Stylish, Capable, Compact

The 2023 Volkswagen Taos SE is a subcompact that’s big on space and value.
Sep 8, 2023
Barry Spyker

Subcompact crossovers are like small dogs roaming the sidewalks these days: They’re everywhere, so watch where you step.

At last check there were 33 cuddly crossovers and, while sales slowed last year, the new-to-the-party Volkswagen Taos was off to a good start. It ranked No. 5, just below top dogs Honda CR-V and Subaru Crosstrek, according to figures. Taos is new to the U.S. market, but has been cruising Chinese roads for several years.

Even in the mid-level SE trim, Taos is light on frills and flash, but it excels in value and fuel economy, and is among the best in the tiny-tyke crowd when it comes to passenger and cargo space. Safety has improved for 2023, too: Every Taos SE now includes IQ.Drive, Volkswagen’s advanced driver-assist system.

VW’s smallest crossover bears a resemblance to its kin. That means clean, simple, a little boxy. Running lights streak across the grille for a bold look, while exhaust tips at the rear look cool but are fake — the real ones are just underneath them.

Under the hood is a turbocharged
1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that whips up 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet
of torque at 1,750 rpm. That’s not intimidating power, by any means, but it’s enough giddy-up for most driving situations. Rivals run past it to 60 mph, but Taos catches and tops them at the quarter-mile pole, according to

The 0-60 times are contingent on the two available transmissions. The front-wheel-drive (FWD) gets an 8-speed automatic, and runs to 60 mph in a more leisurely 9.3 seconds. All-wheel-drive ($1,450 option) has a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, typically found on pricier vehicles, and sprints to 60 in 7.6 seconds.

But the AWD tranny is not without issue. The dual-clutch tends to be slow to shift at times, especially at first acceleration from a stop. It also struggles to find the right gear on occasion. 

The AWD system, known as 4Motion in the Volkswagen family, offers multiple drive modes, unlike some rivals. Choose Normal or twist a dial to Eco for less power but more fuel savings; Sport offers a bit more throttle, Snow or Off-Road modes provide extra grip. 

Under normal conditions the ride is quiet and comfortable, cruising nicely over railroad tracks and road dips. Steering is evenly weighted and responsive enough, and corners and S-curves are well controlled with only minor body lean.  

Towing won’t likely be a priority in this segment, but the Taos is rated at an impressive 5,000 pounds.

Taos fares well when it comes to fuel economy, landing an EPA-rated 36 mpg highway, 28 city, for 31 combined. But some folks online have said they’ve done better than the EPA numbers. The EPA says expect 32 mpg highway, 25 city with the AWD setup.

The cabin seats five and, again, is light on frills: There’s a generous use of cheap plastics, a manually-adjusted passenger seat, and single-zone AC is standard. But the design is clean, and fit and finish of panels is good. And, you can spiff it up with optional ambient lighting, dual climate, heated and ventilated seats, and panoramic sunroof. 

Standard leatherette seats do offer 8-way power and are comfortable albeit on the firm side. Head and leg room are ample. There also is a leather-wrapped steering wheel and good ol’ fashioned shift lever instead of buttons or a dial. Behind the shifter is a small but deep, milk container-size center-console storage.

An 8-inch configurable digital instrument cluster is the same one that debuted recently in higher-end Audi models. The system lets you select what to display, from speed and travel time to route guidance and even elevation.

The SE’s second 8-inch display serves as a touchscreen for the infotainment system, which is equipped with navigation, Bluetooth, satellite radio, Wi-Fi hotspot and wireless phone charging. It also offers integration with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and an available 8-speaker BeatsAudio sound system.

Rear-seat passengers will rejoice with outstanding leg room —
38 inches — for this class, but it’s tighter on shoulder room if three adults sit across. And there’s only one USB port back there so let’s remember to share, kids.

But it has bragging rights with near best-in-class cargo space: AWD models have 25 cubic feet behind the rear seats, 60 cubes with them folded down. FWD models do even better with 28 and 65 cubic feet. Under the cargo floor are more pockets of space, plus an actual spare tire — not just a repair kit.

Volkswagen added standard safety features this year to include adaptive cruise control, lane assist, forward collision warning with emergency braking and pedestrian monitor, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert. Also part of the IQ.Drive system is emergency assist, which brings the vehicle to a stop after a collision, and a semi-autonomous system that assists in steering, braking and acceleration.

The Taos, built expressly for the U.S. market, faces plenty of foes in this segment, including some smart choices like the Kia Seltos and Mazda CX-30. But it’s a worthy contender for those seeking a relatively capacious crossover, reasonable pricing and impressive fuel economy.  

Barry Spyker was the automotive editor and columnist for the Miami Herald


2023 Volkswagen Taos SE

MSRP: $28,925

As tested: $32,300 (Includes IQ.Drive system, all-wheel-drive, power sunroof, 18-inch black painted alloys, 8-inch touchscreen, navigation, 8-speaker BeatsAudio audio system)

What’s all the excitement about? Impressive passenger and cargo space, fuel economy, and first-rate driver-assist system

Powertrain: Turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine produces 158 hp and 184 pound-feet of torque;
All-wheel-drive mated to 7-speed dual-clutch automatic; FWD gets 8-speed automatic

How’s the performance? AWD the quicker to 60 mph at 7.6 seconds, but the transmission can be finicky 

Fuel economy: EPA-estimated 25 mpg city, 32 highway for AWD; 28-36 for FWD version

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