Review: 2022 Volkswagen Taos SEL is too much of the same
Priced nearly the same as the marginally larger Tiguan, what's the point of this new crossover?
I don't quite understand the Taos in Volkswagen's model range. And I don't think you can exactly blame me because I can't be the only one in the automotive community who thinks this. VW already has the well-established Tiguan crossover SUV in their lineup, and yet here comes the Taos, a marginally smaller, but all too similarly priced crossover SUV to invade the space of the bigger brother. Huh? Skepticism aside, that shouldn't hold the Taos from being a potentially great new model. Only it just misses.
For those interested in saving money at the pump, you'll be delighted to hear how little fuel the new Taos sips. With a 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the modest Taos drinks regular gasoline to the tune of just 31 MPG overall. On a level highway, that number grows to a terrific 37. Nice. Looking back at my MPG numbers from the Tiguan and its 2.0 engine, 21 MPG was all it could dream to achieve overall and 31 on the highway. So, the Taos represents vast improvements in terms of efficiency. Acceleration from the little motor isn't great on paper, but it's competitive among also-slow rivals at least, with 0-60MPH taking 8.1 seconds in this front-wheel drive model.
For being a 'compact' crossover at 176" long, I found the Toas to be quite a roomy vehicle, with ample space in the front and rear seats, plus a fully usable cargo area when you open the tailgate. The larger Tiguan does have an optional (but tiny) third-row option that's really quite pointless, but otherwise it's not exactly easy to really tell the two apart in terms of interior living space once you're inside.
I also think the Taos looks quite nice; handsome even if it appears dull next to more exuberantly styled rivals from Japan and South Korea. VW has carried on a conservatively understated style brief on all their models and have applied an unmistakably recognizable VW look to an entry-level vehicle that many fans of the brand will appreciate. For those that want some fire to their design, you'd be best looking elsewhere.
Built upon VW's ubiquitous MQB platform that underpins most of Volkswagen's model range, handling was what I have come to expect: rather good. While grip from the easy-going all-season tires is weak, causing tire squeal and asking for forgiveness sooner than expected, the overall balance is commendable. What do I mean by handling balance? Simple - when you going through a corner too quickly and on the gas, the front tires load up and start to push wide. However, when this happens in the Taos, simply lift the throttle off and the fronts regain grip and induces a lovely organic dose of rotation to get you pointing back in the right direction; you're now free to put the power back down and away you go. Lots of good adjustability here as well as playfulness, but the overall limits of adhesion are fairly thin. I also had no complaints towards the ride quality, with the suspension doing well to keep things comfortable.
Unfortunately, there's a bit that I didn't like about the Taos. And this list is in no particular order, mind you. But, first thing that came to mind was the absolutely horrendously annoying gongs and bongs that the Taos makes. Open the door with the car running or when you get in and the warning beep that is made is overkill loud. I looked through menus to see about changing the volume of such a sound and you can't. I've never heard a bong so loud in a car, and it happens all too easily as if to remind people that they're even in a car to being with I guess.
Also, it's too expensive. No, not the base price, which is well below $25,000 - that's all extremely affordable and buys you a lot of car for the money. An SE trim at about $28,000 remains a solid choice, too. However, this top-shelf SEL model nearly crested $34,000. Last year I tested an all-wheel drive Tiguan SEL that range up at only $34,657. Even at the entry position before any options, a Tiguan is still only about $2-3,000 more. So it's not entirely any cheaper than the larger offering. I do think that there should be a larger price difference between the two. So what I think VW has done here is put themselves and customers in a position where they're offering two too similar SUVs that overlap in price.
Along with the price, the interior's quality does hold up in the slightest at the ambitious asking price of $33,885. Below 30-large, it's largely acceptable and very fine on base models, but bloated to this price range, the materials are lacking. I just tested a Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, a car that averaged the same MPG as the Taos, but is larger, only cost a few thousand more and had an interior bordering on luxury in relative comparison. Simply put, there's too much hard plastic and cheap materials everywhere.
I also thought the driver's seat was too flat and forgoes any kind of of support, but still lasted just fine on a 2 hour trip in it in terms of comfort. Door paneling up front had some decent soft padding, but the rear doors were basically all hard plastic. They look the same, but once you touch it, you realize how much cheaper those rear door panels are. This isn't unusual on more affordable cars, but I hadn't noticed as much a stark difference as this.
