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2022 Volkswagen Taos First Drive | Back where we started, but better



Volkswagen supersized the Tiguan a few years ago for the U.S. market, removing it from the strange, middle ground it inhabited previously. It was too small to compete with bigger compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, and the craze for smaller-size crossovers hadn’t really taken off yet. VW remedied the problem by making the Tiguan gigantic, going so far as to wedge in an optional third row that its main competition doesn’t even bother with.

Making the Tiguan so large left VW with a big hole in its lineup and no answer to the fast-growing segment of subcompact crossovers. Enter the 2022 Volkswagen Taos. The Taos is only 1.3 inches longer and 1.3 inches wider than the original Tiguan that VW strayed so far away from in 2018. And once again, it sits in a space with very little company — the Taos is smaller than most compact crossovers and bigger than most subcompacts. That begs the question: Did VW just end up right back where it started?

In a way, yes. And in another way, no. The old Tiguan was designed for Europe. It prioritized sporty dynamics, didn’t play up the rugged adventure angle, and the interior packaging failed to produce enough space for American tastes. These issues are all addressed with the more America-centric Taos. So, while on the spec sheet it may look as if VW just created the Original Tiguan 2.0, the Taos makes sure to avoid the past model’s mistakes.

The new Taos starts as nearly every other Volkswagen product starts these days, with the MQB platform. The 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is a revised version of the Jetta’s engine and makes 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. Not only is it more powerful than the Jetta’s engine, but VW modified it to run the Miller cycle, making it more efficient, too. Other changes include a new turbocharger with variable turbine geometry (accounting for the extra power), a higher-pressure injection system and a new cooling system that warms the engine to operating temperatures quicker. The Taos maxes out at 31 miles per gallon combined when paired with front-wheel drive, which is only 2 mpg worse than the lighter and more aerodynamic Jetta (with an automatic). You take a significant hit at just 28 mpg combined opting for all-wheel drive, but there are several other pluses beyond just power to all four wheels you get when upgrading to AWD.

The eight-speed traditional torque-converter transmission in the front-drive Taos is swapped for VW’s seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic with AWD. Plus, the front-driver’s torsion-beam rear suspension is replaced with a multi-link setup. You also gain selectable drive modes in the all-wheel-drive Taos. The choices include: Normal, Sport, Eco, Individual, Snow, Offroad and Custom Offroad. It’s a fairly basic off-road mode — it relaxes throttle sensitivity and upshifts earlier, but also allows manual control of the transmission if you want it. Hill descent control is automatically activated on gradients greater than 10%, and it relaxes the stability-control system, too. The Taos isn’t designed to be a great off-road companion, but at least the electronics will be on your side should you choose to go where most won’t with it.

One downside to adding all-wheel drive is slightly reduced cargo capacity. You lose three cubes off the front-drive Taos’ generous 27.9 cubic feet of space behind the second row due to a higher load floor, though the difference is likely negligible when it comes to real-world luggage packing. Even so, the Taos offers more cargo space than the old Tiguan. It also has a significantly larger back seat with 37.9 inches of rear legroom. Sitting in the back of the Taos is nearly akin to being in the back seat of a CR-V or RAV4. It’s freakin’ huge for such a small car, and it’s easy getting in and out, too. Just like that, consider the original Tiguan’s flaws addressed.

The rest of the interior is mostly standard, conservative Volkswagen. We say mostly, because VW tried to make this crossover a touch quirky. The intrigue is in the SE’s “CloudTex” cloth seats that have a Volvo-esque look to them with patterning and multiple colors. They’re far more interesting than the SEL’s leather seats. You’ll also find greater use of glossy plastic trim in the Taos versus other VW products, which is comparable to what other brands are doing, but it doesn’t look or feel luxurious here. Most of the controls and buttons are all old VW gear, unlike the new Tiguan’s haptic-touch and touch-slider–festooned center stack and steering wheel. The Taos is built to be a budget crossover, though, so it can’t have every new goodie in VW’s grab bag.

