Driven, Written: VW T-Cross (2019)

The times are clearly a-changing at Wolfsburg, if Volkswagen’s smallest ‘SUV’ offering is anything to go by. 

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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).

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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.

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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.

 

The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at 

 www.auto-didakt.com

 

Author: Christopher Butt

Auto-Didakt

16 thoughts on “Driven, Written: VW T-Cross (2019)”

  1. All I can say, I know a lot of Claudias and Roberts…
    Although, even some of them couldn’t be convinced to buy a Fox, so let’s see how the T-Cross will perform in the market. They are already on our streets, and they will outnumber any Aircrosses and Capturs soon.

  2. This car resembles those “wheelies” shoes children wear; ridiculously oversized, showing off and probably about to cause offence or an accident.
    As a lifestyle vehicle, I chanced the thought it may have an interior that could be hosed down after a hard day at the beach front. I fear the vacuum cleaner maybe the stronger. No wonder Claudia & Robert love ‘em, they’ll never clean ‘em.
    Can we prevent them arriving in the UK? Please?

  3. Good morning, Christopher. Your skill with a camera has produced excellent detail photographs, and damning evidence of the cynical abandonment of the quality for which VW buyers have long been willing to pay a significant premium. The commercial automotive press have hinted at this in their reviews of the T-Cross but, mindful of the advertising dollar, have all soft-peddled the issue, so thank you for calling out VW on this. If the interior, arguably the most important aspect of any vehicle in establishing and maintaining customer perceptions, has been cheapened to such a degree, one really has to worry as to what might be happening under the skin.

    This is redolent of Medcedes-Benz in the late 1990’s, when the company abandoned its traditional commitment to excellence in a quest to wring much greater profitability out its automotive business. We all know how that ended: a damaged reputation that took over a decade to repair. VW appears to be in a desperate drive to recover the losses it deservedly incurred on the diesel emissions scandal, and this is how it intends to do so, selling Dacia quality at VW prices.

    Regarding the style of the T-Cross, there appears to be an attempt to “funk it up” with detailing such as the geometric design cheaply imprinted on the dashboard and replicated in the seat upholstery. Sorry, but this just half-hearted and inappropriate, like seeing your grandad in Nike hi-tops. If I want cheap and funky, I’ll buy a Citröen C3 Aircross, that does this so much more convincingly.

    1. @daniel,

      I agree fully with your comment. Just one correction, “selling Dacia quality at VW prices” could perhaps be made more precise,
      such as “selling Dacia materials at VW prices” or similarly.

      As it stands, the Dacia success owes vastly, and arguably, to the actual quality they deliver, as opposed to the perceived quality (in which aspect they are obviously a rustic, almost even an anachronic product).

    2. Hi Alex, yes, you’re right, that’s a more precise description of VW’s apparent strategy. As Christopher says below, the Golf VIII will be worthy of close scrutiny to see if it suffers from the same treatment, although I would suspect VW will be more cautious with its most important model any make its cost-cutting less blatant.

      That said, reducing complexity and simplifying the build process, if done properly, can be a win-win for both manufacturer and owner if it improves quality and consistency. I remember reading a piece many years ago (around 1980) describing how VW employed consultants to analyse every aspect of the Beetle’s componenty and build, to reduce cost and build time. Amongst many changes they suggested was replacing the fuel filler tube from the filler neck to the tank. The original was only around 400m long, but was made up of three separate inflexible pieces, held together with jubilee clips. The replacement was a single, flexible corrugated plastic tube, cheaper, quicker to fit and, with two fewer joints to check, more consistently reliable.

      One visible change the consultants recommended was to discard the steel bezel onto which the rear lights were mounted and instead fix the units directly to the rear wings. Here are photos showing original and revised fixings:

    3. VW already tried to cheat Golf customers on quality once with the MkV and with the experience they made then it would be not very wise to try to repeat the exercise.
      On the other hand German manufactuers have de-premiumed their supposed ‘premium’ vehicles so far by decontenting every aspect that it gives the impression that all they want to do is wring the last drop of profit from their last round of ICE cars and they don’t care for what happens afterwards.

    4. Dave,

      someone has to pay for the €3.000 (Wiko)/ € 6.000 (Doc Zee) daily pension payments.

  4. One word seems to sum up this entire exercise: cynical. Even more so given they’ve written big cheques for Cara Delevigne

  5. The review here (and also the earlier one of the Tiguan) seems to confim the cynicism behind the whole SUV story, I agree. Basically it’s just about earning more money for a car because it’s bigger and has a positive image for many C&Rs. They are basically indifferent of what’s making a car good, but instead ramble about better overview.

    1. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for that car, I must stress that the Tiguan does feel like a variation on the pointless SUV theme in a VW-appropriate fashion. I didn’t like the car and found it lacking in certain respects, but it clearly was a Volkswagen. People who get SUVs (and driver aides…) and have past experience of VW products should be satisfied with a Tiguan.

      The T-Cross, on the other hand, lacks most of the sophistication that can be expected from a VW. It feels engineered to a price in a way that wouldn’t have been possible under Piech.

