We recently tested the all-new VW ID.4 EV SUV and came away impressed. VW is on a roll. So, we were equally excited to test the all-new Taos, their smallest SUV that slots below the Tiguan. And since the automaker no longer is going to sell a Golf TSI hatchback, the Taos is your go-to for affordable and capable VW-ness.
Let’s see if VW has another hit, or a sophomore slump.
Well, the exterior is clearly VW. And in the case of Taos, it’s a big player – it is almost as large as its big brother Tiguan, and is clearly bigger and roomier than competitors like the Subaru Crosstrek and Mazda CX-30.
The Taos looks like its even bigger brother – the Atlas Cross Sport – with a wide three-bar grille, and LED lights. You also get a sporty mesh grille, large lower air intakes and a bit of chrome. It looks fresh, bold, and upscale.
The profile is sporty, too. VW says the sharply sculpture side reminds of the Tiguan, while the squared-off wheel arches share the look of the Atlas. Our FWD SEL model rides on blacked-out 18-inch alloys that give a tough vibe – but the wheel wells look like there’s plenty of room for bigger wheels. We’re sure you’ll see plenty with some bigger meats. Standard roof rails on all models are a nice touch.
At the rear, there’s a handsome LED taillight treatment, TAOS in bold script letters, and a black molded bumper for a tough look. We also liked the King’s Red Metallic paint that garnered its share of compliments.
Those looking for a tougher look should opt for the optional Basecamp package. Like Subaru’s new Wilderness package, it gives a more off-road ready look with fender flares with integrated splashguards, side door skid plates and Basecamp front grille badge. While VW charges a reasonable $995 for the package, FYI – it doesn’t include installation and local shop material costs.
Little Big Cabin
Inside is one of the nicest surprises – a huge cabin. Well, for the class, at least. It’s in fact only 1.6-cubic inches less than the roomy Tiguan. Rear seat room is stretch-out spacious, and there’s 27.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat up and 65.9 cubic feet with the second row down is more than ample for whatever you want to bring.
The layout is fresh and modern with gauges and infotainment on one level, and controls for climate control, etc. below. Soft touch materials and leather seats make it a nice place to be, although you do brush up against the occasional hard plastic.
SEL models feature a 10.25-inch fully configurable Digital Cockpit Pro display with three views—including full-screen navigation. With viewing options including car status, navigation, driving data, phone information, driver assistance features, and more you’ll be in the loop. Combined with the 8-inch info-tainment display, it looks hi-tech, but is user-friendly.
All the tech you could want is here, with wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless charging, and a great sounding BeatsAudio system with 12-channels, a 400-watt amp, eight speakers and a subwoofer. Like most carmakers, you also have extra connectivity options like remote access, in-car Wi-Fi and more.
All the goodies and space, makes you wonder why you’d opt for the more expensive Tiguan!
Super-smooth, Super Sipper
Driving the Taos is an exercise in ease and comfort. Much like the ID.4 we recently tested, VW is leaning towards smooth and comfy, and away from GTI-like sportiness.
Which is not to say the Taos is boring, it’s quite fun in its own way. Under the hood is an updated 1.5-liter version of VW’s turbo 4-cylinder. It’s stout for a 1.5, with 158 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft of torque just above idle. With a front wheel drive model like our tester, the engine is hooked up to a super-smooth 8-speed automatic. We found it really perks things up in Sport mode and is even more fun if you dial in the shifts yourself. It’s certainly not fast, but it is quick and responsive.
Even better, the little 1.5-liter is frugal, with a combined 31 mpg EPA number, and you can get close to 40 mpg on the freeway if you keep it out of the turbo zone.
You really feel the VW refinement in the powertrain and the ride – this is one smooth, quiet cruiser, and combined with the great fuel economy, excellent for long trips as well. The typical VW light power steering is here, and we did find it less precise than other models, requiring constant fidgeting. The easy fix is to use the IQ Drive, with adaptive cruise control and lane keeping, so the Taos does most of the work. IQ Drive also includes Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic alert and more. A well-integrated, easy suite of features to use.
Small SUV, Big Value?
Well, it is European, so beware of the options list. That said, you can get into a TAOS S with standard VW Digital Cockpit for $22,995. That’s great value for a spacious and smooth competitor in this class. It’s a tall ladder to the next trim up, with the SE starting at $27,245, which includes goodies like Front Assist, Blind Spot Monitor, Remote Start and 18” alloy wheels.
Our top-of-the-line SEL tester started at $31,490, which adds Digital Cockpit Pro, Beats Premium Audio, leather seats and more. Add in the King’s Red Metallic Paint ($395), Panoramic Sunroof ($1,200) and $1,195 for destination, and we rang the bell at $34,280. We should mention that adding 4 Motion All Wheel Drive will require you ponying up $1,500 to $2,000 depending on model – but you also get a 7-speed DSG gearbox and multi-link rear suspension included with the AWD.
Competitors would include the Mini Cooper S Countryman, which we love for the quirkiness, but at $39,350 it’s a big step for a smaller vehicle A comparable Subaru Crosstrek comes in at $31,440, and at that price includes AWD. Like the Mini it’s a bit smaller, but you’re getting a more off-road nature.
The Taos biggest competitor maybe its sibling the Tiguan. A nicely equipped SEL 2.0-turbo front wheel drive comes in at $33,740. Gulp. Ultimately, the smart money is probably on one of the lower trim levels of the Taos. As luxurious as it may be, the SEL may be a bit too steep.
We really enjoyed the all-new 2021 VW Taos, a smooth and refined performer with loads of room. Optioned carefully it’s a great value, too.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.