Moreover, I also found the rear external door handles to be loud and clunky and also experienced issues with the radio. On one drive, the stereo quit altogether and refused to make any sounds regardless whether through AF/FM, satellite radio, bluetooth, and Apple CarPlay. A quick on and off, locking the Taos, and then waiting 30 seconds outside didn't make a difference. Finally, making a several minute stop somewhere resulted in a return to normal. But still, not something you want to have happen in a brand new car. The infotainment/center display could be easier to use as well, with it sometimes lagging, but for the most part, it's a pretty standard affair.
I liked the handling and balance of the Taos, but the steering left me wanting more. The wheel is a comfortable device to hold, but I did find it nervous and too light at times. Small inputs led to abrupt responses at times leading me to think that it would benefit from extra weighting. But, perhaps my biggest issue was with the throttle response and transmission calibrations. Driving on city streets, I had to put real effort into being able to drive the Taos smoothly. Let me explain.
Pulling away from a stop as normal, I always try to smoothly apply the throttle progressively, meaning increase throttle application as you move away. This doesn't jolt you off the line and gets you up to speed with ease. What happens with the Taos is that it decides to (likely in the name of fuel economy) shift into the next gear exceedingly early, which is totally fine with a fairly flexible engine like this. The real problem is that, when it shifts you also need to apply more throttle in order to keep accelerating as the RPMs drop ( also normal), but when you do press your foot ever so farther, the car instead decides the best course of action is to downshift. What? This unwanted behavior causes a jolt and unpleasant surge as it changes down a gear at the same time as you're needing to increase the throttle. If it just held the same gear then there wouldn't be a problem, but it changes gears up so quickly and then is so hasty to then immediately downshift that it can cause annoying driving antics. I learned that to compensate for this that you have to be extremely reluctant to press the gas pedal past a certain point, but this also can feel sluggish. I personally feel I didn't put the pedal near far enough to warrant a downshift as basically no other cars I've recently driven (the exact same and normal way) have shown behavior like this at all.
This Taos and all other front-wheel drive models come with an eight-speed automatic, but all-wheel drive models actually are equipped with a seven-speed dual-clutch 'box. I'd be interested to see if the DSG trans behaves the same way. I also experienced some disconcerting pulsating from the powertrain when accelerating hard up a hill once at 3,000 RPM, right in the meat of the power band.
To sum things up...
I was confused how I felt towards the Taos before my weeklong test, and remain confused afterwards. I think the Taos works, and works quite well, in its cheaper configurations. Because, if you remove many of these options and don't need all-wheel drive (most don't, and VW makes fantastic front-wheel drive cars with almost non-existent torque steer), this is a very competitive and likeable ride for well under 30 grand. As the price creeps past that and all the way to the frightening $33,885 of this tester, it makes little sense. And this isn't even the all-wheel drive model. Want that? Plop down another two grand additionally and then it's really expensive for what it is.
I can't help but think and wonder why VW would go through the effort of releasing an all-new gasoline-powered model in 2021 as well. The ID.4 electric crossover is now already out, but is priced well well above this. To do something truly different for the market, why wouldn't a smaller, affordable EV be released instead? Actually, there is, and it's called the ID.3, except it won't be coming to the USA.
Compared to the Tiguan, I consider the Taos slightly worse in every way besides fuel economy, which was dismal on the too-heavy Tiguan. Though, the fuel economy is dramatically different enough between the two sibling rivals that it will probably be enough to sway most to the new Taos; It's plenty large after all. So what I think needs to happen now is the Tiguan needs a complete rethink to help differentiate itself from the newer and younger sibling in a better way. But still, as it stands now, my real pick of the VW range would be the Golf hatchback, which offers better performance and drives better than either, too.
2022 Volkswagen Taos 1.5T SEL
As-tested price: $33,885
Pros: Affordable entry price; excellent fuel economy
Cons: options are expensive; transmission programming; not worth it at this price
Verdict: Too much overlap in VW's own model range, the Taos works best in its cheapest forms.