A spacious subcompact
THE GOOD
  • Ample interior space
  • Surefooted AWD system
  • Handsome styling inside and out
THE BAD
  • Needs a few more horsepower
  • Transmission can be caught flat-footed
  • Pronouncing its name for curious neighbours

There’s no shortage of entrants in the all-wheel-drive subcompact crossover segment, which means every automaker wants a place at the table.

The 2022 Volkswagen Taos does exactly that for the brand, slotting in beneath the Tiguan in terms of size and price. It’s substantially shorter than its big brother, but that exterior difference doesn’t necessarily translate into less passenger space.

Power: 6/10

Achtung, Wolfsburg! Surely you can rummage around the corporate cupboard to find a bit more output. A grand total of 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque isn’t much, especially when some similarly sized turbocharged entries offer more than 200 hp. Perhaps the 2.0L unit from the company’s larger Tiguan could be shoehorned under the bonnet; its extra 30 hp and 40 lb-ft of torque, all of which shows up sooner than the Taos’s 1.5L manages, would be great.

Practicality: 9/10

The cargo area of the Taos is large and devoid of the lumpen shapes that can rudely intrude into the space in order to accommodate the rear suspension and wheels. There’s a handy pass-through in the back bench that can be opened from either the cargo or passenger compartment, and the rear seatbacks easily flop forward without having to remove the headrests or scoot the front seats forward. Unfortunately, towing isn’t recommended with the Taos.

Driving Feel: 7/10

Complaints about the lack of engine output are tempered by the revelation that the Taos offers a selectable sport mode that’s rare and welcome. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission can be caught flat-footed in certain scenarios, such as when slowing (but not completely stopping) for a yield sign before matting the accelerator and merging into traffic. There’s a beat while the transmission selects the proper gear, which isn’t ideal. Other than this very specific situation, it goes quietly about its business and is largely invisible. Front-wheel-drive Taos models are equipped with a traditional eight-speed automatic.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

After covering 415 km in a week’s driving on all-season tires, the Taos consumed 35 L of regular gasoline, which worked out to an average of 8.4 L/100 km. That distance was split roughly even between highway and rural roads. This sum isn’t out of line with the Taos’s official ratings, which are pegged at 8.5 L/100 km combined when equipped with all-wheel drive. Numbers like these place the little VW on par with other vehicles in its segment. With a 50-L fuel tank, expect to get about 600 km per fill-up in mixed driving conditions.

Styling: 9/10

VW has been applying a similar corporate face (and butt) to its crossover lineup, one which incorporates a blunt front grille with an ample amount of brightwork. This top-rung Trendline model incorporates a light strip across its nose, tying together the L-shaped lighting signatures in the headlights. This is a neat visual trick of which I did not tire after catching nighttime glimpses of it in the reflection of a window or passing traffic. Sitting in the school pickup line, another parent remarked that while the Taos was just another two-box SUV sitting in the row, it did have a more expensive look to it than the other machines waiting for ungrateful teenagers wonderful students to emerge from class. That observation is worth noting at this price point.

Comfort: 9/10

Your author is shocked, stunned, amazed, gobsmacked – have I run out of adjectives yet? – that not only can he fit his 6-foot-6 frame and size 13 stocking feet in the rear seat, but he can do so when the driver’s chair is adjusted to his comfort. This is nothing short of remarkable given the external dimensions of the Taos, and a trick not replicated in many of its competitors. Fitting three abreast in the rear seating compartment will be tight, but if that much space is sought you shouldn’t be shopping in this segment in the first place.

The seats are typically German: unyielding but generally comfortable. Your author should note he found a lack of shoulder support, but that issue should not arise for anyone not of NBA stature. Legroom is ample and so is front-seat headroom, even with a sunroof. On paper, the Taos simply compares well with most of its competitors in terms of passenger space; in the real world, it beats them hands-down.

Features: 8/10

An eight-inch infotainment touchscreen is typical for this segment, but in this Highline trim it’s appended with a 10.25-inch reconfigurable digital gauge cluster ahead of the driver. The latter is worth the cash, as it can display an enormous and well-rendered navigation map. Luddites can simply switch to a replica of traditional gauges and tune to Lawrence Welk on the radio. On that note, this trim has an upgraded audio system that belts out tunes with some vigour.

There are ample places front and rear in which to charge a device, plus a sculpted storage area on the dash top that adds visual interest and is a decent place to lodge a couple of items. This top-tier Highline has heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone climate control, plus attractive leather seating surfaces. And, while it may seem like a throwaway feature, the expensive-looking ambient lighting that traces lines along the dashboard and doors is well executed and unobtrusive.

User Friendliness: 8/10

Equipped with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections, the Taos’s infotainment system is simple to use with quick response times. Appealing to drivers with short attention spans (*raises hand*), the audio tuning dial permits station-by-station scrolling of satellite radio and displays what’s playing without having to select the channel. The rotating volume dial has a power icon stamped onto its face which this OCD-riddled author simply must have facing upright at all times lest he descend into a fit of self-induced madness. I left the dial alone and adjusted the system volume with the steering-wheel mounted controls.

Safety: 8/10

The crash test dummies at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) have yet to strap themselves into a 2022 Volkswagen Taos, giving us little to report in terms of its performance in the usual battery of crash tests. When the model is tested, it’ll be chasing the Top Safety Pick+ rating, an honour currently held by the Mazda CX-30 and Volvo XC40, among others in its class. In terms of features, the Highline trim has typical safety kit like adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking plus lane-keeping tools.

Value: 7/10

Spending the better part of $40,000 on a small crossover isn’t your author’s cup of tea, and it should be noted the Taos is generally priced a couple of thousand dollars higher across all its trims when compared to its immediate competition like the Subaru Crosstrek or Kia Seltos. It is, of course, much less expensive than similarly sized offerings from Volvo or corporate cousin Audi. An entry-level Taos with the same all-wheel-drive powertrain and interior space as our tester, stickers at $31,145 before tax but including a non-negotiable freight charge of $1,950.

The Verdict

Given the amount of legroom found in the backseat of the 2022 Volkswagen Taos, combined with an attractive number of standard features and a dose of German good looks, customers shopping for an all-wheel drive vehicle in this segment will find a lot to like in the VW showroom. Making the $4,300 walk to this Highline trim from the mid-range Comfortline is certainly a big jump, but it brings goodies like the upgraded audio system, digital instrument display, and jazzy lighting.

With these lines in the win column, we have no issue declaring the 2022 Taos to be a solid overall package. If VW can round up a few more horses, it’ll be even better.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 1.5L   Model Tested 2022 Volkswagen Taos Highline
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $36,695
Peak Horsepower 158 hp @ 5,500 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 184 lb-ft @ 1,750 rpm   Destination Fee $1,950
Fuel Economy 9.5 / 7.4 / 8.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $40,245
Cargo Space 790 / 1,866 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$1,500 – Advanced Driver Assistance Package, $1,000; 19-inch Alloy Wheel Package, $500