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2022 Volkswagen Taos.

Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Volkswagen’s latest offering is straight-laced, sober and serious about taking the place of its beloved predecessor.

The 2022 Taos SUV replaces the Golf TSI hatchback in North America. The Golf R and GTI variants will be updated shortly and will maintain their place as Volkswagen’s hot hatches, but the daily workhorse, long revered by many, has shuffled off North American shores.

As someone who owns and loves a Golf and drives it almost daily, this review needs a disclosure. I love the little hatchback and was fully prepared to hate the upstart Taos for knocking it off its pedestal.

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Why would VW replace a popular nameplate with yet another SUV? The easy answer is because people want SUVs. “North Americans need size,” said Thomas Tetzlaff, VW Canada’s manager of public relations. Cars no longer fit the bill.

The more complex answer has to do with business decisions around manufacturing, said Pierre Boutin, VW Canada’s CEO. “We have to be localizing,” he said, adding that VW wants to become a “much bigger player in the North American market.”

Lack of love for the Golf south of the border contributed to a decision to move manufacturing back to Europe, which in turn means that homologating the car for Canada alone would make the price prohibitive, Tetzlaff said.

Enter Taos. It will be VW’s fifth, and smallest, SUV, as the company tries to catch up with the trend it “resisted for a long time,” according to Tetzlaff.

Inside, the Taos is as sleek as the exterior. No adornments get in the way of the driving experience.

Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Named for an iconic ski resort town in the United States, the SUV straddles the gap between compact and sub-compact, and is designed to appeal to two distinct demographics: young families looking for a “fun, affordable” ride with room to grow, and older buyers who are downsizing but don’t want to compromise on quality, said Patrick Danielson, VW Canada’s director of product planning.

Will they love it the way people loved the Golf? Only sales figures and social media will tell us that, but in the short term it seems to have a good chance in a segment that sells 600,000 vehicles a year.

From the outside, Taos is conservative, looking like a scaled-down version of the Atlas SUV. It’s not cute and not sexy, just very plain and practical looking. But looks aren’t everything, and nobody can say the Golf was ever a sexy car either.

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Inside, the Taos is as sleek as the exterior. No adornments get in the way of the driving experience. The décor is clean and basic. Visibility is good – for an SUV – and the tester was equipped with a panoramic sunroof that made it feel airy and spacious.

For daily driving, road trips, or weekend errands, the Taos seats five, and can comfortably accommodate tall people in the back.

Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

On the road it behaves predictably. VW expects that 97 per cent of Taos buyers will opt for all-wheel drive. In those models the 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder engine is paired with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. The few front-wheel drive buyers get an eight-speed automatic. The engine makes 158 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque, which is enough to deliver a spritely response in the AWD model, largely thanks to the excellent transmission.

For daily driving, road trips, or weekend errands, the Taos seats five, and can comfortably accommodate tall people in the back. When there’s gear to be carried, the cargo space is both large and well proportioned, putting the utility in SUV.

With a starting price of almost $27,000, the Taos offers three trims and tops out with the fully optioned Highline at $38,495, which was our tester. All come with LED lights, push-button start and heated front seats. To get niceties like wireless charging and autonomous driving features you’ll need to up the ante to at least the mid-level Comfortline.

Although VW wants to associate the Taos with “fun,” the definition of the word may have been lost in translation. However, if you like VW’s German minimalism, don’t want a flashy vehicle, and want a smaller SUV, you’ll probably enjoy the Taos.

It is a well-put-together vehicle that reflects the manufacturer’s attention to detail and practicality. It may not replicate the Golf’s nimbleness or compact appeal, but it won me over with its predictable and charming VW austerity.

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And fortunately, if you really are still in love with the idea of a small hatchback (like me) the new Golf R and GTI will be coming soon to satisfy your needs.

Tech specs

2022 Volkwagen Taos
  • Base price: $26,695
  • Price as tested: $38,495
  • Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged four cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with all-wheel drive; eight-speed automatic with front-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres; city/hwy): FWD – 8.4./6.6; AWD 9.5/7.4
  • Alternatives: Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV 4, Mazda CX-5

Looks

From the outside, Taos is conservative, looking like a scaled-down version of the Atlas SUV. It’s not cute and not sexy, just very plain and practical looking.

Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

You might need to use your key fob and beep the horn to pick your Taos out of the Compact SUV crowd at the mall. Its exterior design is plain, boxy and simple, and follows the design style of its larger brother the Atlas. Plastic wheel arches and rockers, along with roofracks, give it a rugged appeal.

Interior

Volkswagen has stayed true to its standard austere and simple interior design with the Taos. The interior is almost clinically free of embellishments, giving it a light and airy feel that was enhanced by the panoramic sunroof (available only on the top trims). The driver’s seat lacked the kind of structure that makes a long drive bearable. The rear seats, however, offer NBA-class legroom and a surprisingly soft cushion.

Performance

It’s no powerhouse, but the Taos packs enough under the hood to make driving pleasant, even pleasurable. The suspension is firm enough to give those who enjoy driving a tiny frisson under throttle in a corner, but not so firm that it rattles your fillings over a bumpy road. It’s up for a little mild off-roading, and has excellent highway manners that are enhanced by the available “travel assist” package of Level 2 autonomy features like adaptive cruise control and lane keeping.

Technology

With wireless charging, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, VW has enabled the Taos with the tech that people expect. The multi-function steering wheel puts often-used functions at your thumbtips and in an intuitive way. It also still retains some of the unintuitive traits that characterized the VW user interface in the past. Hunt and peck and you’ll eventually figure it out, if it’s your daily driver.

Cargo

When there’s gear to be carried, the cargo space is both large and well proportioned, putting the utility in SUV.

Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Although the Taos straddles the line between sub-compact and compact SUV, it offers a generous amount of carrying capacity. The upright rear door makes for a tall and squared off cargo zone that will accommodate bulky items with ease. It makes the hatch in the outgoing Golf models look puny by comparison. And with the rear seats folded down – they go 60:40 if you like – there’s 1,866 litres of space.

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The verdict

Bigger and – dare we say better – than the Golf for growing families, people who want to haul a moderate amount or gear and for those who are committed to the idea of a small SUV, but also want a VW.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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