2023 VW Taos: Here Are the First Driving Impressions of Volkswagen’s New Compact SUV | Autance

The Taos seems to be a solid all-rounder in the crowded compact crossover space.

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2023 VW Taos: Here Are the First Driving Impressions of Volkswagen’s New Compact SUV | Autance © 2023 VW Taos: Here Are the First Driving Impressions of Volkswagen’s New Compact SUV | Autance

Better late than never, I guess? Volkswagen’s been making one singular compact crossover, the Tiguan, since 2008, but it’s been slow about expanding efforts into other U.S.-market SUV segments. First, after much prodding, we got the mid-sized Atlas and Atlas CrossSport. Finally, VW seems to have realized how hot the compact crossover market really is here. Its entry is the Taos, and the first reviews are finally in.

(Editor’s Note: It seems that some publications call this car a “compact” SUV while others say “subcompact.” We’re going with “compact” because that feels right… if it even matters.)

This segment is now pretty crowded, with practically every car manufacturer having at least one entry in the compact crossover class. Heck, some have multiple entries. Did I mention this is a hot segment right now? The real question is: Will the VW Taos stand out, or get forgotten in a sea of other mini crossovers? Well, let’s find out what the first people to drive it here are saying. 

Here’s the Scoop

The VW Taos is an all-new entry in the compact crossover segment. This vehicle slots below the Tiguan in Volkswagen’s lineup. It’s got a lot of competition, in form of the Honda HR-V, Chevy Trailblazer, Kia Seltos, and others. The pint-sized CUV is VW’s cheapest crossover you can buy.

On Interesting Tech and What’s New for 2022

The Taos’s platform is essentially the same MQB modular chassis that basically every front-wheel drive Volkswagen uses. The real story, however, is the engine – a brand new 1.5-liter turbocharged unit with a variable geometry turbo (neat). Power is sent to an eight-speed, torque-converter automatic for the FWD models, but a seven-speed dual-clutch unit for the AWD models.

Aaron Gold for MotorTrend – “As for power delivery, that depends on how many wheels the 1.5T can potentially power. We tackled our first loop in a front-wheel-drive Taos, which pairs the 1.5T to an eight-speed conventional automatic transmission. So equipped, it offers snappy acceleration, barely noticeable turbo lag, smooth upshifts, and quick downshifts. As an added bonus, the engine idled so smoothly that once we turned the stereo on, it was difficult to detect when the auto stop/start system (which shuts the engine off at stoplights, then restarts it automatically) was active.”

Yet, it seems as if the front-wheel drive model and the AWD model offer differing driving experiences.

Kristen Lee for The Drive – “Compared to the front-wheel-drive Taos, the all-wheel-drive version solved the light-steering issue. The steering was noticeably tighter here and begot a far greater sense of confidence on curvier roads. With all-wheel drive, the Taos is more eager off the line, springing forward with even the lightest touch on the gas pedal.”

Emme Hall for Road Show – “With its multilink rear suspension, the all-wheel-drive Taos has a much more composed ride. An extra Sport mode also switches up the logic of the seven-speed DCT that really perks up the powertrain. All told, I have to say, the AWD Taos is surprisingly fun to drive. So much so that it might be my new favorite model in the affordable compact space.”

On Practicality and Space

Let’s face it, none of these compact crossovers (aside from a few offerings from Subaru, Jeep, and Ford) were really ever meant to go off-road. People buy these to be used as family cars, which means they’ve got to have enough space for kids, people, car seats, and anything else a family can throw at it.

Kristen Lee for The Drive“The backseats are roomier than you’d expect, even with the front seats pushed all the way back. There’s good headroom as well, since the roof isn’t slanted in a silly coupey profile. The trunk is also nicely sized and has a full-sized spare tire beneath the floor. There isn’t a power liftgate, though, so you’ll have to manually reach out and pull the trunk closed, however.”

Emme Hall for Roadshow “Overall, the cabin’s design is pretty straightforward and the materials are about average for the entry-level compact SUV class, no major pluses or demerits. The Taos has 28 cubic-feet of space behind its rear seats or 66 cubic feet when they’re folded flat, which is more than the Jeep Compass and Subaru Crosstrek but less than the Hyundai Tucson.”

Michael Gauthier for Carscoops – “Thanks to the sizable wheelbase, second-row passengers can travel in comfort as there’s an impressive 37.9 inches (963 mm) of rear seat legroom. This dwarfs key competitors, but it falls short of the Jeep Compass which is one of the models that Volkswagen is targeting.”

On Interior Quality 

Volkswagen interiors have been regarded as being some of the best in the industry, with good design, solid interior plastics, and excellent fit and finish. Does the Taos live up to that reputation? Well, kind of.

Brandon Turkus for Motor1 “There’s a good mix of colors, with our tester matching up the black plastic and leather with dark brown patches of hide (the base model uses cloth while the mid-range SE is a cloth/leatherette mix). Across the dash is a solid-feeling flash of dark gray plastic trim. It’s not a particularly attractive element, but it divides up the upper and lower portions of the dash well enough. Where the Taos falls short is in the quality of its materials, though. The dash and door uppers are hard and scratchy to the touch, and while the interior felt screwed together well enough, these elements detracted from the attractive mix of colors, the quality leather, and the typically hefty Volkswagen switchgear.”

