Tip of the hat to Taos

VW’s latest SUV proves up to the task of city’s latest snowstorm

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In the mountains of New Mexico, about two hours north of Santa Fe, is a charming, picturesque village known as much for skiing as for its beautiful scenery. It was also the home of John Muir, a structural engineer who dropped out and became a long-haired hippie mechanic who wrote an authoritative guide to fixing old Volkswagens.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/01/2022 (315 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In the mountains of New Mexico, about two hours north of Santa Fe, is a charming, picturesque village known as much for skiing as for its beautiful scenery. It was also the home of John Muir, a structural engineer who dropped out and became a long-haired hippie mechanic who wrote an authoritative guide to fixing old Volkswagens.

Legend has it, the fact Muir — who died in 1977 — lived in Taos, N.M., is why Volkswagen named its latest SUV after the town.

“I think it’s a really cool name, but was it named Taos because John Muir lived there? I’m not so sure,” says VW Canada spokesman Thomas Tetzlaff, who has thumbed through many a page in Muir’s manual. “I think it’s just a really cool coincidence.”

The interior is nicely laid out, and topline models come with accent lighting that creates a blue hue along accent creases on the dash and doors.

Taos, the town, represents everything VW wants reflected in the Taos — it’s a picturesque, artsy community with architecture, vistas, old-style trestle rail bridges and a thriving social scene, he says.

Do I see the town, reflected in Taos, the vehicle? I’m not usually given to marketing tropes, but I do see a tidy, capable little crossover that handled our recent snowpocalypse with aplomb.

The tester was, of course, all-wheel drive (a front-drive model is available), and offers a three-mode selection switch that tailors the vehicle to snow, normal roads and off-road driving. It isn’t a trail-buster like the Ford Bronco or Jeep Wrangler, but it isn’t trying to be.

That snow mode did improve traction considerably. According to Tetzlaff, snow mode makes the traction and stability control systems react more quickly, adjusts the split of torque to better distribute power in low-traction conditions and flattens the accelerator response and hastens upshifts to reduce slippage.

The effect was pronounced, particularly one day last week when the ruts were polished to a shine and the snow acted like the sand on shuffleboard tables.

Power comes from a tiny 1.5-litre four-cylinder motor, boosted to acceptable levels of power by a turbocharger. It delivers 158 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. It distributes power through an eight-speed automatic for front-drive models and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission for all-wheel drive models, as in the model driven.

Unlike many dual-clutch transmissions, I wouldn’t have known had I not had to look up the specifications. It is smooth and automatic-like, without the drivability issues — jerky downshifts, jerky upshifts, shift delays — of other dual-clutch systems. The combination is smooth, powerful and efficient, with a combined fuel economy rating of 8.5 l/100 kilometres, according to Natural Resources Canada.

Engines across the automotive landscape are becoming smaller and smaller, as carmakers of all stripes react to shrinking fuel economy standards. It means that a lot is being asked of some pretty tiny motors, particularly with the added stress of turbocharging. The jury is still out on what this means for long-term reliability, but history has shown that mechanical devices have their limits. Does this make leasing a better deal? Perhaps.

As the smallest SUVW (as VW calls its SUVs), the Taos fits in under such competitors as Mazda CX-5 or Toyota RAV4, but it’s not so small as to be a competitor with the cramped Mazda CX-3, Toyota CH-R or Honda HR-V. Forward of the rear seat back, it seems as spacious as its larger competitors. It’s only in the cargo area where the size is more readily apparent. The 755 litres of cargo space is presented as best as it can be, but is not huge.

Supplied The 2022 Volkswagen Taos is the smallest SUV in the VW family, slotting it under the Tiguan.

It seems incongruous to label it a competitor of the Mazda CX-30, which plays much more like a tall sports wagon than an SUV. The closest direct competitor may be the Nissan Qashqai, though the VW starts at about $4,000 more, which puts it about midway between, for example, the Qashqai and the CX-5.

The interior of the Taos is what we’ve come to expect from VW. It’s all built very well and looks great. The sound system — with satellite radio and Bluetooth capability — sounds great. Though, oddly, when playing music over Bluetooth from my iPhone, it would play a second or so of the track just finished before starting the next track.

The touchscreen display works well, even if touchscreens aren’t my favourite. It senses your hand coming in, and enlarges certain functions to make them easier to hit. It will warn you before allowing access to certain functions — such as direct channel input for the satellite radio — but will let you bypass the warning.

There’s a $10,000 gap between the starting Trendline model ($26,695, front-wheel drive: $29,195, all-wheel drive) and the top-level Highline ($36,695). For that, you get ventilated seats (heated seats are standard throughout), satellite navigation, the VW digital cockpit and Beats Audio sound system. At Comfortline ($32,395) and above, all-wheel drive is standard.

kelly.taylor@freepress.mb.ca

Kelly Taylor

Kelly Taylor
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter

Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.

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