Buzzing around in the 2022 volkswagen taos has us thinking like Marty McFly. In the memefied words of Back to the Future‘s time-traveling protagonist, “Hey, we’ve seen this one!” But while VW would surely counter that we haven’t, in fact, seen it—the Taos is all new—we’re more referring to its market placement. In a switcharoo of nameplates and segments, the all-new compact/subcompact VW Taos sits where the now-larger Tiguan once did.
You see, the Tiguan arrived for the 2009 model year to team with the bigger Touareg to serve VW’s SUV customers. It did so by covering two segments, being sized between the subcompact entries and compacts like Honda’s CR-V. But a premium price and cramped quarters translated to only short-term, modest success. In response, the next-generation Tiguan got bigger (big enough, in fact, to offer a third row) and more value-packed—it is now the brand’s biggest seller in the U.S. (A short-wheelbase two-row is available in other markets.) Now, enter the Taos, which moves into big bro’s old room and makes for a trio of people’s sport-utilities, along with the gargantuan Atlas.
Size? Oh, It Matters
And as the current Tiguan slightly outstretches its compact competition, the Taos almost bursts out of its subcompact socks, being larger than mainstays like the Hyundai Kona, Nissan Rogue Sport, and Honda HR-V, while also bullying other segment straddlers like the Kia Seltos and Jeep Compass, at least in overall length. All this is to say that as far as subcompacts go, the Taos is a big ‘un.
With its biggish bod comes biggish interior space, with 28.0 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats on our front-wheel-drive test model. Since the Taos is actually 0.1 inch wider than the Tiguan, passenger volume is moderately capacious, though not enough to truly notice the difference over the equivalent Seltos or Crosstrek. You’re only going to notice the extra cubes when cross-shopping models toward the middle or bottom of the size pack.
All U.S-market Taos SUVs land with a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder good for 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. There’s a choice of two transmissions to manage the output; front-wheel-drive examples use an eight-speed conventional automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive variants turn their wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
Time on the test track proves this VW has enough poke for its intended purpose. The 0-60-mph run took 7.6 seconds, on the way to a quarter-mile result of 15.9 seconds at 86.8 mph. With just the front wheels to manage its torque, launching our Taos was a struggle against the touchy traction control system. “I achieved the best time with pedal overlap and releasing the brake as the tach swept past 2,500 rpm,” associate road test editor Erick Ayapana said. “Anything higher than that results in wheelspin and nannies cutting power.”
In other words, it accelerates just fine by the numbers. We haven’t run many FWD competitors at the track, but such a Seltos with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder took an extra 0.7 second to hit 60 mph. In terms of the AWD competition, the Crosstrek Sport and its 2.5-liter flat-four was 0.2 second behind, while the Seltos S Turbo was 0.7 second quicker.
On the Road
It also has enough gumption for normal driving, although a distinct lack of low-rpm gusto—blame turbo lag—means there’s a dead zone just as you start to actuate the accelerator, particularly in Normal mode. Faced with this slow initial progress, all but the most patient drivers then go deeper in search of the acceleration they know is there, which causes the transmission to downshift—it’s already upshifted in the interest of economy—quickly spool the turbo, and whip the Taos into a neck-bobbing frenzy.
The solution is to put the transmission in Sport mode regardless of the driving environment and move on. The tip-in smooths out, and the gearbox’s shifts aren’t peaky, either; despite the promise of a more aggressive shift map, the eight-speed ‘box performs largely the same as in the standard mode when toddling around town.
In addition to local errands and midday sandwich sojourns, we used the Taos to crisscross the greater Los Angeles metroplex in search of a hiking trail we’d never trekked before. We ended up at a trailhead located a few thousand feet up in the San Gabriel Mountains, accessed via a canyon road better suited for VW’s sportier GTI and R hot hatches.
There, the Taos felt more fleet of tire than you might expect, but dispel any ideas you have of it serving as a lifted Golf. It rides, turns, and stops about as well as any other pint-sized mainstream SUV, but VW’s MQB architecture delivers enough goodness and harmony to the controls to make it just a smidge more satisfying to drive on most fronts than the competition.
How Is the Taos to Live With?
Outside of the Normal mode off-the-line shenanigans, the Taos is fine and dandy around town. That fizzy little 1.5-liter is well isolated from the cabin, a fabulous change of pace from the norm, where manufacturers seemingly forget that sound deadening goes a long way in ritzing up the experience in small-displacement vehicles.
It also rides pleasantly, and there’s oodles of passenger space to wiggle around in. Even behind the seating position of this 5-foot-11 author, any passenger under 6 feet tall has legroom to spare—and a USB-C port to charge their device. (Toss those old USB-A cables—the Taos is strictly a USB-C ride.) VW’s infotainment system is solidly above average to both navigate and to look at, and the digital gauge cluster—or Digital Cockpit, according to VW—has crisp, simple-to-parse graphics.
This small SUV is a nice little package until you slip an eye over the window sticker. Our well-equipped front-wheel-drive SEL came with goodies like leather upholstery, heated seats, the Digital Cockpit, a premium Beats audio system, and a $1,200 panoramic sunroof, but it left all-wheel drive on the showroom shelf. At $34,280, our Taos is a whopping $4,415 more than a loaded-to-the-gills Kia Seltos SX Turbo with all-wheel drive, which has a more powerful engine and a few more features. If you’re OK skipping all-wheel drive, a maxed-out 2022 Honda CR-V Touring with front-wheel drive is all yours for just $595 more. That’s a perennial comparison-testing crossover SUV from a whole segment up, and it’s dripping with all the bells and whistles.
Our test Taos is $540 more than a 2021 VW Tiguan SEL FWD, too, which has more power, more space, and the same—if not a higher—level of amenities. Even if you ditch the pricey roof in the Taos, you’re still just a few hundred bucks away from that Tiguan. Wait a bit and slide into the updated 2022 Tiguan, and you can cop an SE R-Line Black for $790 less than our Taos. We know the buying patterns of the general public are scattered at best, but you’d have to come up with a really, really good reason to pick the upper trim level of the 2022 VW Taos.
Our advice if you’re set on something this size? Avoid the Taos SEL and stick with the S or SE. If you want more features, spring for more car and move up to the Tiguan or something else in its class. If you decide on the former, just pocket the difference and use the savings toward a vacation. We hear New Mexico is gorgeous this time of year.
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