Aaron Gold for MotorTrend“…the class-above materials and fine finish of the Taos interior (at least in the mid-range SE and top-of-the-line SEL models we drove) certainly don’t feel like any brand’s least-expensive SUV offering. And yet as handsome as it is, and its all-digital displays notwithstanding, the control layout retains the simplicity and ease-of-use for which Volkswagen is known.”

Mike Sutton for Car & Driver: “This subcompact feels solidly built, and material quality is mostly commensurate with its price, although the hard, shiny plastic dashtop panel looks chintzy, especially in the top-spec SEL models that go for more than $30,000. While not boldly inspired, the Tao’s cabin does benefit from contoured trim pieces and contrasting colors that lend it some character. Soft-touch materials are soft enough and well placed, and there’s VW’s familiar and nicely thick-rimmed steering wheel.”

On Driving Dynamics

I don’t think Volkswagen has ever made a dynamically poor car. Even its most benign efforts in SUV or commercial van-dom result in a generally pleasant-driving vehicle. Most Volkswagen Taoses will spend the vast majority of their lives on-road, and VW seems adamant that this crossover replaces the Golf here in the U.S., not that it’s some kind of 4×4. Did the Taos gain some of the Golf’s fun-to-driveness? Uh, kinda. The jury is out, some liked it, a lot didn’t.

Zac Palmer for Autoblog “The steering in the front-drive Taos is laughably light, and the throttle tuning is far too sensitive in what is seemingly an effort to make the Taos feel quicker than it actually is around town. Even in the AWD model’s Normal mode, the steering and throttle tuning are dialed in far better. Stick it into Sport, and the steering weights up properly in corners, offering an improved and more natural handling experience than the front-drive model. There’s still plenty of body roll, as VW’s tuning erred on the side of comfort over performance — but that’s likely a wise choice, considering that few owners will actually explore this vehicle’s handling capabilities.”

Kristen Lee for The Drive “I didn’t love how light the steering stayed throughout the drive, though. It made me feel more detached from the road than I would have preferred. Most modern cars today have light steering at low speeds and build up the wheel’s resistance at higher speeds. But in the Taos, it stayed light. The brakes were nice, however. They didn’t grab unnaturally hard at the top of the pedal travel so they were easy to modulate.”

Emme Hall for Roadshow “Will most buyers care about these sporty driving characteristics? Probably not. Instead, they’ll likely be impressed with how smooth the AWD Taos feels while driving on a rough road. It’s better than the FWD version here, again thanks to the better rear suspension, and while it certainly isn’t what I’d call serene, the Taos has a level of composure that’s hard to find in the subcompact SUV class.”

Mercedes Streeter for Jalopnik – “I was impressed with how this nearly 4,000-pound SUV handles. The suspension soaks up the bumps of Michigan’s terrible roads well and body roll is restrained. The Taos tackles curves like a wagon, not like the tall crossover it actually is. I drove a Smart Fortwo on the same roads after the test and I was surprised at just how many bumps the Taos practically erased.”

On Value For Money

The Taos starts in the mid 20’s for a decently equipped FWD S model. It also gets exceptional fuel economy for its size and class, and has good interior space. Still, the Taos can quickly get expensive. 

Aaron Gold for MotorTrend “Priced at $28,440, the Taos SE starts to push the boundaries of affordability in the subcompact class. It gets many of the optional safety features of the S, though adaptive cruise, lane centering, and rain-sensing wipers remain part of an $895 option package. The SE also comes with a host of nice-to-haves including a better infotainment system, cloth-and-fake-leather seating, and heated front seats with power for the driver. The SEL model is the only trim to get all of the safety gear as standard, plus leather, a Beats Audio stereo, and dual-zone climate control—but with a lofty $32,685 price tag, it’s pretty dang expensive for an entry-level SUV.”

Brandon Turkus for Motor1 “To be honest, range-topping examples of small vehicles like the Taos are almost never worthwhile – a Tiguan SEL starts around $33,000, for example. But at the lower end of the scale, this vehicle is worth considering, even though its $24,000 price tag is a good bit higher $21,685 Hyundai Kona, the $22,770 Toyota C-HR, the $22,395 Honda HR-V, and the $22,225 Mazda CX-30. It has a better cabin than all but the Mazda, and while the Toyota offers all its active safety gear as standard, the Taos’ Travel Assist is better at easing the strain of highway driving. Simply put, you pay more, but you’ll get more too.”

Zac Palmer for Autoblog“Finding the direct competitors for the Taos is a weirdly difficult task in our bloated crossover market. It’s more expensive than virtually all of the subcompacts, but priced in line with or cheaper than the compact crossovers at $24,190 to start. Fully loading up an SEL model puts the sticker at $35,440, which is starting to feel rather steep when you can get a well-equipped Tiguan (with more power and space) for less.”


In case you needed some Taos pics for context, enjoy!


The Taos seems to be a solid all-rounder in the crowded subcompact crossover space. Maybe it’s not the most interesting car to drive or look at, but it’s got its own merits that make it a compelling choice for buyers looking for a crossover this size.

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