If it seems you can’t glance out your windshield without spotting a Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, or Chevrolet Equinox, it’s not your imagination.
Three of every four cars on the road these days is a truck or SUV. The smallest of these SUVs – also known as compact crossovers – are enjoying the biggest heyday, with sales outpacing the overall industry.
That’s because they’re the Jills of all trades, combining the nimble handling of a sedan with the cargo space, elbow room, and ride height of a utility vehicle. Best of all? They’re also fuel efficient and affordable. The RAV4, CR-V, and Equinox mentioned above lead the pack, but nearly every major automaker has a horse in this jam-packed race.
Volkswagen, however, has been missing from the game. Until now.
The German carmaker, which already makes four larger SUV models, is adding the Volkswagen Taos to its lineup this summer. As Volkswagen’s smallest SUV, the Taos will also be the brand’s least expensive SUV, starting at under $23,000. It’s poised to become brand’s bestseller globally once it hits dealerships at the end of July.
Meet the “New Jetta”
As you may remember from cruising around campus during your college days, the Volkswagen Jetta once reigned supreme. But the cute compact car beloved by sorority sisters everywhere ceded its sales crown to Volkswagen’s Tiguan SUV in 2017. The reason? A waning demand for sedans. (Do today’s college kids even have driver’s licenses?)
However, the Jetta served a crucial role for the brand. It attracted entry-level buyers who could eventually grow into Volkswagen’s larger and more expensive models.
As Volkswagen’s entry-level SUV, the Taos is being billed as the “new Jetta”: an affordable, value-oriented alternative to luxury nameplates.
“As interest in sedans declines, this will be buyers’ introduction to the brand,” Jose Bravo, product manager for the Taos, told me before I settled behind the steering wheel for a test drive around Miami.
A Volkswagen Family Resemblance
Volkswagen, of course, already has a strong track record in building SUVs. Its lineup includes the three-row Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport mid-size SUVs, the Tiguan compact SUV, and the new ID.4 all-electric SUV.
Named after the small city of Taos, New Mexico (population 6,000), the new SUV takes its design cues from its larger siblings, keeping its looks all in the family. The Taos’ front end features a sculpted hood and wide three-bar grille reminiscent of the Atlas Cross Sport, while the squared-off wheel arches give a nod to the Atlas. In the rear, LED taillights flank the centered Taos lettering — a new VW family feature.
From the side, the Taos shares the Tiguan’s distinctive profile and strong character line running from front to rear. Even though the Taos measures 9.3 inches shorter than its larger sibling, the cute ute manages to provide a surprisingly roomy rear seat and a trunk large enough for several suitcases and shopping bags.
“It looks compact from the outside, but inside you get all the features of a luxury vehicle,” Bravo said. “Out of all my projects, this is the one where I can check all the boxes.”
Volkswagen is counting on the Taos’ versatility and sub-$23,000 starting price to attract first-time drivers, single professionals wishing to trade up from their sedan, small families, and empty nesters.
The only subcompact crossovers with lower starting prices than the Taos’ $22,995 are the Jeep Compass and Subaru Crosstrek. The Taos’ closest competitors – the Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Rogue, and Mazda CX-5 – start in the mid- to upper $20,000s.
All Taos models boast the two standard features Bravo fought hardest for: a 158-horsepower turbocharged engine and a digital cockpit behind the steering wheel that displays key data at eye level.
For an additional $995, the base model can be outfitted with Volkswagen’s IQ Drive suite of safety features. The bundle includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. That means you can get an SUV loaded with the most advanced safety equipment for less than $24,000.
“Small is not cheap,” Bravo said. “Small is smart.”
What I Drove
Volkswagen will sell the Taos in eight colors and three trims: S, SE, and SEL. I drove a fully loaded SEL model with all-wheel drive with an MSRP of $35,440.
All-wheel drive models feature a sporty seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission and multilink suspension in the rear. The dual-paneled panoramic sunroof that spanned nearly the entire roof streamed the Miami sunshine.
My test car also boasted:
- Silver roof rails
- 19-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires
- Rear window washer and wiper
- Second-row USB charging point
- Heated and ventilated front seats
- Heated steering wheel
- Ambient interior lighting
- Lower anchor and tethers for car seats (LATCH)
- BeatsAudio premium sound system
Get Inside the Taos
The Taos’ dashboard controls are as sleek as a Mercedes’, but the vinyl and plastic trim flanking the cabin remind you that, as nice as it looks, this is not a luxury vehicle. However, the seats and steering wheel in the model I drove featured expensive-looking cross-stitching, and the robust ventilation system emanating from the SUV’s perforated leatherette seats was a godsend in Miami gridlock.
The digital cockpit system behind the steering wheel features a 12.3-inch display screen. A touchscreen in the center of the dash measures 6.5 or 8 inches, depending upon the model. An optional wireless smartphone charging compartment next to the cupholders is a lifesaver.
Space? Yes, There’s Plenty!
For a real surprise, seat a tall person in the back and marvel at the legroom and headspace left over. Most of the Taos’ rivals have cramped rear seating, so the surplus of space will be a significant selling point for the brand. Bravo said his 6’5” boss fits in the back quite comfortably.
Unlike Volkswagen’s other SUVs, the Taos does not offer the option to add a third row of seating. However, its long wheelbase provides an impressive 99.5 cubic feet of passenger space — just 1.6 cubic feet less than the two-row Tiguan.
The 28 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row is sufficient for a few suitcases. A pass-through center armrest in the rear makes it easy to load longer objects like skis or plywood, depending upon your mission.
What We Loved
- Second-row passenger space
- Panoramic sunroof
- Ventilated seats
- Elegant silhouette
- Turbocharged engine
Disclosure: Volkswagen invited me to an event to test the new Taos. All opinions are my own.