Inexpensive, well sized, and a nice ride.
The Volkswagen Taos entered the market in China as the Tharu in 2018, then made its way to the US with a restyle as a 2022 model. Its US name comes from a small town in New Mexico where John Muir lived and wrote the incredible book How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive; A Manual of Step-By-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot. The Taos is a far cry from the air-cooled Volkswagens of old, though. It's a svelte-looking subcompact crossover powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter turbo gasoline engine, and Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system is available. The Taos's 158 horsepower is unimpressive, but its fuel efficiency makes up for it, as does its standard feature list and low base-model price that puts it up against models like the Honda HR-V. The subcompact crossover market is hard-fought, and Volkswagen aims to get its slice in America. But does it shine through against the competition? If the Taos is to replace the Golf as VW intends, it must.
In line with the rest of Volkswagen's lineup, the Taos doesn't do anything special with its styling but does everything well. As a result, it doesn't stand out in traffic, but it has a sophisticated look courtesy of touches like the wide three-bar grille and a large lower air intake at the front. The LED headlights, daytime running lights, and taillights are standard across all three trim levels (S, SE, and SEL). The Taos measures 175.8 inches long, making it 9.3 inches shorter than the Tiguan, and is 72.5 inches wide.
What's striking in an un-striking way is how well laid out the Taos is inside. It doesn't look anything special, just Volkswagen's usual clean and deceptively simple styling, but after a couple of days living with it, we realized just how easy it is to live with. Everything makes sense, and the infotainment system doesn't suffer the same usability issues as other models. There are 99.5 cubic feet of passenger space, just 1.6 cubic feet short of the two-row Tiguan. That means there's plenty of room up front, including decent elbow space, and just as much for kids to grow into in the back.
The 27.9 cubic feet of space behind the back seats is useful but not best-in-class and shrinks to 24.9 cubic feet in all-wheel-drive equipped models.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and a 6.5-inch infotainment screen is in the base model, while the SE and SEL get a perfectly sized eight-inch display. The Volkswagen Digital Cockpit system is standard and one of the easiest to read on the market as it's uncluttered. An eight-inch unit comes in the base model with a 10.5-inch screen in the two upper trims. The infotainment system is clear, quick, and intuitive to use in the higher trims and has physical knobs for volume and tuning, as the good Lord intended. In the Golf GTI and Golf R, it was a case of trying to be too clever and forgetting the basics. In the Taos, the usability is pitch-perfect. Even the steering wheel controls.
SiriusXM with 360L is available, but the highlight of the upgrades is the Beats Audio system in the SEL. It packs a fully rounded sound from bass to treble with a crisp signature in the mids and highs. Beats Audio is typically pushing decent but overpriced headphones, but it appears the company is making a sound system that should replace Bose as a default for upgraded audio in economy-driven cars and crossovers.
One of the great things about the dearly-departed Golf in the US was its pep. If you're looking for a replacement in the Taos, you'll be disappointed. The 1.5-liter turbocharged makes 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, and it's fine, but if you're a hustler around town, even the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system won't help you off the line or up a freeway ramp because there just isn't enough get up and go to necessitate it in anything but icy conditions. However, it is fine for most people, and the 28/36/31 mpg city/highway/combined gas mileage figures are perfectly efficient and easily achievable. They do change with all-wheel-drive and the seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission equipped. The DSG is fun to play with, but fuel economy drops to 25/32/28 mpg.
While it has effectively captured the same type of buyer, the Taos isn't a strict Golf replacement, and it quickly becomes apparent it's not meant to be, which isn't a bad thing for those looking for a solid, stylish, daily driver for a small family. The ride is nice, it doesn't have the same precision in the steering as the Golf, but it's no slouch for working side streets on a hustle or picking out that parking spot.
It's surprisingly playful on a back road with Sport mode engaged, but bear in mind AWD versions like our tester get a multilink rear suspension setup that keeps the Taos more planted on the road than front-wheel-drive models. Overall, the Taos has a nice balance between comfort and being confident on the road. It's a nice cruiser on a freeway, but the Taos is most at home on suburban streets and around the city.
Where the Taos separates itself from the likes of the Honda HR-V is in how accomplished it is straight out of the gate. Volkswagen's MQB platform is well-rounded, and Volkswagen knows how to make a good car feel effortless. That's how the Taos feels - effortlessly good. However, it takes a lot of design and engineering to get there, and Volkswagen should be proud of the Taos. It's not flashy, and it's not breaking the mold, but it gets everything it needs to be right for the price. It won't compete in numbers with Honda's HR-V or the South Korean sub-compacts, but those in the know wanting a rock-solid performer for years to come will enjoy the Taos.
The price is important in summing up the Taos, and its entry point of $24,155 at the time of writing is par for the course. The Goldilocks trim is the SE with additions like 18-inch wheels, wireless phone charging, and remote start comes in at $28,925. For the loaded SEL, you'll be parting with $34,535. We just wish Volkswagen would offer the Beats Audio system as an option on the SEL to make it the killer choice for a young family.