Every modern vehicle undergoes a years-long validation process before it arrives at your local dealer. Manufacturers replicate hundreds of thousands of miles’ worth of cold weather or corrosive seaside air in these tests, in addition to putting the car on broken pavement, high-altitude mountain passes, and other taxing real-world scenarios to ensure as much reliability as possible over your years of ownership.
The 2022 Volkswagen Taos is no exception, as proved by a visit to the company’s Arizona Proving Grounds (APG). Located 45 minutes south of Phoenix, APG is a sadist’s 1,600-acre playground, including a 4.5-mile banked oval for a steady pace of over 120 miles per hour and top speeds exceeding 150. There are long stretches of potholed asphalt, dirt roads carefully groomed to be harsh, and handling tracks with off-camber corners that exacerbate body roll. These conditions represent the 95th-percentile vehicle use – your car will encounter five or six of these extremes over its entire life, much less all of them in a span of three or four weeks.
And that’s before we even consider the climate-controlled tank that subjects vehicles to 120-degree-Fahrenheit ambient air. Or the one that’s set to minus-20. Or the one that goes to 100 degrees, with 95-percent humidity and 3-percent salinity. Each global Volkswagen Group passenger car, ranging from lowly Skoda to mighty Bugatti, spends half a day in each tank, torture-testing the body, wiring, rubber bits, and suspension components for corrosion and temperature resistance. With all of that in mind, how well does the Taos do when facing down some of the toughest environmental challenges the world has to offer?
Studying For The Test
To prove the new vehicle's mettle, Volkswagen handed me the keys to three different, pre-production examples of its newest and smallest SUV. The standard front-drive version features a twist-beam rear suspension and conventional eight-speed automatic transmission, while the other two sported all-wheel drive, a multilink rear suspension, and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. All Taos models get a standard 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet, as well as a MacPherson strut front suspension.
My first challenge was the company’s “fuel tank track,” whose roll-inducing, outside-banked corners and massive undulating whoops force gasoline to slosh around and put the in-tank fuel pumps to the test. It also reveals a lot about the handling behavior of the Taos, which swaggers through corners with a firm, controlled ride before ultimately relenting to some gradual and safe understeer. Even in these off-camber twists, the Taos feels planted, and the electrically assisted steering is reasonably heavy and feelsome.
Next came a simple autocross course, but not before traversing a short portion of APG’s rough “driver training” dirt road. Over shuddering washboard dirt, the front-drive version I piloted exhibited some discernible rear-axle shake, but it wasn’t out of place given the Taos’ intended vehicle class. Back on the pavement and hunting cones, the front-driver felt much happier than it was on the dirt, attacking a tight slalom at inadvisably high speeds – yet it still felt predictable and easy to drive. Both all-wheel-drive models were better still, thanks to the quick-shifting transmission and better-planted rear axle.
Finally, it was time for a trip inside the oval – no high-speed testing for us today, unfortunately – where Volkswagen introduced me to its challenging stretch of wobbly, broken pavement, not unlike what one might find on the ever-shifting California coast, with a few harsh railroad track crossings thrown in for good measure. Here, the differences between Taos variants began to come to the surface even further.
There’s no denying that the front-drive version is less settled than its all-wheel-drive kin – a torsion-beam rear axle will never hold the road as well as a multilink independent suspension. As such, the base Taos definitely exhibited more head-tossing motions over uneven ground, where both all-wheel-drive models felt stable and even-keeled. However, on anything but the worst road surfaces, even the base VW crossover boasts a decidedly Teutonic blend of a smooth ride and firm handling, and all-wheel drive makes things even better.
Speaking of that nicer multilink rear, the all-wheel-drive examples I drove felt different from each other in spite of identical hardware. That’s because they come from two distinct development ideals. The gray Taos is buttoned down with a firmer ride and less body roll, with the red one pictured here offering much smoother comportment over rough roads. VW says the red one is closer to production, and that’s okay by me, since most small-crossover shoppers will appreciate its lovely ride and still-better-than-average handling. The firmer suspension does prime the mind for a Taos GTI with a manual transmission, though.
Don’t Call It A Comeback
For the past few years, VW has struggled a little bit to maintain its German-engineered image while also cutting costs and increasing profitability in the North American market. Cheapened interiors for US cars were one symptom of that balancing act, but Vee-Dub’s cars of the last few years also seemed to lose the miniature-Audi ride and handling balance they enjoyed at the turn of the 21st century.
While I can’t speak much to the former since these three examples wore pre-production interior trim and materials, on the subject of the latter, the 2022 Volkswagen Taos feels very much like its sterling great-grandparents. While I’d probably go for the all-wheel-drive model’s more sophisticated suspension and DSG transmission, the front-driver will also be pleasant and enjoyable on the roundabout rallies and stoplight grands prix that make up a daily commute. Combined with the hotly anticipated eighth-generation GTI, the 2022 VW Taos seems ready to bring more Autobahn back to the company’s showrooms, and I’m glad to see it.
Gallery: 2022 Volkswagen Taos Handling Test Drive
2022 Volkswagen Taos (Pre-Production)