Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0 TSI Comfortline DSG
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
This review is available as a podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or here.
Volkswagen is a pretty popular brand in South Africa. Which is also a bit of an understatement - they regularly fill one or two positions in the top three selling cars in the country, so they are incredibly popular. But that doesn't mean that everything they produce is an automatic bestseller. The Arteon, for example: a stupendous looking thing, not a bad drive by most accounts, but not a great seller.
And then there's the Touareg. The world is crazy about SUVs - and here's an SUV with a VW badge that's still no great shakes in the sales stakes. The T-Cross is a different story. Released in 2019, it very quickly became the company's third best selling model, selling around 300 units a month. By comparison, VW only sells about 200 Golfs a month. It's a success story that's fascinated me - not least of all because I don't really get the hype around the T Cross. I had a chance to drive one for two days before the coronavirus locked down hit before it was then taken away from me. But now it's back and I'm keen to find out if I get to see the light.
Our test drive is the T-Cross 1.0 TSI comfort line DSG. Except it's not, because it has the R Line exterior pack fitted to it, which includes 17-inch wheels. Finished in its pure white paint job and with the extra R Line editions, this is one of the more common looking T-Cross specs you'll see.
If you’ve followed my motoring stuff in the recent past, you’ll no doubt you know I’m not the biggest fan of the T-Cross look. I don't think it's horrible looking, but for me, the front end is on the nice side of generic, and the heavy eyeshadow look at the rear doesn't really work for me. Its proportions are all spot on, but on the whole, is it nicer or more interesting looking than, say, a Kia Seltos?
I know there are T-Crosses that are finished in orange paint jobs with matching orange wheels, but by and large, they're not spectacular looking, are they? I've had a few conversations with people about the look of the T-Cross, and I am happy to concede that I'm outnumbered in my “it's nothing special opinion”. So let's move on to more quantifiable things like the interior.
This is where things get interesting for the T-Cross. From a value point of view, the base price is R374 000. For that, you get things like cruise control and all-round park distance control. If you want to spend a bit more, you can get keyless operation and wireless charging. So the spec is well sorted. Really well sorted. Compared to its biggest current rival, the Kia Seltos, it has better standard spec and is cheaper. Only by a few grand, but still - it's cheaper. The problem is that it kind of feels cheaper. The touch screen on top of the center stack is a bang up-to-date VW part, and the multi-function steering wheel has a nice chrome accent and buttons on the lower section of the horizontal arms. But generally, the Seltos interior feels a little more modern and a little less flimsy. There’s no cloth insert anywhere on the doors, just an expanse of hard plastic in two different shades. On the upside, the instrumentation is good, the ergonomics are spot on and the inserts for the dashboard and doors is a nicely patterned plastic. Space all round is good, with decent headroom; the 455 litre boot is about what you'd expect.
Powering our test car is VW's 1.0 three cylinder turbo motor with 85kW and 200Nm. There's generally not a lot to dislike about three-cylinder turbo motors: I'm always quite surprised at how capable they are. And then on top of that, there’s that really cute sort of half flat-six cylinder soundtrack. And all of that is true of the T-Cross, which has an engine that is absolutely fine.
Drive is to the front wheels through a 7-speed dual clutch gearbox, and the whole drive train just does what it's supposed to: need to take a gap in traffic? Drop a gear using the shifter's manual mode, put your foot down. It delivers the same with overtaking on the highway, where it does a good job of cruising comfortably along.
And it's the same thing with the right set up, which is just very crossover. Here you have the slightly bigger body that’s as easy to get to grips with as a regular hatchback. And that’s unsurprising, really, when you realize that the T-Cross is built on Volkswagen's MKB 0 platform, which is the same as the Polo. And then once you've spent some time with this car and got to experience that shared componentry, you begin to realize something.
This car is just a big Polo. There are major similarities between the two, the interior shares a lot of parts, and the drive feels very similar. I'm not saying that that's a bad thing, but I will admit that it did have an impact on my enjoyment of the car. Given how popular it is, and all the hype around it, and the enthusiastic response to the T-Cross, I was expecting something that was fantastically enjoyable.
I know what I said about the styling, but I can't discount that from the overall enjoyment of the drive because I realize it's subjective. But as for the rest of the package, I was expecting something with a little more substance. Is it a horrible thing to drive or to look at or to interact with? Absolutely not. Is it limited in any way within reason? I don't think so, no. But for me, it's also not that special.
It does what it's supposed to do: get you from one place to another, comfortably and safely in a package that most people see as attractive. And if that's all you want from your crossover, then the T-Cross is a good bet.
And all of that kind of does and kind of doesn't answer my question about why the T-Cross is so popular.
Ultimately, the T-Cross does deliver in the same way that the Polo does, and given how popular that car is, I guess it's no stretch to realize why this car is so popular. But the T-Cross doesn't do anything amazingly special. When you consider something like a Kia Seltos, it delivers as good a drive with a nicer interior and a bit more character. And unless you're buying the GT line version, you're not spending too much more money for all of that. So I guess Volkswagen's brand loyalty that I mentioned earlier goes some way to making up for the T-Cross’ lack of excitement.
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