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Comparison: 2022 Volkswagen Taos vs 2022 Subaru Forester

To each their own, we say Automotive columnist: , Updated:

•    Auto123 compares the 2022 Volkswagen Taos and 2022 Subaru Forester.

•    The two subcompact/compact crossover models are similar in that they carry some baggage, so to speak. Read on.

There are odd asterisks to each of the two models under our microscope today, the 2022 Volkswagen Taos and the 2022 Subaru Forester.

You wouldn’t think the Subaru Forester SUV could have shadow cast on it by the Japanese brand’s Impreza compact sedan, but in a way it suffers from just that. Both models offer roughly the same features, and both offer Subaru’s patented AWD system. But here’s the difference. All of the Forester’s competitors offer AWD, but only one of the Impreza’s rivals – the Mazda3 – has something equivalent.

The Volkswagen Taos has its own personal demons to battle, in that it’s serving as the replacement from the discontinued Golf Sportwagen, an ace when it came delivering car-like dynamics with people-moving capability.

Two crossovers that live in the shadows of their smaller siblings. How do they stack up?

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2022 Volkswagen Taos - Logo
Photo: D.Heyman
2022 Volkswagen Taos - Logo

2022 Volkswagen Taos

The Taos, so named for a town in New Mexico that a famous beatnik VW mechanic called home back in the day, is an interesting proposition. It’s not every day a famous nameplate like “Golf” get replaced, and in this case the replacement sits in an entirely different segment. 

It also has to compete of sorts with the Tiguan just above it in the same lineup. That said, know that the Taos is closer in size to the previous-generation two-row Golf-based Tiguan than to the three-row version available in North America today. So if you preferred the older, smaller Tiguan format, then the Taos is now the way to go. 

2022 Volkswagen Taos - Interior
Photo: D.Heyman
2022 Volkswagen Taos - Interior

The interior 
When it comes to interior space, the Taos is full value for its segment. The tall roof is a boon for headroom both front and rear. There’s surprisingly good legroom in back as well, in fact you could reasonably seat adults or taller teenagers back there. It’s a shame VW doesn’t offer heated seats to those folks.

The two-tone leather seating option on the Highline version is a nice premium touch. The bottom seat cushions are a bit flat, but that makes the seatbacks that much easier to fold flat. Do that and you get over 1,800 litres of cargo space (up from 790 litres otherwise). 

It’s also worth noting that there is no power tailgate option, which is a shame. 

The dashboard is a straightlaced affair with few curved or flared surfaces and a set of climate controls that don’t look like they’ve changed much since the Golf. They’re easy enough to navigate and I appreciate that they’re physical buttons, but this is a VW parts bin special. 

The driver’s seating position, meanwhile, is high and upright – probably good for most drivers not sized 6’3” as I am, but I did find it a little throne-like for my liking. The digital gauge cluster, however, is crisp and easy-to read and you can tell VW has spent time on its graphics to make it look as traditional as possible.

2022 Volkswagen Taos - Exterior design
Photo: D.Heyman
2022 Volkswagen Taos - Exterior design

It talks like a Golf, but does it walk like a Golf?
For the most part it does, actually. You’ll have some body roll due to the tall roof but the suspension has been tuned to keep things in check, and while the ride is on the firm side, you won’t find it uncomfortably jarring in normal driving. VW has a thing about tuning their chassis to feel a notch or two above the MSRP of their vehicle and when it comes to its ride, the Taos is no different.

The steering is another strong point. I wouldn’t mind a little more feel – a common refrain in this day of electric-assist power steering – but the response and weightiness are on point; if it weren’t for that seating position, a person who didn’t know any better would think they’re driving something smaller… like a Golf. 

2022 Volkswagen Taos - Engine
Photo: D.Heyman
2022 Volkswagen Taos - Engine

Turbo power and double clutching 
That depends, however, on which model you select. If you opt for AWD, you get a dual-clutch 7-speed auto transmission; front-wheel-drive models get standard 8-speed; and there is no manual option. The FWD Taos Trendline starts at $29,072, while $36,072 will get you into an AWD-equipped Comfortline model. 

That DCT is an incredibly responsive gearbox that almost feels like it has pre-selected the next gear, so switches happen with almost no power interruption. It makes you all that much more eager to swap the cogs on your own, even though that’s done via the shift lever as opposed to a pair of wheel-mounted paddles, which is unfortunate. 

The punchy 1.5L turbocharged engine delivers 158 hp and 184 lb-ft torque. Fuel consumption is officially  8.5L/100 km, which shrinks to 7.6L/100 km in an FWD model even though the power figures remain the same. There are three drive modes - Eco, Normal and Sport plus a Custom setting. 

Style for miles
In addition to its unique profile, the Taos also gets some exterior styling details that really draw the eye. I’m a big fan of the optional two-tone 19-inch wheels seen here, while the headlamp lenses and their LED DRLs are an upscale touch. The big Taos scripting across the tailgate is nicely in-keeping with the times. The Cornflower Blue hue, meanwhile, is one of many available colours but it is the brightest (and looks as good here as it does on a GTi).

2022 Subaru Forester - Exterior design
Photo: D.Heyman
2022 Subaru Forester - Exterior design

2022 Subaru Forester 

For the first time, the Forester gets a Wilderness this year, which helps it stand out not only among other Subarus, but among the competition as well. 

The Wilderness version gets all sorts of extra body cladding ‘round the wheels and rocker panels, special badges, underbody skid-plates both front and back, gold trim detailing and Yokohama Geolander off-road tires. The changes add so much presence that if you only look at it for a split second, you may confuse it for the bigger, burlier Outback Wilderness, which is where that trim got its start. 

