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Volkswagen rides the coupe-SUV wave with sleeker version of the T-Cross

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There was a period in the time in the 1990s and early 2000s when manufacturers were falling over each other to introduce quirky little coupes based on superminis. Some were pretty good, others not so much.

The best exponent of that idea was probably the Ford Puma, but the Honda CRX was charming too. Vauxhall had a go with the Tigra, Renault was about 10 years too late with the Wind, and does anyone remember the Toyota Paseo?

It may grate for those of us who value the compact dimensions, low centre of gravity and agile handling of two-door coupes, but the coupes of today are crossovers. The idea of combining the practicality of a small SUV and the proven mass-produced mechanicals of a supermini with a dose of extra style will sound appealing to many. It’s no wonder then, that carmaker after carmaker is introducing swoopier versions of their small crossovers. 

The latest entry to that growing class is the Taigo. It is to the more straight-laced Volkswagen T-Cross what the Vauxhall Mokka is to the Crossland and in a way, what the Nissan Juke is the Renault Captur

But where the Vauxhall Mokka looks radically different to its more sensible brother, VW tends to be more reserved with its styling, which begs the question whether the Taigo can sufficiently differentiate itself from the T-Cross, either in style, practicality or driving experience for buyers to take notice.

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DESIGN & STYLING

2 Volkswagen Taigo road test review side pan

At first glance, the Taigo may look like a T-Cross with a sloping roofline, but put them side by side and you might notice the Taigo is actually a fair bit longer – 150mm in fact – putting it closer to the roughly Golf-sized T-Roc. The additional length mostly goes into the rear overhang, ensuring it loses next to no boot space compared to the T-Cross.

The extra length also allows the tailgate to slope down more gradually, but the roof actually continues past the rear seats, preserving headroom but lessening the visual effect. Adding to the Taigo’s sportier look is a redesigned front end that gives it a wider appearance without actually being any bigger on the road. Like many coupe SUVs, it’s a shape that works best with big wheels and a bold paint colour, so the spec of the car in the photos doesn’t really do it any favours.

Readers in South America, or those particularly clued up on their world Volkswagens will notice that the Taigo isn’t a completely new design. It’s actually derived from the Nivus, which has been for sale in certain South American countries. The Taigo is made in Spain alongside the T-Cross, however, and has been tuned specifically for European tastes and roads.

The Taigo’s mechanical specification reads even more familiar than its design. It’s the same as a T-Cross or Polo underneath. That means it rides on the same MQB-A0 platform as every other VW Group supermini or small crossover, and comes with a range of three- and four-cylinder petrol engines. 

So far, the VW Group has resisted introducing hybrid power to its smallest cars. Not even mild hybrid is on the menu, and neither are diesels, as interest in small diesel cars has all but vanished.

A 94bhp three-cylinder with a five-speed manual is the entry point to the range. The meat of sales will be of the mid-range 1.0-litre with 108bhp, which can be had with a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG. Finally, there is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder with 148bhp and a DSG.

 

INTERIOR

How much scratchy plastic can a car manufacturer get away with? The champion at that balancing act must be Volkswagen. The interior design of the Taigo is by and large the same as you’ll find in the T-Cross and very similar to the Polo hatchback. 

That means it looks crisp but slightly forgettable and it’s getting a little long in the tooth next to the more imaginative style of the Vauxhall Mokka or Nissan Juke. VW makes sure that anything you need to touch regularly is made of high-grade materials – the leather on the steering wheel wouldn’t be out of place on an Audi – but everything else is hard plastic. Hard-wearing for sure, but rather austere for a car nudging £30,000.

It doesn’t help that in most versions, the colour palette is a mix of black and grey. On Style trim, you can select the Ceramique-Visual Green, which gives you white and luminous green trim. It certainly lifts the ambience, but will probably be a bit too much for most buyers.

The upside of the interior being slightly dated is that for those who wish they could still buy a previous-generation Golf, the answer is right here. Yes, there is a touch screen to control various functions, but it’s a simpler and better-resolved version than you’ll find in the latest Golf or the ID cars, and it comes with a brace of shortcut buttons. 

The climate is controlled via a separate, which does contain touch-sensitive buttons if you opt for the dual-zone climate control, but they are at least backlit. The rest of the ergonomics are pleasingly old-school, too, with physical buttons on the steering wheel and lane-keep assist that can be turned off by a press of the button on the column stalk.

Rear seat space – both legroom and headroom – is generous for the segment, and that includes more upright and less swoopy alternatives like the Skoda Kamiq and Hyundai Kona. The Taigo’s sloping roof line loses it 15l compared to the T-Cross, but it’s still pretty cavernous for a ‘small’ crossover.

