Volkswagen of America doesn’t want to say it, but the new VW Taos (which just went on sale) is a replacement for the Golf that ’Mericans don’t buy. We’ve mainlined Golfs since they replaced the Beetle in the late 1970s, when they were called Rabbits, but no more: We only like tall hatchbacks now, aka “crossovers.”
That makes the squat-looking Taos ($25,040, AWD; $22,995, FWD) the right flavor of the decade, aimed directly at the Subaru Crosstrek. The latter is a darling of the “adventure” driving set. These folks (mostly) don’t actually drive dirt, but since Subaru crushes in key “off-road-intender” regions where VW also sells well—like New England, Colorado, as well as the Northwest—the compact-SUV Taos is a must for Volkswagen.
And VW nailed its math in four key ways:
1) It’s got more rear room than the Subaru. That’s 8 inches more headroom and 1.5 inches more rear seat knee room. The Crosstrek really isn’t comfy enough for four full-sized adults, but the Taos truly is. And with those back seats folded or upright, the Veedub also smokes the Subaru with up to 60.2 cubic feet of cargo volume aft of the front seats.
You’d get even more if you bought the front-wheel-drive version of the Taos, but Volkswagen knows 60 percent or more of its sales will be for the model that twists rubber at all four corners.
2) It’s fun to drive. The Taos with AWD gets a seven-speed DSG (dual-clutch) transmission. The Subaru can be had with a manual, but it’s unfortunately not a sporty gearbox. The CVT automatic in the Crosstrek is fine, but the DSG is a more engaging row-your-own setup, and can be shifted to an automated mode in traffic. The suspension, while not as buttoned-down as you’d get from a GTI, resists body roll—and it didn’t moan or creak when we pointed the front wheels directly at some of rural New York state’s bespoke potholes.
3) Safety tech is cheap. VW has included LED headlights for all models, but they’ve also got a package called IQ Drive for less than $1,000. This includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go assist (so you can crawl in traffic with the system handling the bulk of the chore), blind-spot monitoring, lane keeping, and automatic forward-collision warning and emergency braking.
4) Something to look forward to. OK, ground clearance isn’t high enough vs. the Crosstrek, at just 6.5 inches vs. 8.7 inches, but VW’s already shown off a more capable Basecamp Concept that’s lifted and rolls on more aggressive rubber. VW will surely offer that as an in-house upgrade soon, what with Bronco Sport, and Jeep Compass to compete with. Volkswagen also hinted heavily that there may be a GTI version of the Taos to come. That would be welcome, too. The 1.5-liter turbocharged power plant in the Taos makes all 184 lb-ft of its torque at just 1,750 rpm. But a more pinned-down, quicker Taos might make prior VW hatchback and wagon buyers miss those cars less—and make them learn to love the never-ending crossover zeitgeist.
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