Words by: Adam Allen
Oh, Volkswagen- you’re such a precocious little scamp!
First, you show us you have the exceptionally rare ability to combine a sense of humor with a sense of sensibility by conceiving and building such icons as the Beetle, the Westphalia, and the Thing. You pretty much invented the mischievous hot hatch segment with the GTI, cobbled together with the humble bits you could find from whatever was on the shelf. And you also like to have a good laugh at our expense with the way you name your cars. We’ve heard people refer to the 80’s Scirocco as the ‘Ski-Rocco.’ Then came the opulent and dearly missed Touareg, which most people called ‘Tour-Egg’. A short while ago, we were introduced to the Taos- not ‘Tay-Ohs’ but rather ‘Ta-Owse’. Very funny, guys!
A little background: the Toas was introduced as a 2022 model to fill a gaping hole at the bottom of VW’s lineup that at the time didn’t have a subcompact SUV to compete with the likes of class stalwarts in the Kia Steltos and Mazda CX-30. Just like its Atlas and Tiguan larger siblings before it, the Taos follows a similar ethos- be the biggest in your field. And so, with the measuring tape confirming our suspicions, the Taos is smaller than the next step up the ladder, the Tiguan, but only just. Since VW no longer makes the humble Golf (its GTI and Golf R only these days) this is the closest thing you can get to that car; although unsurprisingly it isn’t as frisky and fun to drive as the venerable hatch we’d come to love over the years.
The lack of friskiness first becomes apparent when you ask the 1.5 litre turbo four cylinder for full power, say when passing on a rural two-lane road. The thrust summoned isn’t going to strain neck muscles so plan accordingly. That doesn’t mean the Taos is too slow to get out of its own way. Around town, it offers commendable oomph to get you through your commute- and its start/stop behavior is smooth to the point of being shocking, and it’s the best we’ve encountered this side of a Mercedes Benz S-Class.
Like all its VW stablemates, the Taos is imbued with what Volkswagen likes to refer to as German Engineering. That means it goes down the road with the poise and composure you would expect from a chassis that was tuned for the Autobahn, which anyone can appreciate even if they don’t go over the speed limit by so much as one kilometer per hour. You’d hardly call this a corner cover but show the Taos some bends and it’ll tuck in with a level of precision that’s above average for the class. Our tester featured 4Motion all-wheel drive, and not only is that a boon for traction in inclement weather, it also means that the rear suspension is upgraded from an antiquated torsion beam setup to a fully independent one. As a result, ride quality is much smoother, and handling is more astute too.
Inside, the Toas channels a minimalist vibe in the best possible way. Everything is laid out right where you expect it to be, and thankfully this model doesn’t have the infuriating infotainment setup you see proliferating throughout the VW lineup these days. There are hard buttons and switches, and the learning curve is not steep in learning how everything works. There’s lots of tech too, featuring a slick digital dash and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay. Shout out to the huge panoramic sunroof as well, which lends a delightful airiness to the Taos cockpit. We should single out the LED headlights as well- they light up the night with a refreshing blast of clean, white light that was most appreciated when communing amongst half asleep pedestrians on gloomy fall mornings.
Some stuff on the Taos menu is decidedly not as appreciated, however. The biggest flaw we noted is leveled at the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. No, it’s not because VW neglected to install paddle shifters on the steering wheel as is customary with this type of transmission, or that the inputs are backwards for upshifts and downshifts when using the gear lever. It’s the nearly disastrous low speed tuning that causes unbecoming elastic-y surges and lurching when driving. Once you’re up to speed there’s no issue, but you find yourself devoting a good amount of your faculties to compensate for this behavior through careful throttle modulation. There are other gripes too, ranging from a surprising amount of wind and road noise to a hilariously cheap plastic piece that tops the dashboard. Other than that, there’s not much to rankle.
In an increasingly crowded market segment that seems to keep raising the bar, the Taos squares off with some very compelling crossovers. With that said, VW’s little runabout offers a mix of excellent driving dynamics with a comfortable and well-equipped interior, all wrapped up in one stylish- and surprisingly large- package. We’d go for the top-spec Highline like our tester which has all the desirable features shoppers crave with the security of 4Motion all-wheel drive that comes along with it. Volkswagen has tickled our funny bone over the years, but no one will laugh when you show up to the party in a Taos.
2023 Volkswagen Taos Highline - Specifications
- Price as tested: $38,190
- Body Type: 5-door, 5 passenger crossover SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Transmission: 7-speed automatic
- Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 158 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 184 @ 1,750 rpm
- Curb weight: 1,471 kg (3,244 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 10.9 L/100km (22 mpg)