Other Foresters, meanwhile, this year receive a new fog-light shape new grille and new bumpers. It should be noted that adding all that off-roading paraphernalia does mean the Wilderness gets worse fuel economy than the other Forester models. 

(The FWD Taos is the fuel economy champ of everything here, while the AWD Taos splits the difference between the Wilderness and other Forester models).

The Wilderness version is a comprehensively upgraded model, though. And it’s not even the priciest one; that’s a title reserved for the Premier version, which comes in at $40,595 compared to the Wilderness’ $38,995. The base Forster trim starts at $29,495. 

2022 Subaru Forester - Interior
Photo: D.Heyman
2022 Subaru Forester - Interior

Step Inside
The gold trimwork is repeated inside the cabin, where you’ll find it splashed on the bottom steering wheel spoke, the shift knob, and even on the X-Mode select dial 

Other than those metallic sparkles, though, it’s somewhat dark in the Forester unless you select the Sport or Limited trims, which allow the choice of a lighter interior colour. Otherwise, there’s a swathe of black atop the dash, below it, on the seats, the doors – the materials used are fine, but it is dark.

Space-wise, the Forester doesn’t have quite the roofline as the Taos, but headroom both front and back is fine, though it doesn’t necessarily look it in models with the darker interior finish. 

Unlike in the Taos, there’s no newfangled digital gauge cluster in here, but the frameless infotainment display is a step up from the somewhat aftermarket-looking item seen on the Taos, Note that both vehicles offer two screen choices (6.5” and 8”). On some Foresters, meanwhile, you get a second display atop the dash which serves a number of purposes, from showing your angle of attack to functioning as forward-facing camera.  

The Forester also is the first to get Subaru’s new EyeSight 4 system, which now has a wider view out, provides automatic emergency steering, electric brake boost and enhanced lane-centering assist, lane departure assist, pre-collision braking and adaptive cruise control. It’s a big step up on the driver aids offered by the Taos.

2022 Subaru Forester - Front of
Photo: D.Heyman
2022 Subaru Forester - Front of

Heading off the beaten track
Things have to get pretty rough to stop the Forester, especially in Wilderness spec equipped with X-Mode dual-function AWD. Basically, X-Mode is a kind of an off-road cruise control. Activating it with the press of a button provides up to 50/50 front/rear power distribution and will do the braking and accelerating for you as you traverse steep, slow terrain so you can focus on the steering. 

All the while, you have that forward-facing camera that gives you a hi-def view off the ground ahead so if you’re making a steep climb and can only see sky, it’s there to look at the road ahead. It takes a little getting used to looking at that letterbox-ish display instead of out the windshield ahead, but get used to it and it proves very handy.

Underscoring all of this, however, is just how competent the Forester’s chassis feels in most any conditions. The suspension is tuned for a great sweet-spot between off-road readiness and on-road comfort, and the X-Mode system is just so good at sending power where it needs to go that it truly feels like the Forester is a CUV made to handle harsh Canadian winters. 

2022 Subaru Forester - Engine
Photo: D.Heyman
2022 Subaru Forester - Engine

Get your (boxing) gloves on
Like the Taos, the Forester gets a single engine choice, but here it’s not a turbocharged unit. The bigger naturally aspirated flat-4 motor measure 2.5L and is good for 182 hp and 176 lb-ft. So while you don’t get that turbo love, you actually get more horses here than in the Taos; but that is traded for less torque, which is often the case when you go without forced induction. 

While you’ll never call Subaru’s “boxer” engines smooth, the offbeat burble they present is likable and they give the sense that there’s a deep-chested well of torque. It pulls gamely through the rev range, even though there’s a continuously variable unit at work, not the most thrilling of transmission types. They have built in virtual “shift points” to at least make it feel like you’re driving with a traditional auto –and while I do poke a bit of fun at the CVT, the Forester has the shift paddles the Taos lacks. 

2022 Volkswagen Taos vs 2022 Subaru Forester - Front of
Photo: D.Heyman
2022 Volkswagen Taos vs 2022 Subaru Forester - Front of

Advantage Taos

While the Forester’s shift paddles do return it some points on the driveability scale, the Taos still delivers the more agile and refined drive. It feels more upmarket than its sub-30,000 price tag suggests, and that’s a big win. 

Advantage Forester

The Taos doesn’t come close, though, when it comes to the Forester’s off-road capability. While the Taos feels more upmarket thanks to its chassis tuning, the Forester feels like it punches way above its weight class in the off-road department. It feels like a specialist in those situations, but somehow its qualities aren’t compromised – namely via a noisy, rough ride – when on the road. 

Similarities

While these SUVs are quite different when it comes to their powertrain configurations, both manage to do a lot with relatively little. The Taos’ engine isn’t the biggest and the Forester’s isn’t turbocharged, but neither vehicle will leave you wanting in the power department. 

Verdict

It has to be said that of these two, the Forester should be the choice for most Canadians, just because it’s so dependable across so many different landscapes in such a variety of conditions. The Taos, however, shows how car-like a crossover can be, so it’s a good choice if you need to make the jump to a crossover but really don’t want to leave the life of a compact hatch owner behind. Or if you really miss the old Tiguan. 

2022 Volkswagen Taos vs 2022 Subaru Forester - Three quarter back
Photo: D.Heyman
2022 Volkswagen Taos vs 2022 Subaru Forester - Three quarter back

2022 Volkswagen Taos

We like

Styling
Drives like a car

We like less

Tame interior digs
No power tailgate 

2022 Subaru Forester

We like

Standard AWD
Wilderness adds styling punch

We like less

CVT not the most engaging
Rough powertrain attitude

2022 Volkswagen Taos vs 2022 Subaru Forester - Rear
Photo: D.Heyman
2022 Volkswagen Taos vs 2022 Subaru Forester - Rear