First drive: 2022 Volkswagen Taos small SUV fits the bill

The new 2022 Volkswagen Taos puts the “good things come in threes” saying to the test, becoming the company’s third compact SUV alongside the Tiguan and the all-electric ID.4. Though the trio might all be in roughly the same class, there’s enough that’s different to give each of them some distinction. The Tiguan’s calling card is its interior space, the ID.4 its electric powertrain and new multimedia. For the Taos, the differences come down to size and price. 

This was my third time driving the Taos, which is two more times than we usually get to test a vehicle before publishing a “first” drive. Tracing the crossover’s development from a powertrain prototype, to handling prototype, to production vehicle has been revealing. For the final version which will reach dealerships in June, some of the Taos’s performance seems to have been tamed but it still presents very solid value and a compact SUV-sized interior in a subcompact’s dimensions. 

2022 Volkswagen Taos

Enough performance to get by

The Taos debuts a 1.5-liter turbo-4 that makes 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque that will eventually replace the 1.4-liter turbo-4 found up and down the Volkswagen lineup. All of the Taos trims come standard with front-wheel drive and an 8-speed automatic transmission, while all-wheel-drive models get a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. When driving the first prototype I noted the Taos’ solid off-the-line acceleration, but in the production model that seems to have been softened, likely in the name of fuel economy. The AWD models pull harder in second and third gear with the dual-clutch transmission, though the FWD setup feels more lively from a stop. Both powertrains do run out of breath on passing maneuvers though; those will have to be set up with some care.

The Taos’s handling has gone more mainstream, too. I tested one AWD prototype with a softer suspension and one with a firmer setup previously and the production model was definitely closer to the softer setup. That does improve ride quality but gives the Taos very noticeable body roll in corners. While I wouldn’t call the Taos fun to drive, it feels competent and that’s about par for the course among these small SUVS. I was thankful for the individual drive mode that allowed me to add steering weight in day-to-day driving while keeping the powertrain in its Normal setting on AWD models. Disappointingly, FWD models don’t get any type of drive mode selector, beyond an “S” setting on the transmission which holds gears longer and shifts later.

Fuel economy ratings come in at an estimated 28 mpg city, 36 highway, 31 combined with FWD and 25/32/28 mpg with AWD. Those figures beat the larger Tiguan by a good margin, it gets only 25 mpg with FWD. The Taos is also on par with other compact and subcompact SUVs, which actually get very similar fuel economy for the most part—both the Honda CR-V and HR-V offer 30 mpg combined with FWD.

2022 Volkswagen Taos

2022 Volkswagen Taos

2022 Volkswagen Taos

Big insides

Though the Taos gives up about four inches of wheelbase and nearly ten inches of overall length to the Tiguan, the passenger area feels shockingly similar. The Taos’s 37.9 inches of rear leg room is actually more than you get in Tiguan models with a third-row seat (36.6 inches) and barely behind the two-row Tiguan (38.7 inches), giving the Taos a truly compact SUV sized interior for a less than compact price. With the available panoramic sunroof ($1,200), the back seat feels even more expansive and the Taos would easily swallow up four adults and their luggage for a weekend trip.

Cargo volume measures 27.9 cubic feet with the seats up and 65.9 cubic feet with them folded for FWD models; those figures drop to 24.9/60.2 cubic feet with AWD.

The Taos is offered in three trim levels, S, SE and SEL and Volkswagen had both SE and SEL versions on-hand for testing. The SE introduces a new CloudTex upholstery, another variety of synthetic leather but in this case meant to feel like Alcantara. It makes up the middle of the seats with cloth around the edges and I found it to be an improvement on Volkswagen’s other synthetic leather. It seemed to breathe well on a warm day and felt less artificial.

Both of those trim levels offer the larger 8.0-inch touchscreen (a 6.5-inch screen is standard on the S) and come with wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and a wireless charger standard. The big technology differences are the larger 10.3-inch digital cockpit display in the SEL, besting the standard 8.0-inch digital cockpit, and navigation—though having wireless smartphone mirroring mostly mitigates that addition.

2022 Volkswagen Taos

Excellent value

The Taos does have a few pricing quirks and buyers of the base model need to watch out for a lack of standard safety features, but the SE in particular represents very solid value. It starts at $28,440 with FWD and comes along with the desirable wireless phone features and the larger touchscreen. Blind-spot monitors and automatic forward emergency braking are standard, making the safety package less of a must-have addition than it is on the S. For $895, it adds adaptive cruise control and active lane control (among other small features) into the mix. 

As good as the larger display is (and I do like it a lot) in the SEL, it’s not really enough incentive to make the large $4,245 jump in price up from the SE unless you consider leather and a better audio system to be necessities. 

One thing to watch out for, adding AWD does cost a different amount for each trim level. AWD by itself costs $1,450 but on the S and SEL it is packaged with other options. On the S, it comes with an all-weather package that adds heated front seats, heated washer nozzles, and heated side mirrors making it $2,045 in total (this package is standard on other trim levels, with or without AWD). Making the jump in the SEL will cost $1,555 as AWD adds cooled front seats, which are unavailable on FWD models.

Whether Volkswagen needed another compact SUV is a matter of debate, but the Taos is a very solid entrant. For those who live in more urban environments, its smaller form factor will make it easier to park and navigate in the city than the jumbo Tiguan. The fact that it does this while still offering impressive interior space and better value than its big brother is doubly impressive. 

VW brought us to Malibu—not Taos—for this final installment of the 2022 Taos “first drive” experience.

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