Volkswagen Taigo infotainment and sat-nav

Less is often more when it comes to Volkswagen infotainment systems. In the latest Golf and ID cars, the interface is often unintuitive and slow, and the built-in navigation can be quite hard to fathom on the move, too.

The Taigo uses an older system, so its clearer menus and permanent shortcut buttons mean it’s perfectly easy to use, and it has Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay whichever version you go for. A wireless charging pad and four USB-C ports are standard on all versions too.

The basic system has an 8in screen, which is plenty, and as the navigation is mediocre, we wouldn’t bother with any of the upgrades. That money would be better spent on the upgraded ‘Beats’ audio system as the standard speakers are typical for a small car’s in that they’re nothing special.

 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

It’s by no means the first time we’ve tested a car with this engine, and it probably won’t be the last. Given how many models use the Volkswagen 1.0TSI, it could well be the most sold engine in Europe.

That doesn’t mean it’s the best: At low revs, it can be a little grumbly and doesn’t sound all that willing to rev out either. To plod along on the daily grind, however – which is what most Taigos will be doing most of the time – it’s fine. It doesn’t let its voice be heard much unless you’re lugging or caning it and it has a decent spread of torque.

We’ve tested the 110PS version with the seven-speed DSG automatic and that is the version we’d recommend, even if it’s not without flaws. The 95PS version tends to sound a little sweeter and rev more eagerly, but while it’s adequate in a supermini, it’s going to feel a little mean in a heavier crossover.

The addition of 15bhp, in combination with a sixth gear and, on the automatic, a seventh gear, adds some welcome flexibility. It’s still not fast, but with a 30-70mph time of 9.3sec in third gear and 10.0sec in fourth, it’s just the right side of effortless for the daily grind. The 1.5-litre four-cylinder is obviously preferable if you can afford it, but not essential.

While the 110PS engine is perfectly capable in the Taigo, there is no completely satisfactory choice of gearbox. VW manuals tend to be quite joyless due to a long throw and a mushy feel, so the DSG is preferable. However, the lower-power engines like the 1.0TSI get a dry-clutch version, whereas more powerful engines are usually mated to a wet-clutch unit.

And you can feel it’s a less sophisticated gearbox in operation. Very occasionally there’s a hard shift, it struggles with manoeuvring on hills and upshifts during full- bore acceleration aren’t the fastest. Not the end of the world, but not a perfectly refined experience either. We also couldn’t get it to do a hard launch, so the 0-62 time of 10.5sec understates the engine’s flexibility in the real world.

In any case, the gearbox also suffers from the usual DSG trait of being excessively keen to select a high gear and lug the engine. That being said, knocking the gear selector into sport mode solves the issue quite neatly.

On balance, the DSG is still preferable in a car like the Taigo whose main purpose is to be easy to drive, unless if you’re a company car driver. On paper, the automatic uses 4mpg more than the manual and emits 10g/km of CO2 more, which pushes it up two BIK bands.

RIDE & HANDLING

Almost no one buys a compact crossover for its handling finesse and engagement, so few Taigo buyers will appreciate that it’s actually a bit of an overachiever in this segment. 

Be it because of some happy accident or a chassis engineer with something to prove, the ordinary Volkswagen Taigo has some of the best steering feel of any modern car that doesn’t purport to be a hardcore performance model. In fact, we’d argue it has more communicative steering than both the Ford Fiesta ST and Hyundai I20N. 

Natural weighting that progressively increases as the front end is loaded up and then falls away when grip runs out used to be a given on any mildly sporting car, but became a rarity with the advent of electric power steering. You’ll still find it in a Taigo, of all places. 

Does that make it fun to drive? Certainly more so than most rivals, bar perhaps the Ford Puma. It could easily pass for a well-sorted hatchback. Our test car came on 17in wheels and 205-section Goodyear Efficient Grip tyres, so enjoyed decent grip both in the wet and dry, with a neutral balance – unexciting but safe, as you would expect from a small crossover. 

Combine the conservative dynamics with a pretty workaday powertrain and seats with little in the way of side bolstering, and the steering feel fails to turn the Taigo into some secret hot hatch. Nevertheless, it manages to give more back to the driver than most crossovers and that’s something we can get behind.

Volkswagen Taigo comfort and isolation

Volkswagen has lost its way a little on interior quality and infotainment, but if there is one thing it still consistently gets right it’s finding a healthy balance between ride and handling on its mainstream cars.

