The local subcompact crossover segment already feels a bit too crowded at this point. But carmakers still keep bringing in new models left and right anyway. In 2021 alone, we’ve seen a number of refreshed nameplates and entirely new models make their way over to our market.
Frankly, at this point—given how many bang-for-your-buck offerings are already available—it’s really going to be hard for any new model to stand out. That being said, I feel like there’s one new arrival in particular that’s got the makings of a legitimate competitor: the Volkswagen T-Cross.
Is it the fresh design that drew me in? Is it the price tag? Or is it simply the quirky color lineup? I was recently able to get behind the wheel of this new VW and test it for a few days. Did it live up to my expectations? Here’s what I’ve discovered.
The T-Cross is smaller than the Ford EcoSport, the MG ZS, and the Geely Coolray. But despite its relatively dinky footprint, the crossover still has a lot of road presence. The large headlamps flanking the grille and the hefty front bumper give the T-Cross a bold look. The front skid plate and the wraparound plastic cladding underneath also add a nice contrast to the exterior.
Out back, there’s a glossy black plastic trim that spans the width of the liftgate and is enclosed by the taillights. The design on this end is rather stylish—it’s actually giving me RoboCop vibes—and it matches the front fascia quite nicely. Personally, I dig it.
What I also dig is the T-Cross’ colorway. The unit I got had a Tribu finish, which looks a lot like Mustard Yellow in the metal. I find this and the Syringa Violet the most eye-catching colors on the roster.
The funky colors can also be found inside the cabin. SE variants like the one I drove have interiors accentuated with matching body colors. I thought it looked tacky in the photos, but it’s actually pretty nice up close. The white seats add to the cool vibe inside as well. I also like how the interior doesn’t feel plasticky at all despite the vehicle’s affordable price tag.
Looking at it from the outside, the T-Cross is really bigger than it seems, and the same can be said about the interior. Despite having smaller dimensions than the EcoSport, the T-Cross offers a lot more interior space—credit that to the latter’s longer wheelbase. The legroom, headroom, and elbow room of the Ford is borderline unforgiving, whereas the Volkswagen won’t have a hard time fitting three people in the back.
The T-Cross also boasts generous trunk space, so you’ll have enough room for groceries or luggage at the back. Just take note that while the boot isn’t that high, you might have difficulty loading heavy cargo because of the rear overhang.
Despite all this, however, I have to say that I had a hard time trying to get the perfect seating position. The driver’s seat needs to have tilt adjustment since the angle of the seat itself will have your knees a bit high when you’re behind the wheel.
Powering the T-Cross is a 1.5-liter naturally aspirated gasoline engine that’s got 111hp and 145Nm of torque on tap. It looks potent on paper, but in reality, the powertrain might feel a bit sluggish. The throttle is responsive from a stop, but the T-Cross takes its time to get to expressway speeds—that’s probably because its output peaks at higher revs. I’ve driven cars with smaller engines and lower figures that feel way sportier than this one.
Still, it’s not entirely disappointing, as the T-Cross can still get to 100kph (eventually) and cruise with ease. Revs are kept low along the highway thanks to the six-speed automatic transmission, and the gearbox also helps the vehicle do around 14-15km/L on the highway. In mixed conditions, I got about 10km/L.
Ride and handling
This is one comfortable crossover. The ride is on the soft side, which I like, and sound insulation is superb whether you’re stuck in traffic or you’re driving at speed on the highway. The steering is also very, very light, so maneuvering around parking lots or weaving through standstill traffic is a cinch. This also makes the T-Cross a pretty good starter car, if you ask me.
Admittedly, this one feels more like a city car than it does an SUV—it only has 185mm of ground clearance, after all—so sizable road imperfections shouldn’t be ignored. The low ride, however, helps improve handling. Other segment rivals are more nimble through winding roads, but at least the T-Cross can still hold its own in this regard.
The good amount of features that the T-Cross has on offer is one of its main selling points. For starters, there’s a panoramic sunroof up top, which is hard to miss. There’s a massive 9.2-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay up front, too—the unit I tested didn’t have wireless connectivity yet, though.
Now, this huge display is good for navigation apps like Waze, but the sound that its four-speaker setup produces is mediocre at best. Another gripe I have about it is the voice-command feature that isn’t as flawless as I had hoped for. On many separate occasions, the volume would just go up or even mute without me even saying the right “volume up” or “mute” commands. This and the hand-gesture functions just feel a bit excessive, and they’re functions I’d rather have removed from the setup if possible.
Putting my complaints aside, what I really like in the T-Cross is the availability of USB Type A and Type C ports on both the front and back rows. The Type-C ports, unlike the usual ports on most cars, allow for relatively quick charging of smartphones as well.
So, having spent quite a bit of time with the Volkswagen T-Cross, do I still think this subcompact crossover’s got what it takes to compete? Most certainly. I won’t go too far as saying this could be a segment leader in the future because it needs a lot of catching up to do before that happens, but I’ll be comfortable enough to include this in the discussion whenever someone asks me about a viable five-seater at this price point.
SPECS: 2021 Volkswagen T-Cross 180 MPI SE A/T
Engine: 1.5-liter gasoline I4
Power: 111hp @6,000rpm
Torque: 145Nm @ 3,900rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
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