Taos theory. With an SUV range that already features the Atlas, Tiguan, and ID.4, it’s hard to see where Volkswagen’s Taos fits in. In price, it roughly mirrors the bigger Tiguan, but in size, it’s closer to the ID.4, albeit lacking the latter’s electrification. The theory is presumably that people might buy a Taos over a Golf, though it’s impossible to imagine the Taos going on the sort of 38-year sales run its hatchback sibling has achieved.
What we have here, then, is a car without much focus. And it shows. The design is a cookie-cutter VW SUV, both inside and out. In some respects, that’s a positive – there’s plenty of space inside, and the styling is mildly handsome in a Honey-I-Shrunk-The-Tiguan way. Yet it’s also a negative – this car does nothing especially well, and it falls short in a few key areas.
Notable shortcomings. SUVs are synonymous with safety, so it’s disappointing that the Taos doesn’t match today’s industry standards. It received a rare four-star NHTSA score, and the IIHS even gave it an “acceptable” score on one of its tests, which is the definition of damning with faint praise. It’s worth noting the 2023 Taos now has automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alerts, while SE models receive adaptive cruise for the first time.
Despite only being launched in 2020, Taos’s infotainment system is also behind the times. Entry-level S models have a 6.5-inch touchscreen surrounded by swathes of black plastic, though it does have smartphone mirroring. SE models benefit from an eight-inch screen, though even this is hardly impressive when rivals offer far bigger displays. It’s hard to escape the sense that the Taos has been built down to a budget, though this can be partially rectified on S models with a $995 options pack combining adaptive cruise, a heated steering wheel, and synthetic leather seating. Throw in SEL’s Beats audio system and leather seating, and the Taos costs over $35,000, which seems unduly expensive.
Modest performance. Like its specifications, the Taos’s performance is satisfactory rather than impressive. A 1.5-liter turbocharged gas engine is mated with an eight-speed automatic in front-drive models, with a seven-speed dual-clutch box in AWD models. The latter offer superior ride and handling thanks to more sophisticated suspension, while performance is good enough as long as you’re not attempting a tight overtaking maneuver. Don’t expect to have much fun when the straights run out, either – the steering is artificial and requires constant corrections at higher speeds, though it’s nimble enough around town.
The fuel economy is good without being exceptional. You get combined figures of 28 MPG from AWD models, rising to 31 in FWD guise. In terms of long-term savings, VW’s four-year/50,000-mile warranty deserves note, especially since two years of free maintenance is included.
A comfortable companion. Handling may not be worth writing home about, but the ride is one area where the small VW performs well. In many respects, it’s a nicer vehicle to sit in than to drive. Rear seat passengers in particular benefit from almost 38 inches of legroom, and the view through the rear side windows is fine even for small children, unlike more stylish competitors. You can fit three back here, but two will be able to luxuriate. Oddly (and unusually), the front seats in S models are less supportive than those in the back, but SE and above receive front power adjustment, which helps. Materials aren’t always the best, but the build quality is hard to fault and the chunky climate dials are reassuring to use. Contrasting seat/dash/door panels help to relieve the sea-of-grey cabin aesthetic, and they’re highly recommended for this reason.
The Taos’s trunk offers 28 cubic feet of capacity, expanding to around 66 with the seatbacks down. AWD models lose a little bit of storage due to their revised suspension, but they’re still spacious and practical.
Final thoughts. The Taos isn’t a bad car in any respect, nor is it an impressive one. In terms of safety, performance, and (in S guise) infotainment, it’s a long way off the pace. Higher trims address some of these concerns but not all of them, and the value benefit of a relatively cheap SUV is lost. If you’ve got $35,000 to spend on a Taos SEL, why not buy a Tiguan SE and own a bigger, better vehicle with a couple of grand left in the bank?
Ultimately, its siblings are Taos’s downfall. The Golf is far more rewarding to drive, the Tiguan offers more space for broadly similar money, and the ID.4 showcases an electric future while the Taos isn’t even a mild hybrid. We simply can’t think of a situation where the Taos would be the best VW to park on your drive. For that reason, it’s best avoided.
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