Not because of any fancy suspension technology: like every other small crossover or hatchback other than the Mini, the Taigo uses MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear, adaptive dampers are not even available as an option, and the alloy wheels – 16 to 18 inches in diameter – are neither unusually large nor unusually small.

Despite more than competent handling, the Taigo deals with uneven surfaces fairly adroitly. Yes, you can feel the potholes in the road and mid-corner bumps can cause a shimmy from the torsion beam, but it’s no worse than anything else in the class. A Skoda Kamiq might be marginally more cossetting, but anyone who finds the Taigo’s ride objectionable is going to have to up their budget and look a few segments higher.

The Taigo isolates its occupants from road noise fairly well for a compact car, but there are still plenty of quieter choices for motorway miles. The Nissan Juke, Vauxhall Mokka and even the Ford Puma are all two to four decibels quieter at a cruise.

One word of warning if you intend to use the Taigo as mile muncher: the seat cushion is rather short and flat, so drivers with longer legs will find their thighs unsupported, which becomes tiring on long drives.

Assisted driving notes

Small cars still often miss out on a lot of the active safety kit of more expensive cars, but that’s not a criticism that can be levelled at the Taigo. Volkswagen calls its suite of driver assistance features IQ Drive and includes adaptive cruise control with active lane following, blind-spot monitoring, rear traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection.

It all works fairly well, with no false positives from the collision avoidance, lane keep assist that can easily be disabled on rural roads and relatively perceptive adaptive cruise control. One thing did annoy testers: when the car comes to a stop automatically, it asks the driver to press the brake pedal. If not, it will start creeping forward again. As a safety measure, it seems unnecessary and counterproductive.

 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Volkswagen Taigo road test review tracking front

Prices for the Volkswagen Taigo start at £23,155 for a 95PS 1.0TSI with a manual gearbox in ‘Life’ trim. However, we would recommend to at least go for the 110PS version with the six-speed gearbox. That starts from £23,965 and is actually relatively well-equipped. A digital gauge cluster, single-zone climate control, an 8in multimedia screen, adaptive cruise control with lane following and front and rear parking sensors are all standard-fit. 

It’s unlikely that any Taigos will leave the showroom absolutely standard, as things like metallic paint (£630-800), a bigger digital gauge cluster (£320), heated seats (£310) and larger alloys will prove hard to resist. The latter in particular are tempting, as the Taigo is one of those designs that seems intended for 18in wheels. We’d also add keyless go, since taller drivers can easily hit the ignition key with their knee.

If you want the large alloys or the funky ‘Visual Green’ interior, you’ll have to upgrade to Style trim, like our test car, which came out at £30,470. Style also comes with matrix LED headlights, a rarity for the segment. Compared to more expensive cars, they don’t have as many segments, but they’re still a boon if you live in the countryside. 

Alternatively, with a £4,600 deposit, and assuming 10,000 miles per year for three years, our test car would would cost £420 per month on a PCP thanks to a £500 contribution from Volkswagen and a 5.6% APR.

Those prices might sound like a lot for a small crossover, but it’s on par with the much less practical Ford Puma. The Taigo is still more expensive than a comparable Nissan Juke or Vauxhall Mokka, however. It’s also a smidgen dearer than the Volkswagen Volkswagen T-Cross, but counters with slightly more standard equipment.

Despite the Taigo range lacking any kind of mild hybrid technology, we managed to average 46.4mpg over the course of a week that included plenty of motorway miles, but also our usual performance testing. That’s significantly better than any of its rivals short of the full hybrid options like the Toyota Yaris Cross or Renault Captur E-Tech.

VERDICT

The Taigo is in effect a more stylish, coupe-like version of the Volkswagen T-Cross small crossover. That’s its main selling point, but could just as easily hold it back. Where the Vauxhall Mokka is a markedly different car from the Vauxhall Crossland, the Taigo could easily replace the T-Cross in the range and few people would notice. Conversely, buyers could easily be blissfully unaware of the Taigo’s existence.

It doesn’t deserve to be overlooked, because it’s a very well-rounded small car, of the sort that Volkswagen was traditionally very good at. Some rivals feel plusher inside, but apart from that, the Taigo hardly puts a foot wrong. The range of engines is well-proven and the 110PS triple combines excellent economy with all the performance you could reasonably expect from a car like this. With a few caveats, the Taigo is comfortable, more than decent to drive, roomy for the segment and not unreasonably priced.

The Taigo is a slightly formulaic variation on a familiar recipe, but now that it’s here, it’s worth a look.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Volkswagen Taigo First drives