First drive: 2022 Volkswagen Taos small SUV shows big promise

by Brian Wong

Volkswagen has a big gap where a small SUV should go. Filling that gap will be two compact crossover SUVs in the 2022 Taos and the all-electric ID.4. 

The electric ID.4 goes on sale early next year and is nearly ready to go. The Taos (pronounced like “house”) has a much longer way to go. But VW gave me the keys to a Taos prototype to log some early drive impressions.

Testing a prototype is a bit weird. Journalists often drive “pre-production” vehicles that are very close to or identical to the finished product. But a prototype comes a step before that for a company to try out different parts and get a vehicle ready for its final iteration. The Taos I drove still had camouflage over the exterior lights, wheels borrowed from another VW, and a large black covering over the dashboard and center console that also covered up the air vents on a warm Southern California day. 

Like the camo, I was blocked from certain parts of a typical first drive. VW wanted to showcase  its new engine, a 1.5-liter turbo-4. Derived from the 1.4-liter turbo-4 currently found in the 2021  Volkswagen Jetta and the Golf, the larger turbo-4 utilizes a slew of technical and design innovations to add more horsepower, more responsiveness, and more efficiency. The 1.5-liter will make 158-horsepower, an improvement of 11 hp over the 1.4-liter. Peak torque remains the same (184 pound-feet), but in the new engine that torque comes on more quickly making the whole experience more responsive for the driver. This engine will eventually replace the 1.4-liter in the Golf and Jetta as well.

2022 Volkswagen Taos

2022 Volkswagen Taos

2022 Volkswagen Taos

On the road, there is a difference driving the Taos versus the Jetta. Hit the gas pedal with some gusto and the SUV lunges forward with more vigor, enough so that you can actually feel the rear of it squat down from the acceleration. I was able to confirm that the prototype I drove was front-wheel drive and it came with the same 8-speed automatic in the Jetta, so the difference is coming from the engine. For passing maneuvers, the added burst is less noticeable and the transmission seems to slightly resist downshifts in the name of efficiency, which does add a touch of accelerator lag. But with the transmission popped into the sportier S mode, those hesitations mostly fade away.

The Taos does have a busier ride than many of its competitors, though it thankfully remains far from stiff. I like the extra bit of communication that this sort of tuning provides even when just driving around town or on the highway, similar to the Mazda CX-30, but those who prefer a softer suspension may be turned off.

Though the interior was mostly covered up, I climbed over as much of it as I could and was happily surprised by the amount of interior room. Some subcompact crossovers are little more than glorified hatchbacks but the Taos is much more Tiguan than Golf and it will be hard to tell the two SUVs apart on the road. These SUV genes also help with visibility; the large outboard windows make it easy to see in all directions.

2022 Volkswagen Taos

2022 Volkswagen Taos

2022 Volkswagen Taos

The new Taos is 11 inches shorter than the Tiguan, which is consistent with competitive vehicles like the Honda CR-V compact to the HR-V subcompact crossover. What the Taos has going for it is that the Tiguan is on the larger side of compact SUVs and that puts the Taos on the same trajectory for subcompacts. The backseat might be the roomiest in the class when it comes to leg room and head room, but Volkswagen has not released official measurements. There’s more than enough room for two adult passengers, and excellent sight lines from those big windows. 

Even with many gaps to fill such as pricing, fuel economy ratings, and interior quality, the bones of the Taos seem solid. VW is late to the subcompact SUV party but that might work in its favor. The first iterations of these vehicles such as the Mazda CX-3 and Chevy Trax were too small inside, but newer arrivals such as the 2021 Kia Seltos and 2021 Chevy Trailblazer package the space more efficiently and avoid feeling like submarines. Now all there is to do is wait and find out if the rest of the Taos lives up to this promise.

The Taos will arrive in dealerships next summer, with front-wheel drive models arriving in June and all-wheel drive models shortly after that.

Volkswagen provided the Taos prototype to bring you this firsthand report. 

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