Verdict

8.9 / 10

By all accounts, we should hate the Volkswagen Taos. But not because it's bad or incompetent or unlikable – it's the opposite of all of those things. Taking a page from the Tiguan's book, the Taos offers a new segment of consumers European style and driving dynamics in a crossover form factor and at a reasonable price. But still, the Taos should earn our ire for taking the place of the Golf, arguably the most honest and likable compact hatchback to ever grace US shores.

That the Taos' introduction coincides with the end of the Golf's reign as Volkswagen of America's smallest product is hardly the crossover's fault, though. The Taos is a more-than-adequate replacement for VW's compact hatch, capturing much of its likable, refined-for-its-class driving character while retaining most of the tossability that made the Golf a long-running favorite.

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2022 Volkswagen Taos rear quarter

Right-Sized, Right Attitude

The Taos' exterior is a tidy balance of the current Tiguan mixed with the more rounded styling of the ID.4 electric crossover. The fascia adopts squarish headlights and Volkswagen's latest grille, which high-end models, like our all-wheel-drive SEL tester, highlight with an LED strip. The back is attractive, but simple, drawing heavier inspiration from the Tiguan, and we dig the little "TAOS" wordmark under the license plate cutout. Finished in VW's classic Cornflower Blue, our tester is a handsome thing, hiding a surprising amount of car in a tidy, crossover footprint.

At 175.8 inches long and riding on a 105.9-inch wheelbase, the Taos isn't a dramatic increase in size over the outgoing Golf. In fact, it sits neatly between the 167.6-inch five-door hatchback and the 185.1-inch Tiguan, with a wheelbase that’s just 2.1 inches longer than its spiritual predecessor. This neat balance between compact crossover and compact hatchback gives the Taos a best-of-both-worlds feel.

On the road, the Taos is easy to place in a lane, but it doesn't feel frighteningly small when driving alongside a 1-ton pickup truck. If your immediate reaction to a Golf is that it's a little too petite or low to the ground, the Taos assuages your concerns without forcing you into an oversized product. That the Taos is more like a Golf to throw around doesn't hurt either.

2022 Volkswagen Taos front quarter
2022 Volkswagen Taos front quarter action
2022 Volkswagen Taos rear quarter action

On the twisting country roads outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Taos managed well. The steering, particularly in Sport, is tight and direct. As we covered in our prototype drive from April, the driven wheels dictate the rear suspension setup. Front-drive models use a torsion beam rear end, while the Taos 4Motion benefits from a more advanced multi-link setup – we tested both, and while the front-driver was inoffensive, the all-wheel-drive model proved more enjoyable in the bends. The Mazda CX-30 is the only vehicle in the class that might outcorner this VW, which keeps a tight rein on body motions and is eager to change direction.

The CX-30 seems like an obvious rival beyond handling. It's the only car in the segment that surpasses the VW’s attractive and stylish interior. It's not so much that the company reinvented the wheel in styling this cabin, but that the German brand made a few simple decisions to craft an interior that looks and feels more premium.

The Taos' exterior is a tidy balance of the current Tiguan mixed with the more rounded styling of the ID.4 electric crossover.

There's a good mix of colors, with our tester matching up the black plastic and leather with dark brown patches of hide (the base model uses cloth while the mid-range SE is a cloth/leatherette mix). Across the dash is a solid-feeling flash of dark gray plastic trim. It's not a particularly attractive element, but it divides up the upper and lower portions of the dash well enough. Where the Taos falls short is in the quality of its materials, though. The dash and door uppers are hard and scratchy to the touch, and while the interior felt screwed together well enough, these elements detracted from the attractive mix of colors, the quality leather, and the typically hefty Volkswagen switchgear.

Punchy Powertrain, Unlikable Transmission

Every Taos uses a turbocharged 1.5-liter engine that will eventually supplant the turbocharged 1.4-liter unit currently sold in the Jetta. Paired up with an eight-speed automatic (in front-drivers) or a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (for all-wheel-drive), we'd hoped the Taos' new powertrain would have better manners than the unit we tested in the Jetta last year. Alas, that's not the case.

Dynamically, the 1.5 is a potent thing, with 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. These are adequate numbers for a vehicle that weighs between 3,200 and 3,400 pounds – the Taos accelerates with verve, and the two-wheel-drive model will even bake its front tires if you get too antsy with the gas pedal. Low-end punch is strong and even at higher engine speeds, the 1.5-liter does well.

