-collision warning with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, rain-sensing wipers, and—because no safety suite is complete without one—a heated leatherette steering wheel.
We understand market forces, but many automakers now offer such safety equipment as standard across the board (well, maybe not the heated leatherette steering wheel). It’s disappointing that Volkswagen hasn’t embraced the safety-for-all movement, especially considering the base-model Taos is exactly the sort of product aimed at younger, less-experienced drivers.
Priced at $28,440, the Taos SE starts to push the boundaries of affordability in the subcompact class. It gets many of the optional safety features of the S, though adaptive cruise, lane centering, and rain-sensing wipers remain part of an $895 option package. The SE also comes with a host of nice-to-haves including a better infotainment system, cloth-and-fake-leather seating, and heated front seats with power for the driver. The SEL model is the only trim to get all of the safety gear as standard, plus leather, a Beats Audio stereo, and dual-zone climate control—but with a lofty $32,685 price tag, it’s pretty dang expensive for an entry-level SUV.
Bear in mind, we haven’t begun to talk about all-wheel drive, the cost of which varies bizarrely between $1,500 and $2,000, depending on trim level, or the $1,200 panoramic sunroof, optional on the SE and SEL. It’s possible to get the 2022 Taos’ price past $36,000, while the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek tops out at $31,440, and the Kia Seltos can’t be factory optioned past $30,000. The Taos may be competitively priced at the lower end of the market, but it doesn’t stay that way very long.
Initially Appealing, but the Taos Needs More
So, the Taos is expensive, the all-wheel-drive version is a bit unruly, and the handling isn’t quite what we hoped for. Still, the Taos has its bright spots: We like its room, refinement, and comfortable ride. The Taos S delivers reasonable value if you don’t cheap out on that safety package, and the front-drive Taos SE provides a nice level of equipment, though it’s pretty pricey compared to its rivals. If you’re looking for all-wheel drive or top-end trim, though, both you and your bank balance will likely be happier with one of the Taos’ competitors. The 2022 Volkswagen Taos has size on its side, but it’s not quite the subcompact SUV we expected.
2022 Volkswagen Taos Pros:
- Roomy back seat and cargo area
- Good performance with front-wheel drive
- Attractive, well-finished interior
2022 Volkswagen Taos Cons:
- AWD version gets an unruly twin-clutch transmission
- Overly soft suspension
- Scandalously expensive, save for the base model
|2022 Volkswagen Taos Specifications|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||1.5L/158-hp/184-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed auto, 7-speed dual-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,200-3,450 lb (mfr)|
|L x W x H||175.8 x 72.5 x 64.4-64.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.8-8.1 sec (est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||28/36/31 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||120/94 kWh/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.62 lb/mile|
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