The T-Cross is a successful Volkswagen product. We knew that from the onset didn’t we? Based on the MQB platform on which the VW Polo is built, a crossover version was always going to be a hit. It is. Well done VW. Especially in South Africa that badge and the immense command derived from decades of South African investment is worth so much in perceived value. We buy VW products because we trust them. That’s it.
The T-Cross slots into a hotly contested segment, in fact one of the most contested segments in automotive South Africa. It’s a segment where the volume sales live, where brands win new customers and then try to retain them within the brand for as long as possible.
The T-Cross is massively appealing here. It is eye-catching no doubt, presenting a modern and practical package that boasts smart tech, a spacious cabin and frugal ownership costs. VW offers the T-Cross in Comfortline, Highline and R-Line trim with trendsetting aesthetic options: a bold colour palette and striking alloy wheel designs. It looks purposeful and cool from any angle with the right combination of cladding, chrome detailing and a dual shoulder line that directs your eye to a smart rear with a continuous rear tailpiece that looks just right.
It’s a similar presentation on the inside but it’s here where the picture goes shaky at times. Material quality is worrying at this sort of price level and that’s before you consider the options lists.
Make no mistake, the cabin is beautifully designed. Designers would call it ‘clean’ meaning a fuss-free, unobtrusive layout undisturbed by creases and buttons and indentations. It feels ultra-modern and minimalist, made so by VW including almost all control functions into the touchscreen infotainment system.
In Highline spec and with the optional Discover Media Infotainment package you get a fully connected and high definition 8-inch unit. It’s an excellent system considering its ease of use, operating speed and plethora of functions from 3D Maps/Nav to smartphone mirroring. There’s only one word to describe this system – premium. It is a really classy option in what is an entry-level vehicle as far as VW’s go. But it’s an option at R23 750. Continuing this theme of connected tech, the T-Cross has 4 USB ports for always-on device surfing. At R2 000 more you can also opt for a wireless charging pad up front. This is very good considering how so many manufacturers overlook this very basic of needs.
Space and packaging of the cabin utilities is also very good. The rear seats slide fore and aft for more or less boot space and with a 60:40 split, these can be laid down flat for taking loading capacity from 455-litres to 1 280-litres. This is significant because it really is where this idea of a crossover versus hatch starts to make sense. The boot benefits from being deeper and higher than the said hatch on which the T-Cross is based.
The rear seats also feature 3, 3-point seatbelts and 2 ISOFIX child seat anchors. Legroom and headroom is good too, but bum room is compromised. It’s still quite a narrow car of course. There are storage areas aplenty which make it a perfect companion for those that use their car as a wardrobe, storage unit, make-up room, coffee lounge, cable and mask holder and more.
Here’s the problem though: Everything looks fantastic in here but I wish I could include the word ‘feel’ here too. But I can’t. It feels quite cheap in here aside from the fancy Active Driver Info display and Discover Media units. The panels all feel quite hollow. You know when you meet someone and they look really striking, bristling with presence – and then you shake their hand and it’s this flimsy, listless thing? That’s the feeling here. Plastics in themselves are not the issue, but the quality of the parts is questionable and quite disappointing really.
We drove the 1.0 TSI 3-cylinder version with a dual clutch transmission. Power is 85kW and 200Nm and it’s a solid performer for what it is. Whilst the DSG unit is smooth, there are occasions when the T-Cross feels underpowered say on hills or when faster overtaking is needed. It also suffers the ills of a stop/start system that isn’t fast enough to get going so I opted to do two things to make the drive a bit better. One was to shift manually and the other was to turn the stop/start off. This isn’t absolutely necessary and owners will figure these things out but it is the trade-off of the 3-cylinder motor in this package. The motor in the Hyundai Venue seems to fare better.
If fuel efficiency is high on your agenda, you’ll need to drive the T-Cross carefully. I was surprised at my 7,4l/100km figure, a healthy mix of freeway driving (about 360km) and then some Northern ‘burbs driving (about 180km). I expected less especially considering VW’s quoted 5,4l/100km on the combined cycle. It is possible for sure but it needs a delicate balance.
On the open road, the T-Cross drives well and ride quality is good. As 3-potters go it can get quite gruff when pushing on and wind noise is certainly noticeable through the cabin but nothing overtly telling. It isn't as refined as I would have liked but the pleasure is in the use of technology to make your drive either more convenient or more entertaining and that is mainly thanks to tech all round.
T-Cross scores highly in the safety stakes with a 5-star EURO Ncap rating. Fitted with ABS, EBD, ASR and 3 x 3-point seatbelts in the rear this is excellent offering in this segment. 6 airbags are able to deploy in a collision and the car will stop itself if still moving after an impact is detected. This is class-leading and it is, I suspect a big reason why this car is priced the way it is. Perhaps the materials don't feel great but under the skin, there's a lot more going on - it's that trust thing again.
The T-Cross is offered with a 3yr/45 000km service plan which isn’t exactly class-leading nor does it make sense at this price bracket. The T-Cross is not cheap especially as you build on all the extras – the car in this T-Cross review starts at R420 200 yet to add the nifty extras and make it look as fresh as we know South African customers want, then you’re above R460 000 mark.
The other consideration is a huge list of competitive offerings, some at similar pricing. Some will come in diesel powertrains if you’re into that, some will come at a cheaper price or for this sort of money you could even step into something bigger and more capable. Besides the Korean brands, the Mahindra XUV300 comes to mind or perhaps even the tried and trusted Ford EcoSport which still sells very well. But safety, modern design and brand power is important and none of these cars have the cred that VW commands in South Africa and that is hard to beat. Trust is everything and VW has that in .... decades.
In a tough segment the T-Cross stands out well enough from the significant crowd. It disappoints in some areas where consumers may have expected more but this doesn’t for one bit discount the fact that it is a welcome and strong contender in the segment, with enough of the standout elements to attract consumers – those being striking looks both interior and exterior as well as a suite of technology and safety features.