Gallery: 2022 Volkswagen Taos

If you're waiting for a but, there happens to be two of them. First, this engine is neither especially quiet nor all that easy on the ears. Wind it out past the 5,500-rpm horsepower peak and the volume grows to an unacceptable level, while there's a constant buzziness north of 4,000 rpm while under load. VW has gone to some lengths to make the Taos feel more premium than most small crossovers, but it could have gone further in damping the engine's clatter.

And like last year's Jetta, both the eight-speed auto and seven-speed DSG showed an unwillingness to engage off the line. Too often, we'd ask the car to accelerate, get no reaction, apply more throttle, and then surge ahead with more acceleration than intended. It's an annoying flaw, especially as both gearboxes perform well once rolling. The DSG, in particular, is a snappy performer in both Comfort and Sport driving modes, while the eight-speed is impressively smooth and intelligent about its gear selection.

The Right Approach To Tech

Every Taos is available with a comprehensive suite of active safety, and it's not terribly expensive. Prices start at $995 for the so-called IQ Drive suite on the Taos S and $895 on the Taos SE, while it's standard on the range-topping SEL. Our main problem with this approach comes on the base model, where Volkswagen partitions forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking into the option group. Considering AEB's proven record of preventing accidents, making it optional feels like a somewhat irresponsible decision, especially since it’s standard on many other cars in this class.

Aside from that, though, the IQ Drive suite is damned impressive. Offering full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and Travel Assist (which VW describes as "partially-automated hands-on driving") on a $24,000 vehicle is both bold and encouraging. In addition to that gear, IQ Drive adds blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, Emergency Assist, which can contact first responders in the event of an accident, and a Convenience pack that includes automatic high beams, a heated steering wheel, and rain-sensing wipers.

The main tech suite is solid, too. Base models will use a 6.5-inch touchscreen that wasn't available for us to test, although the 8.0-inch touchscreen in our SEL model does its work well. This system runs the same MIB3 infotainment system as the Tiguan we tested earlier this year and it’s easy to learn, quick to respond, and okay to look at. Every model comes with Volkswagen Digital Cockpit, too, although you'll have to settle for an 8.0-inch cluster in the Taos S and SE – the 10.3-inch display is standard on the SEL.

2022 Volkswagen Taos steering wheel
2022 Volkswagen Taos rear seats

Rounding out the good news is the pricing argument. VW is asking $24,190 (including $1,195 destination charge) for the base Taos S, $28,440 for the SE, and $32,685 for the SEL. All-wheel drive adds $2,045 to the base car, $1,450 to the SE, and $1,555 to the top-end car, while other optional extras are few and far between. Beyond the IQ Drive packages, the only other options are a $1,200 panoramic sunroof for SE and SEL models and gloss black 18-inch wheels on the SE ($395). Fully loaded, the Taos is available for just a hair over $35,000.

Is that a good deal? To be honest, range-topping examples of small vehicles like the Taos are almost never worthwhile – a Tiguan SEL starts around $33,000, for example. But at the lower end of the scale, this vehicle is worth considering, even though its $24,000 price tag is a good bit higher $21,685 Hyundai Kona, the $22,770 Toyota C-HR, the $22,395 Honda HR-V, and the $22,225 Mazda CX-30. It has a better cabin than all but the Mazda, and while the Toyota offers all its active safety gear as standard, the Taos' Travel Assist is better at easing the strain of highway driving. Simply put, you pay more, but you'll get more too.

We're going to miss the Golf for its honesty and fun-to-drive character. But at $24,990 for an auto-equipped example, the old hatchback is about the same price as a base, front-drive Taos with the IQ Drive pack. That means VW is selling a smarter, roomier, safer vehicle that looks and feels more fashionable for about the same amount of coin. We may be loath to accept another crossover on the market, but as a means of filling the Golf's shoes, VW delivered a car that ticks all the right boxes and then some.

Competitor Reviews:

Chevrolet Trailblazer: 7.6/10
Ford EcoSport: Not Rated
Honda HR-V: Not Rated
Hyundai Kona: Not Rated
Kia Seltos: 8.1/10
Mazda CX-30: 7.9/10
Nissan Kicks: 8.7/10
Subaru Crosstrek: 8.5/10
Toyota C-HR: Not Rated

2022 Volkswagen Taos SEL 4Motion

Engine Turbocharged 1.5-liter I4
Output 158 Horsepower / 184 Pound-Feet
Transmission 7-Speed Dual-Clutch
Drive Type All-Wheel Drive
Efficiency 25 City / 32 Highway / 28 Combined
Weight 3,430 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 24.9 / 60.2 Cubic Feet
Base Price $31,490
As-Tested Price $34,240
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