Road Test Review – 2023 Volkswagen Taos SEL – Volkswagen Enters The Compact CUV Wars

The current crop of subcompact SUVs helps satiate buyers’ hunger for a utility vehicle that can deliver the goods on versatility but in a smaller package. For an increasing number of automakers, these subcompact entries have proven to be strong sellers. They have rapidly become a crucial cog in the sales machine that powers their U.S. operations. Volkswagen used to be an automaker that was on the outside looking in, with their smallest CUV being the Tiguan. But that’s now changing with the 2023 Volkswagen Taos SEL. Is the Taos a good spearhead for Volkswagen, and can it help supercharge VW’s long-term sales?


Bold Styling Makes Taos Shine

Volkswagen made light updates to the Taos for 2023, but while most of them focus on the interior (more on that later), a few make themselves visible on the outside. Base S models with all-wheel drive pitch their 17-inch wheels for 18-inch hoops, and range-topping SEL models like our tester get a panoramic sunroof as standard equipment. The exterior styling itself is typical of Volkswagen, with the front fascia embracing the core styling that has long defined the bigger Atlas full-size SUV. The lower front bumper and the headlights project a sporty look, but the canvas gets bland when you move to the back, with the taillights not doing enough to make the rear pop out in traffic. This is a common problem among many CUV entries, but the Taos goes further by incorporating faux exhaust tips into the rear bumper. The pieces themselves are mounted too high, and it helps throw off the overall look.

That said, the Taos is still more stylish than rivals like the Chevrolet Trailblazer, Kia Seltos, and the Toyota Corolla Cross, with the latter two blending in too well with the rest of the subcompact CUV segment to formally standout. When you factor that in with the Tao’s small size, it makes the Volkswagen a perfect fit for city dwellers, especially those that might need something for small parking lots or navigating tight city streets.


Taos Interior Excels In Comfort, Doesn’t Stray Outside The Box

Slip inside the 2023 Taos, and you’ll discover a modern, comfortable cabin, but the space doesn’t stand out in any given way and follows typical Volkswagen design norms. A fully digital instrument cluster is standard, and the basic design of the interior follows what we have seen in other Volkswagen models. Cloth seats are standard, but they can be swapped out for either leatherette seats or full leather seats like the thrones that were in our SEL grade tester. Volkswagen says that comfort is a key part of the Toas experience, and the company added features such as a heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled seats, and eight-way power adjustments for the driver.

The Taos is also deceptively roomy, with front passengers having a decent amount of room to stretch out and relax thanks to the good amounts of leg and headroom. Rear passengers also have 37.9 inches of legroom, with the Taos only having 0.8 inches less than the bigger Tiguan. The drawback of the backseat is for taller passengers, with the large panoramic roof chopping some headroom out to help it fit successfully. When you’re not hauling people, the second row can be folded down to help expand the amount of cargo space on hand, with the Taos having 66 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded (28 cubic feet of space with the seats up).

Technology also makes a strong showing in the Taos, with base models getting a 6.5-inch touchscreen display. Our SEL tester had the bigger 8.0-inch touchscreen display, with the unit also housing bundled navigation, SiriusXM satellite radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. While the infotainment system isn’t quite as flashy as those seen from a few of its rivals, VW has done a good job nailing consistency and the system is an easy one to master for new buyers.


Performance Is Taos Trump Card

Performance for the Taos comes from a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard but SEL models like our example have all-wheel drive standard. The drive layout also plays a role in what transmission you get with FWD models getting an eight-speed automatic while AWD versions get a seven-speed dual clutch automatic. The engine is a peppy unit but the Taos will never be the sportiest CUV in the world with our tester making the sprint to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds.

Handling in our tester also proved to be a bright spot with the steering in our tester doing a good job delivering crisp amounts of feel and weight to the driver. FWD models have a torsion beam rear suspension while AWD gets a more sophisticated multi-link setup that helps chop down body roll and unnecessary motions. Braking is also good but while the Taos comes to a stop with little drama, we wish that the CUV’s brake pedal had more bite and wasn’t as mushy during hard panic stops. Visibility is good for the most part, but the Tao’s blocky shape does help create some nasty blind spots that can make certain passing maneuvers a challenge.


Value Quotient

Pricing for the 2023 Taos reflects its place in the CUV pecking order with a base S model starting at $25,450. The volume focused SE model starts at $30,220 and is also the one that doubles down on standard equipment with wireless phone charging, remote start and more. The range-topping SEL starts at $35,830 with our lightly optioned example crossing the $36,000 barrier due to some minor extras.

This pricing allows the Taos to gravitate towards budget CUV buyers, especially those that might have wanted a Volkswagen offering but didn’t have the cash needed to formally commit to a bigger Tiguan. That said, the Taos does face competition from some potent rivals in its segment including the Ford Bronco Sport, Kia Seltos, the Jeep Compass, and the Mazda CX-30. The Bronco Sport and the CX-30 in particular also showcase the functional extremes that the Taos is facing in this hotly contested segment. The Bronco Sport embraces a go anywhere personality, while the CX-30 looks like something that’s jumped off the pages of a designer’s handbook.

As it stands, the 2023 Volkswagen Taos is a good middle of the road option for buyers that want a CUV that can deliver an impressive amount of standard equipment at an approachable price tag. However, playing it safe will not help the Taos long term, and ultimately, we would like to see Volkswagen turn up the excitement a bit with a few more trim levels and perhaps a surprise or two.