Review: The 2022 Volkswagen Taos Turns German Brand Away From Hatchbacks Towards A Crossover SUV Future
Would it surprise you to know that between 2012 and 2020, Volkswagen turned no profit in America? Despite building one of the best and most popular compact hatchbacks on the market in the Golf— greater numbers of buyers turned away from cars towards SUVs of all sizes and descriptions, and VW struggled to come up with a unified crossover strategy. This was especially true when it came to attracting the entry-level buyers who had once flocked to its fantastic hatch.
That all changes for 2022. Gone is the Golf, banished back to Europe with only the high-performance GTI and Golf R models making the trek across the Atlantic. In its place is a brand-new sport-utility vehicle, the Volkswagen Taos, which occupies a similarly-sized spot in the driveway as the departed hatchback, only with the promise of a taller ride height, all-wheel drive, and a roomier interior. How well does the Taos slide into the Golf's old shoes as the smiling face of affordable practicality on the Volkswagen lot? The answer depends entirely on how much emotional investment you had in what the classic hatch had to offer from behind the wheel.
Design By Committee
Much like Volkswagen's two other SUVs—the compact Tiguan and mid-size Atlas—the design of the subcompact Taos follows a playbook established by the market, rather than any internal corporate compass.
This is both good and bad. On the positive side, it means that the Taos is a good match for other small crossovers, due in part to pushing its perimeter out past the usual crop of subcompact choices with up to 66 cubic feet of total cargo space available. Of that, 25 cubes are found between the rear seat and the liftgate, with three extra cubic feet on hand for front-wheel drive models. Those numbers are more in line with models like the larger Subaru Forester than its erstwhile rivals the Subaru Crosstrek and the Jeep Compass (each of which check in with 10 cubic feet less capacity). It's also more generous than the previous-generation Golf for each respective measure (although only marginally with back row locked into position).
The rear seat of the Taos is also, in a word, enormous. There's a surprising amount of space to be had for those riding behind the driver and front passenger in the Volkswagen, and again the SUV blows past many similarly-priced crossovers (and of course, the more modest Golf).
Paying attention to what the rest of the class has been up to delivers dividends for the Taos when it comes to practicality, especially for families seeking an easy entry for installing a child seat or hauling oversized outdoor gear.
Try to pick the Taos out of a crowded parking lot filled with its brethren, though, and it's easy to see the flip-side of the decision to focus on external criteria rather than a strong brand design brief. Unlike the Golf, Volkswagen's smallest SUV has no visual personality of its own, representing yet another well-intentioned, yet semi-anonymous collection of curves. Inside it's a similar story, with a familiar and functional interior that breaks no new ground for the automaker (but does feature an infotainment system that is leaps and bounds ahead of the clunky current-generation VW GTI unit).
Not many expect their crossover to also be a style maven, but unfortunately the Taos' anonymity stretches to its driving experience. The vehicle is outfitted with a 1.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that's good for 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, numbers that are adequate, if unexciting. Where things start to get a little weird is the split between front-wheel and all-wheel drive versions of the Volkswagen.
I've already noted that AWD editions lose a slice of cargo space, due largely to the inclusion of a multi-link rear suspension setup denied to torsion bar-equipped FWD models. There's also a transmission difference to take note of here: AWD benefits from a 7-speed, dual-clutch unit while FWD sticks with a traditional 8-speed autobox. Fuel mileage for the thirstiest Taos model checks in at 28-mpg combined.
Not having sampled the front-wheel drive Taos I can't speak specifically as to how it handles with its less sophisticated chassis. If it's any worse than the multi-link AWD design, however, I'd be concerned. The all-wheel drive Taos I drove frequently bounced and boomed its way over rough pavement, making it noticeably less smooth than many other small crossovers in its class. I was quite surprised by the noise and lack of composure presented by the Taos, and it’s the vehicle's on-road demeanor that most truly separates it from the Golf it essentially replaces. While even pedestrian versions of the Volkswagens felt buttoned-down to drive, the Taos provides no such assurances, further pushing it away from VW's once-deserved reputation for building small vehicles that punched above their weight.
Sell Or Soul
Strictly by the numbers, the 2022 Volkswagen Taos measures up. Starting at just over $24,000, it's bigger and more practical than the Golf it replaces without asking loyal VW customers to pay a premium for their upgrade. It also comes with the bonus of optional AWD (for an extra charge, of course), something that the Golf only made available with the range-topping R performance model.
That being said, in terms of delivering a similarly satisfying drive the Taos is a little less successful. Somewhat uncertain when the going gets rough, noisier than expected, and featuring a cabin that feels average at best even in higher-trim editions costing over $30k, Volkswagen hasn't done much to inject any of its special sauce into the Taos' stew.
For most sport-utility shoppers, particularly at the affordable end of the spectrum, those missing details won't matter much. Still, in a sea of small SUV contenders, Volkswagen could have given its hauler a little of the late hatchback's soul. Instead, those looking for a legitimate Golf replacement will have to turn elsewhere, as the Taos can't quite claim to be a spiritual successor.