2022 Volkswagen Taos First Drive Review: 31 MPG, but Ultimately Not Joyous to Drive
But the price and packaging are stellar.
I'd wager when people think of Volkswagen, they still think of little cars. The Beetle, Golf, and Microbus are all iconic Volkswagens and all petite in stature. Unfortunately, since buyers have overwhelmingly shown they prefer going large over small, this poses a bit of an image problem. True, Volkswagen makes the Atlas and Tiguan SUVs. But to cover all its SUV bases—and somewhat maintain that "little car" idea—it just launched a new compact SUV in the form of the 2022 Volkswagen Taos.
Slotting beneath the larger Tiguan, the Taos will be the entry point into Volkswagen's SUV lineup. It wears the same handsome exterior design language as its larger siblings, but can be had for a few thousand dollars less and returns pretty stellar EPA-estimated gas mileage.
Affordable and efficient cars such as these are what the market needs. Seeing as the average price for a car in 2021 is now $40,857 (barf), any car that prices under that is noteworthy in my book. The trick is seeing if they're also enjoyable to drive at that price.
2022 Volkswagen Taos: By the Numbers
- Base price (as tested): $24,190 ($32,685 FWD; $35,835 AWD)
- Powertrain: 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four | 8-speed automatic/front-wheel drive | 7-speed dual-clutch/all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 158 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm
- Curb weight: 3,175 pounds FWD | 3,430 pounds AWD
- Ground clearance: 6.4 inches FWD | 6.6 inches AWD
- Cargo volume: 27.9 cubic feet FWD | 24.9 cubic feet AWD
- Seating capacity: 5
- EPA fuel economy: 28 mpg city, 36 highway, 31 combined FWD | 25 mpg city, 32 highway, 28 combined AWD
- Quick take: The new Volkswagen Taos has entry-level pricing and great gas mileage, just don't expect an exciting driving experience.
The Taos is an all-new model for the North American market that's sized and priced to compete with the Subaru Crosstrek, Jeep Compass, Hyundai Kona, and Kia Seltos. Only one engine is available: a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that's good for a claimed 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It is styled simply and in a way that will likely age extremely well. Built on Volkswagen's MQB platform, you can either get the Taos in front-wheel drive with an eight-speed automatic, which is standard, or all-wheel drive with a seven-speed dual-clutch, which is an extra $2,045 between the S trim levels, $1,450 between SE trim levels, and $1,555 between SEL trim levels.
Yes, three trims are available: S, SE, and SEL. Your base, front-wheel-drive Taos S model will have 17-inch wheels as standard, LED headlights, a 6.5-inch touchscreent, two USB-C ports, cloth seats, an eight-inch driver information cluster, and a backup camera. From there, your options as you move up trims include 18- or 19-inch wheels, leather or leatherette seat uphostery, privacy glass, a panoramic sunroof, and a 10.25-inch infotainment display.
The Taos is one of those cars you can get used to immediately. The seat height is almost exactly hip-height, which makes getting in and out of it very simple. The driver's seat raises nice and high so you can see over the hood and over-the-shoulder visibility is decent, owing to the fact its greenhouse is more rectangularly shaped. Yes, there's a touchscreen, but below it, the radio and climate controls are still a series of buttons and dials—a huge plus. Overall, the interior layout is neat and clean-cut.
The backseats are roomier than you'd expect, even with the front seats pushed all the way back. There's good headroom as well, since the roof isn't slanted in a silly coupey profile. The trunk is also nicely sized and has a full-sized spare tire beneath the floor. There isn't a power liftgate, though, so you'll have to manually reach out and pull the trunk closed, however.
The first leg of my test drive happened in a front-wheel-drive Taos SEL, painted in a Cornflower Blue exterior shade. Its suspension proved firm but comfortable on the highway. Don't expect magic carpet ride-quality here, but do expect it to communicate what's going on beneath the car's tires. There was some road and wind noise permeating the cabin that might make speaking to backseat passengers difficult. But whatever ambient noises there were were masked by the engine's noisy droning, which was unavoidable.
Uphill acceleration proved a bit of a challenge because while the 158 HP is adequate at merging onto highways, it's not quite enough to catch you up to briskly moving traffic if you happen to slow down. The good news is you can basically floor the Taos everywhere you go as unexpected speed is hardly ever something that'll sneak up on you here.
I didn't love how light the steering stayed throughout the drive, though. It made me feel more detached from the road than I would have preferred. Most modern cars today have light steering at low speeds and build up the wheel's resistance at higher speeds. But in the Taos, it stayed light. The brakes were nice, however. They didn't grab unnaturally hard at the top of the pedal travel so they were easy to modulate.
In front-wheel-drive guise, the Taos returns a very impressive EPA-estimated 28 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg combined.
Compared to the front-wheel-drive Taos, the all-wheel-drive version solved the light-steering issue. The steering was noticeably tighter here and begot a far greater sense of confidence on curvier roads. With all-wheel drive, the Taos is more eager off the line, springing forward with even the lightest touch on the gas pedal.
Putting it in Sport mode allowed me to shift the gears by bumping the gear-selector lever up and down (there are no paddle shifters), but this admittedly got old kind of fast since there wasn't much power on tap to begin with. The transmission also appeared to dislike downshifting when left to its own devices in automatic mode.
The all-wheel-drive Taos' estimated fuel mileage drops a bit to 25 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, and 28 combined. Still, it's not bad.
The best way to describe the way the Taos drives is inoffensive. Everything about it—steering, braking, handling, throttle response—all fall politely in line with what's expected of it. Under the most typical of driving conditions, it is pleasant and won't make any trouble or draw unnecessary attention to itself.
I wanted the front-wheel-drive (i.e. the cheaper) Taos to be more fun, but sadly, it wasn't. If you want more feedback and tactility, you'll have to shell out a bit more for the all-wheel-drive version. Automakers give their cars turbocharged engines to boost power and efficiency; in this case, it seems like the turbocharger was added purely for efficiency purposes.
But for most of the driving that happens on our roads—errand-running, commuting, long-distance stretches, being stuck in traffic—the Taos is more than adequately equipped. It's so easy to drive you could do it with one finger after having not driven a car in 15 years. And its physical climate and volume controls are intuitively laid out so you don't have to navigate through a series of menus just to access them.
The fact that the Taos comes standard with a turbocharged engine is also notable. Among the competitors I listed above, it's the only one to do so. The others either don't offer turbocharged engines at all or do but as an option for additional money. True, the Taos is sit in the middle of the bunch in terms of performance, but its greatest draw are its mileage returns. You just have to be willing to sacrifice punchier throttle response and acceleration.
And despite being classified as a compact SUV, I didn't really think the Taos felt all that compact. It is not merely a taller Golf. It's larger than something like a Mazda CX-30 and it makes use of those bigger dimensions by translating them into usable interior space. With its affordable pricing, generous trunk space, ease of ingress and egress, and eight fun colors available, I can see the Taos being popular with a large number of buyers. Those with leggy teenage children might want to opt for the larger Tiguan, however.
But for everyone else, it makes for the efficient choice.
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