Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Volkswagen Taos

Brand new Volkswagen Taos is a mostly great little SUV

By Jim Bray
December 17, 2021

Volkswagen has a solution for any consumers who may think the Tiguan has gotten too big for its britches. It's the Taos, a new and smaller "SUVW" that's poised to go head-to-head with such competitors as the Honda HR-V, Toyota CH-R, etc.

It's really nice, too, though that doesn't surprise me because I happen to love Volkswagen products for the most part. This is the first VW I've had a chance to review since the current Jetta was new, about three and a half years ago, and I'd heard rumours that the company may have done some really dumb things in the meantime, like removing the tuning knob from the centre stack's audio system controls – following the lead of Honda, who did that stupid deed several years ago.

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The good news is that this is a new but "classically Volkswagen" Volkswagen and, as someone who nearly bought a used Tiguan a few years ago and who drives a different Volkswagen Auto Group vehicle to this day, I think it's a winner. And, yes, I would buy one. I'd prefer a wagon, but they're getting hard to find these days and, really, the Taos is kind of like a tall wagon. Not as much as Mazda's CX-30 is, but it's still pretty good.

Except – well, the darn German company DID remove the tuning knob, even though when you first check out the dashboard it looks as if it's still there. I don't like that, but I can live with how they've done it – and will opine more about this later when I rant about the interior.

The Taos differs from the Tiguan in many ways, but one big one is that its engine is smaller – and another one is that you can't get a third row of seats for the Taos. Neither of these are necessarily big deals, depending upon your needs and wants. 

Taoses are available in Canada in three trim levels. From the bottom, you get the Trendline version, which starts at $26,695 CAD for front-wheel drive. Add VW's 4MOTION all-wheel drive and the price rises to $32,835.60. This is the one you'll probably want. Unless you want more stuff. Oddly, while both versions have the same engine, the all-wheel drive one loses one gear from its transmission, though it's also a peach of a dual clutch unit, unlike the front-drive version's more conventional, eight speed tranny.

Power in the all-wheel drive versions goes to the front wheels under normal conditions (as it does with nearly every other so-called mainstream "cute ute" you can buy) but 50 per cent of the oomph can be sent to the rears when required. There are also selectable drive modes for snow, sportiness, etc. 

VW says the Taos' 1.5 litre turbo four engine puts out 158 horses. That may seem anemic in an era in which you can get 1000 horses or more, but I remember only a few decades ago I had a straight six-engined sports coupe (not VW) that was a darn fast car and it was rated at a mere 150 horses. So, everything's relative.

What isn't as nice is the turbo lag, which makes the Taos seem more leisurely in its acceleration than it could be otherwise. It reminded me of the Subaru Outback Wilderness I'd reviewed a few weeks previously, except it isn't as noticeable. Here, there's a definite pause between the time you step on the gas pedal and when the power spools up, but it never made me nervous that the 184 lb-ft of torque (available at 1750 rpm) was never going to s how up. You just have to take it into account as you drive.

Next up from Trendline is the Comfortline trim level (starting at $32,395) and all-wheel drive is standard here – as, of course, it is on the top Highline version (starting at $36,695). VW's sample was the latter one, and it also had the optional 19-inch wheels and advanced drivers' assistance package ($1500 for both).

The basic package is just fine, riding as it does on MacPherson strut-type with lower control arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers and an anti roll bar up front and a Torsion beam rear axle, with coil springs and telescopic dampers. Handling is about as catlike as you can expect from a vehicle such as this: it drives like a VW should, rewarding spirited driving or just tooling along, purring happily, whenever you want it to.

The steering feels great and the overall feel of the vehicle from behind the wheel is of lightness and balance. Brakes are also just fine, with good feel and stopping power.  In all, it's a very nice vehicle to drive.

You can't get a powered passenger seat up front, but the higher trim level does give you one for the driver, which is nice. My sample didn't have seat memory, which I missed but can live without since power adjustment makes it easy to find the perfect spot, anyway.

The seven-speed dual clutch transmission may be sourced from Porsche's PDK, which is the finest automatic I've driven. Shifts are nearly perfect and lightning quick – and there's a good manual mode you can access from the stick on the centre console. No paddles are offered, though, and I think this is a big oversight - since paddles can let you keep your hands on the steering wheel, where they belong.

Other nice features of the Highline version include wireless charging and smartphone connectivity, heated seats, blind-spot monitoring, a really nifty (though not as nifty as some) configurable digital instrument cluster (it's basically a big LCD screen you can tweak yourself to a certain extent). You also get a very good Beats Audio sound system (Beats not having one, eh?), navigation, adaptive LED headlights, panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming mirror, ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, and rain-sensing wipers.

Alas, you don't get a powered tailgate, which is a really handy feature these days.  

Now, onto the touchscreen, which for the most part is just fine. But VW has chosen to remove the tuning knob for the radio, turning it instead into a scroll knob for navigating the various settings and features you can access via the menus. Yet the screen itself is a touch screen, so what's the point? Why would they do this? It seems stupidly redundant.

Perhaps it's because some of the menus offer enough choices that you have to scroll past the bottom of the screen, and you can do this more easily with the knob than by swiping your finger on the screen (especially when you're driving!). Yet I daresay most of this scrolling would be to configure various parameters of the car – er, SUV, er SUVW – which would be done usually while you're stopped anyway. So what's the big deal?

So now, you have to poke at virtual buttons on the screen if you want to tune the radio, rather just giving the knob a twist. At least they've made it a lot easier than Honda did with their version. I could live with the VW one but Honda's really, really, really rubs me the wrong way.

Fortunately, you can save your favourite stations into the presets.

Oh – one other thing about the audio system, the sound of which is very nice: during one drive I took, the audio system died. All inputs: bupkis! And it wouldn't come back despite prodding and poking and scrolling on that damn knob. Even cussing didn't help! And it stayed like that for the duration of the trip.

Fortunately, when I fired it up next time all was well and the issue never returned during the rest of my week with the Taos. I wasn't alarmed, particularly; this is undoubtedly why there are warranties, but would be remiss not mentioning it.

Warts aside, none of which would be deal breakers for this admitted VW fan, the Taos is a fine vehicle, a great addition to this market niche – which also includes such worthy entrants as the Mazda CX-30 (probably my second choice of the ones I've driven), Kia Seltos, Subaru Crosstrek, Ford Bronco Sport, and Jeep Compass.

If you're shopping in this niche, the VW Taos deserves a spot on your short list.

Copyright 2021 Jim Bray

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