If you’re a fan of Volkswagen hatchbacks, no doubt you’re saddened that Volkswagen is no longer bringing the normally aspirated Golf to the United States; it’s now only available as the pricier, sportier GTI. But that doesn’t mean that VW is abandoning that part of the market. In its place is the new 2022 Volkswagen Taos, which starts at a reasonable $22,995.
But the new Taos isn’t a hot hatch inflated to 150 psi. In fact, it’s not sporting at all. Instead, it’s a wagon-like transportation appliance that competes in an increasingly crowded space against such players as the Chevrolet Trailblazer, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Jeep Compass, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-30 Nissan Kicks and Subaru Crosstrek. But unlike them, it sports handsomely uncluttered, refined styling that’s timeless and gratifyingly mature. It doesn’t look like an escapee from a video game. In fact, it resembles an Atlas Cross Sport that was left in the dryer too long, but that’s not a bad thing.
Open the door and you’ll be surprised by the Taos’ expansive cabin. Full-size Americans can actually inhabit the back seat without complaint — head and leg room are generous. Seating is very comfortable and supportive. Ambience is similar to that of other VW SUVs, being a symphony of stark, hard plastic, albeit well assembled and designed with ergonomic simplicity.
Offered in ascending S, mid-range SE and top-of-the-line SEL trim, the Taos employs the MQB platform that underpins the larger Tiguan.
While you might be tempted by the S trim level’s low base price, it's better to opt for the SE, which adds such niceties as full keyless access, remote start, an eight-way power driver seat with lumbar, heated front seats, heated side mirrors, heated washer nozzles, leatherette-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, and privacy glass.
Lower-priced models come with an 8-inch digital instrument cluster, a 6.5-inch center infotainment touchscreen and two USB ports. Pricier models get a 10.3-inch instrument cluster and an 8-inch infotainment screen, Bluetooth, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and three USB ports. SEL models include navigation and a Beats audio system.
Lift the hood and you’ll be greeted by a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine derived from the unit used in the Jetta, rated at 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel-drive models get an eight-speed automatic transmission while 4Motion all-wheel-drive models come with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission for a sportier feel, along with normal, sport and individual driving modes. But there’s a difference in fuel economy; the front-wheel-drive Taos returns an EPA-estimated 31 mpg in combined city/highway driving, compared to 28 mpg for the 4Motion Taos. The latter costs $5 more per tankful to fill, and costs $150 more annually in fuel costs.
Standard on SEL trim and optional on other models, Volkswagen's IQ.Drive is a semi-automated driver assistance system with forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, lane keeping assist and emergency assist. Opting for this package also gives buyers access to Travel Assist, which enables partially automated hands-on driving up to 95 mph, and is activated by a steering wheel button. We found it to be only marginally useful, as most of these systems are.
Of course, if you loved the Golf’s driving dynamics, you’ll find the Taos to be a different animal. Acceleration is more than sufficient for daily driving duties despite its turbo lag, so planning is called for when you need a sudden dose of power — especially off-the-line. However, that’s not unusual for this market segment. While the ride possesses the compliance you expect of a crossover, the worst bumps and road abrasions pound through. Cornering brings out body lean, unexpected given its relatively firm ride. While there’s nothing wrong with the Taos’ overall behavior, it feels fairly vanilla for a Volkswagen. Why not endow it with more of the European style flavor buyers might be expecting? Of course, the same could be said of all of the vehicles Volkswagen makes for America.
Still, the 2022 Volkswagen Taos’ low price, spacious cabin and reasonable fuel economy make it well worth considering. That said, unless you truly need all-wheel drive, opt for the SE with front-wheel drive; most buyers will never truly need the added complexity, weight and poorer fuel economy of the 4Motion model. Besides, adding four-wheel drive in a higher trim level prices this puppy above that of the larger Tiguan, which negates the whole point of buying an entry-level model. Choose your options carefully and you’ll find the Taos to be an accommodatingly efficient crossover — and a very handsome one at that. Just don’t expect the fun driving experience of a GTI.