The times are clearly a-changing at Wolfsburg, if Volkswagen’s smallest ‘SUV’ offering is anything to go by.
One of the nicknames given to Herbert Diess during his tenure at BMW was ‘Scrooge’. Even though he’s in charge of the VAG empire in general and the VW brand in particular these days, it would appear his business instincts haven’t changed one bit. Certainly not if the VW T-Cross, one of the first products into which he had any significant input, serves as an indication. For this Polo with rugged pretensions barely feels like the kind of car one expects a Volkswagen to be.
Obviously, it wasn’t just Herr Diess’ parsimonious tendencies that cast such an unflattering light onto the T-Cross during the week I and my partner got to sample it. The sometimes merciless nature of the rental car lottery was equally to be blamed. After all, just a few weeks prior, we’d truly been spoiled with the excellent VW Golf GTI Performance – a car that highlighted what Wolfsburg can be capable of, in truly impressive fashion. The contrast with the T-Cross therefore could scarcely have been any harsher.
Obviously, the T-Cross is supposedly one category below a Golf-size car (which is what we’d booked and I insisted upon, to no avail), and a 1.0 litre three-cylinder engine, producing the grand total of 115 metric horsepower cannot hope to match the performance of the GTI, whose output is more than twice that figure. But even if one shouldn’t expect power and speed, one can rightfully expect a certain level of sophistication from a car sporting the VW badge.
This expectation isn’t met very early on. For in terms of perceived quality, the T-Cross must be the most glaringly obvious case of a VW product designed and built to a price since the unfortunate Fox was taken off the market.
The plastics used almost anywhere not only feel, but look like something more appropriate for a Dacia than a ‘lifestyle crossover’ – even a compact one. Every part one inevitably touches – be it the door grab handle, dashboard, centre console, seat or steering wheel – is unpleasant to the touch. On top of that, the shiny fabric used to cover the seats (augmented by some particularly mean leatherette accents) turns out to be more perspiration stimulating than most leather variants.
Ergonomically, the T-Cross also disappoints, with seats that become uncomfortable rather quickly and an awkwardly angled main instrument gauge. In addition, the steering wheel isn’t just covered in hardly supple ‘leather’, but its rim is also uncomfortably thick.
Air conditioning was also an issue in this VW, as the automatic setting resulted in an uneven distribution of cold air: Sometimes, the air con would struggle to keep the cabin cool, while on other occasions it would blow unnecessarily rigorously in the direction of one of the front occupations. As a sign of the times, the T-Cross isn’t equipped with an air outlet for the rear passengers either, but two USB ports (which isn’t helpful when travelling with a dog).
The climate control’s behaviour was somewhat reminiscent of that of the Ford Fiesta we tested over the Christmas holidays, which, in retrospect, shared certain traits with the T-Cross (the unimpressive seat comfort being another). That being said – and rather astoundingly – the Ford felt like the far more expensive, ‘premium’ car than the VW, even if disregarding the Vignale accoutrements of the former.
In terms of NVH, the T-Cross failed to impress, too. There was a whining noise from the front axle, whose frequency increased with speed, until it’s eventually drowned out by the considerable ambient noise. The three-pot engine shakes the car whenever it is pushed – an effect exacerbated by the very coarse DSG ‘box, whose actions are at times reminiscent of the automated manual gear boxes of yore. The resultant forced nodding heads could almost be seen as a desperate attempt to elicit any gesture of approval on the driver’s part.
The T-Cross’ performance was sluggish to a frustrating extent. Power delivery was slow and inconsistent, as the car always seemed to be in far too high a gear. Despite being far less powerful than aforementioned Golf GTI, the T-Cross struggled for traction on a regular basis, for example when accelerating to enter a roundabout – a combination of its idiosyncratic stop-start system, turbo lag, lack of power and small wheels.
Taking all of these factors into account, the VW’s combined fuel consumption wasn’t impressive (6.3 l/100 km; 45 MPG), particularly as the car was hardly ever driven any faster than 140 kph, owing to it being sensitive to crosswinds and perceivably strained at speeds higher than this.
With our steed providing my partner and myself with few pleasures – not to mention the roads works covering about half of the Autobahn connecting the North with the Southwest of Germany this summer – we were driven to seek refuge once again in devising more scenarios involving Claudia & Robert, the middle-class couple from Euskirchen.
So it turns out Robert has treated Claudia to a T-Cross, which should serve her fine for the daily commute and shopping duties, while Robert uses the Tiguan (both cars are leased, obviously). Claudia likes the T-Cross’ butch-yet-slightly-cute looks, as well as the pattern on the dashboard fascia and the body coloured frame around the central tunnel.
She’s rather unhappy with the small cupholders though, as her regular caramel-flavoured Latte Macchiato wouldn’t fit. Robert is frustrated by the T-Cross’ lack of grunt, but obviously wouldn’t tell Claudia. He’s visibly proud of the fact that two VW SUVs now grace their driveway, rather than the Tiguan and the Opel Corsa that had hitherto acted as Claudia’s motor though.
After having spent almost a week behind the wheel of the VW T-Cross, I’m curious to find out whether the public sees this VW as a mean exercise in cost-cutting or whether the Claudia & Robert view prevails. Theoretically, anyone accustomed to the brand’s usual standards should be rather repelled. But maybe the base price of less than € 18,000 is enough for many to overlook the fact that the T-Cross is not a good Volkswagen. And not a good car in general.
During the 1.900 kilometres we covered during our trip, we spotted only a single fellow T-Cross.
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