VW enters the hot small SUV market with a well-designed and equipped two-row crossover.

COURTESY VOLKSWAGEN - The handsome all-new 2022 Volkswagen Taos comes standard with a turbocharged 1.5-liter engine and can be ordered with either front- or 4MOTION all-wheel drive.The all-new 2022 Volkswagen Taos is the latest entry in the rapidly-growing market niche of not-too-small, not-too-big crossover SUVs. Volkswagen calls it a compact but some auto writers say it's a subcompact. I suspect many consumers will agree it is just the right size for them.

The Taos is boxy and handsome in keeping with VW's currently lineup of SUVs. It will become VW's entry-level vehicle because the company has ended production of the base gas-powered compact Golf hatchback while continuing the more expensive performance and all-electric versions.

COURTESY VOLKSWAGEN - The 2022 Volkswagen Taos starts at under $23,000 with the top-of-the-line SEL model beginning at around $31,000.

Although VW's smallest crossover, the Taos is nearly as large inside as its Tiguan, which everyone agrees is a compact. Perhaps the biggest difference is the Tiguan is available with a third row of seats while the Taos is not. But the Taos compensates by offering a lot of room in the second row, which is probably even more important for small families.

The Taos comes with a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, rated at 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. This is the same engine that powers the popular compact Volkswagen Jetta sedan. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard on front-wheel-drive models, while those equipped with VW's 4Motion AWD system will use a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. 

COURTESY VOLKSWAGEN - The interior of the 2022 Toas is classic Volkswagen with a clean design and high quality materials for a small crossover SUV.

The Taos comes in three trim levels: S, SE, and SEL. Pricing starts at just $22,995 for the base FWD version, which comes well equipped with a full suite of modern safety features. Base models get an 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster and a 6.5-inch center touchscreen, with the displays in higher trims increasing to 10.3 and 8.0 inches, respectively. Practically every modern feature is available on the higher trim levels, including a full leather interior and panoramic sun roof.

I normally recommend AWD if it available because of the additional traction in wet weather driving. But there is an additional benefit for adding it to the Taos, a more sophisticated rear suspension. The FWD Taos features a torsion beam at the rear, while the AWD model employs a multilink setup. That said, my test FWD model felt firmly planted at all times. The ride was also very smooth, even over broken pavement.

COURTESY VOLKSWAGEN - The rear seats are surprisingly roomy in the 2022 Volkswagen Taos for such a small crossover.

Anyone who has driven a modern VW will instantly recognize the interior. The dash layout values function over form, making it very clean and easy to understand and use. The materials in out top-of-the-line SEL model were all high quality, with the puzzling exception of the hard plastic between the top of the dash and the front windshield while includes a built in shallow tray. It was easy to overlook after awhile, but the soft plastic used in other areas would have created a better impression.

In a week of test driving the small turbo engine pulled well off the line but felt only adequate until the transmission was shifted into the Sport mode. Then the Taos was more than brisk around town. Upgrading to AWD would have included a dual clutch automatic transmission that includes Sport and Individual modes. That undoubtedly would have been more fun to drive, but, even then, Mazda upped the ante in the bigger-than-small crossover market by stuffing a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine that produces 227 horsepower and 310 foot pounds of torque into its similar sized CX-30. If VW wants to compete for enthusiasts, it needs to bring out a more powerful GTI version of the Taos.

Most buyers will likely be satisfied by the styling, roominess and sophistication of the 2021 VW Taos, however.

COURTESY VOLKSWAGEN - Rear cargo space in the 2022 Volkswagen Taos  is very reasonable for such a small SUV.

Some might think VW is sending out mixed messages by introducing the Taos at this time. The company has announced a huge commitment to electric vehicles and has introduced just its second EV, the ID.4, which is also a crossover. But VW also knows the transition to EVs will take time. Most buyers are not willing to take the plunge yet. So VW needs to continue competing in the real world, and the gas-powered small crossover SUVs are where the action is now.

2022 Volkswagen Taos

Base price: $23,995 (S)

Price as tested: $33,885 (SEL)

Type: Compact crossover

Engine: Turbocharged 1.5-liter (158 hp, 184 lbs-ft)

Transmissions: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic; 8-speed automatic

EPA estimated mileage: 28/36

Overall length: 176 inches

Curb weight: 3,175 to 3,430 pounds

Final assembly: Puebla, Mexico. 

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