When the great twentieth-century balladeer Steven Tyler crooned “Life’s a journey, not a destination,” he probably wasn’t talking about Philippine traffic. But despite George Ramirez’s promise to get us home by four o’clock, the driving rain and enveloping fog rolling across the hills of Cavite had other ideas. All journey, no destination in sight. Not that we minded much. The Volkswagen T-Cross is a relaxing cocoon within which to while away any journey.
Volkswagen Philippines had intended to treat us to a relaxing mountain drive, a warm cup of coffee, some light pottery, and a hearty lunch, in a bid to show that the T-Cross is “more than just one thing.” Or maybe, like pottery, the T-Cross is what you make of it?
In an increasingly Chinese-flooded car market, it is hard to know what to make of the T-Cross. A European design created with the Asian market in mind. As we climb in and plug in our gadgets via the plethora of USB and USB-C ports scattered around the cabin, it asks if we want to hook our phones with Baidu Carlife. A fantastic mirroring app, but foreign to most local motorists. Some of the design cues and color choices also mirror that of more brazen competitors from China.
Despite that, it still has that inherent Germanic feel expected of a Volkswagen. Unfussy restrained lines, with design cues lifted straight from the VW corporate stylebook. All slathered in popping bright golden yellow paint.
The interior is equal parts businesslike and capricious. Sober sand-colored leatherette seats feature black fabric inserts with subliminal “W’s” stitched into them. Black and gray dashboard and door panels are bisected by blazingly body colored inserts. The dual panoramic sunroof bathes all of this in warm glow of dappled sunlight. Well, it would, if there was any sunlight to let in.
Instead, our drive consisted of a light traipse through moist morning traffic through Tagaytay, which revealed the T-Cross to be a reasonably comfortable way to travel, with firm but supple damping and great noise insulation. German solidity, nowhere more evident than in the forged door handles and that uniquely damped VW door-slam, makes it feel composed even over the roughest of roads.
The 1.5-liter engine and six-speed automatic are fairly unobtrusive, but the lack of turbocharging weighs on your mind—and your right foot—on the climb up to Tagaytay. Lots of ‘Manual’ mode fiddling for the odd overtake, as throttle response in ‘Drive’ is rather muted. Halfway up I realize the ‘S’ on the shifter is for ‘Sport’ mode, and leave it there for the rest of the drive. Delay fixed. Zing. Zoom. Problem solved.
Once up in the crisp mountain air, it’s time for coffee and a bit of pottery at Hillbarn Cafe. I order a Sky Latte, a layered concoction of sky blue syrup, fluffy cloudlike foam and salted caramel and coffee hills, but not exactly in that order. The coffee, thankfully is incredibly smooth and not too sweet. Heartily recommended.
After coffee, our master potter Mrs. Rita Badilla-Gudino shows us the ropes, which involves much kneading, banging, molding, slicing, and a sprinkling of off-color jokes. About what you’d expect in a room of middle-aged men talking about pot and that scene from Ghost.
That said, pottery is a relaxing art, requiring precision, patience, and the temperament to put up with things that aren’t quite perfect. And my pottery is nothing if not not quitte perfect. We’re given enough clay to make a single coffee mug. I roll mine thin enough to make two. Hereby ensuring it will inevitably sag when fired in the kiln.
Master Rita is kind enough to accept my contribution to the art without judgment—a knack gathered from teaching at the UP College of Fine Arts for several years. But the jaunty pattern I choose for my cups looks distressingly like tsinelas tread. I could probably chalk that up to my love of walking. But it is more likely a sign that I am an irredeemable cheapskate.
Not that the T-Cross is in any way cheaply made. But at just P1.1-P1.3 million, it’s not exorbitantly expensive, either. A fine balancing act, juggling the conflicting needs of affordability and luxury here. It’s not a perfect fit, but then, nothing is. As Master Potter Rita says: If you want your pottery to look perfectly the same, go ahead and buy it at SM. Likewise, if you want the same car that everyone else is driving, go ahead and buy Japanese.
If you want something that feels more personal, well, there’s the T-Cross.
After our pottery session, seeing the red, yellow and ube colored cars sitting beneath the Hillbarn windmill inspires an odd craving for sapin-sapin. Mental note: pick some up after this drive.
Our next stop is Abagatan ti Manila, for a bit of lunch and photography. The T-Cross is nothing if not photogenic, those wild colors setting it aside from the staid grays and muted colors of the other cars on the lot. And given the affordable price, it really does look more upscale than most.
Granted, the plastic finishes aren’t quite up to snuff versus more-expensive Euro-built Volkswagens, but everything fits tightly, and there are no creaks and buzzes, despite the hairline-tight panel gaps. There’s also more space than you expect, especially in the 453-liter trunk. Theoretically capable of carrying a month’s worth of roadside-purchased fruits and produce, if only the rain would stop long enough for us to pull off the road and shop.
Instead, the entire drive home is spent watching a foggy sliver of road sandwiched between the gray skies in the sunroof above and the blazing yellow dashboard bellow. Relieved of driving duties, I test out the T-Cross’ infotainment system. No Apple Carplay or Android Auto here, but Bluetooth phone integration is painless. The system recommendation of setting the phone equalizer to “flat” gives the best results here.
It’s not the most powerful system in the world, but suitable for some light atmospheric post rock as we crawl through narrow country lanes choked with city-level traffic. Light steering and a narrow beam allow the T-Cross to squirt through tricycle-wide gaps in traffic. The progressive brakes and the well-tuned suspension get quite a workout as we weave and jink across greasy back roads on the seventy kilometer slog back to the city.
We get home an hour late, the sun having long since drowned in the omnipresent gloom. I never did get that sapin-sapin, either. But I don’t feel all that tired. Partially because I didn’t drive. And partially because riding shotgun in such a solid little car isn’t the chore it would be otherwise.
The T-Cross itself is more than just a car. It’s a statement. Maybe not the most bold statement out there, sorry, T doesn’t stand for “turbo.” But it does stand apart from the pack as a declaration of identity. And style. An entry-level European premium lifestyle by way of Asia, kiln-fired to taste.
Maybe you prefer mass-brewed consumer coffee in austere white cups. That’s your choice. But having a little color and excitement in your life never hurt anyone. Traffic? That’s another thing. But with the right company, the right music and the right car, an otherwise protracted journey seems to take no time at all.