Volkswagen would rather throw us a bone in the form of the standard Digital Cockpit, which consists of an 8-inch digital instrument cluster. A configurable 10.25-inch screen comes on the SEL. The base Taos also comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment that runs Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while the two more premium trims upgrade you to an 8-inch touch display with wireless CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. You’ll also get wireless charging with this unit, and the SEL adds navigation.

The vital tech needed to compete in this cutthroat segment is there, but VW promised us that the Taos would also feature the usual fun-to-drive quotient we’re accustomed to with other small MQB-based Volkswagens. If you are looking for a semi-fun (or simply less dreary) experience, then you’ll need to make a beeline for the all-wheel-drive model. It’s less about having additional traction and more about being able to slot it into a Sport drive mode that makes the AWD version better.

The steering in the front-drive Taos is laughably light, and the throttle tuning is far too sensitive in what is seemingly an effort to make the Taos feel quicker than it actually is around town. Even in the AWD model’s Normal mode, the steering and throttle tuning are dialed in far better. Stick it into Sport, and the steering weights up properly in corners, offering an improved and more natural handling experience than the front-drive model. There’s still plenty of body roll, as VW’s tuning erred on the side of comfort over performance — but that’s likely a wise choice, considering that few owners will actually explore this vehicle’s handling capabilities.

We could hardly sense a difference between the torsion beam and multi-link rear suspension when it came to ride quality and performance in most situations. The AWD multi-link-equipped Taos felt more composed over rapidly-changing, undulating surfaces, but you’ll be hard-pressed to notice the differences. Both versions ride comfortably and filter out potholes sufficiently on our pockmarked roads here in Michigan. VW says its North American division did the final tuning for the Taos, so it’s designed for our roads, not Europe’s comparatively glass-smooth tarmac.

If you were excited about the DSG, we’re sorry to disappoint you, because it’s not particularly special in the Taos. There are no paddles to shift yourself, and even if you do try to control shift points with the gear lever’s +/- slapstick functionality, the transmission auto upshifts far before redline and won’t execute downshifts if the revs will go much higher than 3,500 rpm. When left to its devices (as it should be), the DSG will shift smoothly and imperceptibly around town like the traditional eight-speed does. When you do get after it, upshifts are met with a bit more verve and quickness than the torque converter. That said, you won’t want to stay in it for too long listening to the meh engine and exhaust note. We’d wager the 0-60 run is somewhere in the 8-second range, making it quick enough to keep up with the competitors, but no better.

Think of the Taos as a very regular-driving crossover that is more fun than some others like the Jeep Compass or Chevrolet Trailblazer. It’s competent, but won’t raise any pulses, sort of like the Kia Seltos SX Turbo. That could change in the future, as VW teased us by mentioning it’s had talks about doing a “GTI” version with more power and an upgraded suspension, but that’s only a dream for now.

Folks in this class are rightfully more concerned with tech features and driver-assistance systems, of which this car has some good ones. Option the IQ.DRIVE package on S or SE models (it’s standard on the SEL), and you get VW’s full suite of driver assistance systems that includes desirables such as adaptive cruise control (with stop-and-go functionality) and Travel Assist, which is VW’s highest level of lane-centering on offer. It’s rather capable at keeping the car centered in lanes on the highway, but is still a completely hands-on system.

Finding the direct competitors for the Taos is a weirdly difficult task in our bloated crossover market. It’s more expensive than virtually all of the subcompacts, but priced in line with or cheaper than the compact crossovers at $24,190 to start. Fully loading up an SEL model puts the sticker at $35,440, which is starting to feel rather steep when you can get a well-equipped Tiguan (with more power and space) for less. If you don’t need the space, though, the Taos offers spunkier styling and much better fuel economy than a Tiguan. It’s also more engaging to drive than most small crossovers. The original Tiguan-sized hole in VW’s lineup is finally filled, and more effectively this time.

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