      It’ll be interesting to see what happens if the Golf VIII (whose main advance over the current generation will be cheaper production costs, allegedly) is betraying its cost-conscious roots in an equally obvious manner. If I was in the market for a Golf, I’d order myself a MkVII today.

  6. Some pretty shocking photos displaying the poor quality of the plastics inside the T-Cross. I am not that surprised as the Polo I had as a courtesy car a few months ago was similarly miserable.

    I doubt it will impact the sales of this generation of VWs (which will continue to ride the wave of the marque’s reputation for quality), but VW is tarnishing its future reputation by throwing up low quality stuff like this.

  7. Looks and sounds horrid.

    The kind of car that would make me angry on anything but a very short journey. The obvious lack of care and attention to the details is infuriating.

  8. Well, if VW can get away with this trend of going even lower in perceived interior quality than the US market Jetta, Passat and Atlas, others will quickly follow suit.

    That T-Cross rear console capping with twin-barrel USB ports is a modern marvel of the plastic moulder’s ill-fitting art. And, lest we forget, a penny saved is a pound earned, and someone has to fund the EV revolution. Thank you all so much!

    Many thousands of fake cowhides and genuine offcuts have been spared in the creation of this vehicle. But much like with the Kona and its urban jungle mini-SUV mission, there are still thousands of tall kerbs to climb and giant hummocks of grass on town outskirts to hurdle, so no doubt this FWD T-Cross will be ideal for that if nothing else, even if its driven wheels scrabble for traction under moderate duress from merely middling puff.

    Just as all the words for excellence have been used up by advertising to describe mundane products, leaving no breathing room for extolling the virtues of actual genuine quality, our society lives in a bewilderingly ersatz state of reality. Nobody is much sure of anything any more. So the T-Cross fits in.

    Great review. So much better than a manufacturer’s hosted introductory junket, with supervisory hen clucking about in charge of doling out fettered examples for journos, after some executive potentate delivers a boring presentation to a captive audience on the wonderfulness of their vision and corporate culture, followed by cocktails and hors d’oeuvres with all heads a’nodding politely. Yes, far better than that.

  9. Good point, Bill, about VW testing the market to see just how much it can reduce the quality of its vehicles before the company is called out for this. It’s been going on for quite a while already. The European and US market Passats diverged in 2012 and the US car is a larger, six-light design, but is allegedly less sophisticated and cheaper to build:

    The Euro Passat for comparison:

  10. A truly honest and eye-opening review.

    It inevitably opens the skies for a downpour of opinions about this impossibly risky, seemingly reckless attempt at diluting the V-brand, a brand that evolved into the last sanctuary of true automotive value, a seemingly inexhaustible well of that tantalizing mix of engineering depth, manufacturing
    consistency and tactile pleasure – no matter the segment.

    That the ‘slippery slope’ is already here, is almost apparent.
    After the shocking in this regard Polo, and the Up! (at least
    in its more basic versions), the T-Cross is definitely introducing
    us to the ‘plastic-fantastic’ era Wolfsburg has dived into.

    Christopher’s observation (that this departure wouldn’t be possible under Piech), is spot on. What they did, however,
    is, they tested these waters with the Czech brand first,
    some three or four years ago: both the current-gen Octavia
    and Fabia, were a significant downstep in terms of cabin material quality and finish. This was somewhat unnerving, as the Š-brand had hitherto become a notion for embedded, deep quality
    & value within the VAG empire.

    It is now obvious that they degraded their Czech brand not because they were afraid that it could steal the main brand’s panache
    (a theory that I was rather convinced in, few years ago…).
    It was done so as to test whether the average VAG
    customer would complain if such Daciafied
    interiors were offered, all of a sudden.

    Octavia’s buyers don’t seem to mind, as they were simultaneously granted a ‘compensatory package’ of a dimensional
    opulence worthy of an A8. Fair.

    Fabia’s buyers, similarly, were given a wholly different Length / Width ratio, which made it a credible family car far exceeding
    the confines of the B-segm. (the current-gen Fabia is in an entirely different league width-wise, compared to Mk1 / Mk2).
    The main virtue of previous two gens of Fabia was their
    incredibly cunning, narrow-footprint sizing :
    offering C-segm. luggage space & legroom, with A-segm.
    urban ‘squeezability’.

    It remains to be seen whether this trend will be limited
    to the A- and B-segm.only (and, accordingly, SUV-A
    and SUV-B segm.), or it will spread to, God forbid,
    their crucial commercial pillars, Golf and Passat.

    Essentially, though, if we attempt to forget the pinnacle that the VW brand reached in the 2002-2016 period, in terms of ‘a promised, eternal sanctuary of automotive greatness’
    for the buyer (almost regardless of segment/price level),
    they could perhaps afford reverting to what they once were
    – immense engineering prowess, wrapped in sheer
    simplicity (and almost zero luxury) = a.k.a. the Golf Mk1 spirit.

    Dacia has shown it can work: give the people ample, vulgar space, and bullet-proof simplicity in the style VW did it in the 70’s & 80’s, at competitive prices, and it works. Dacia’s principal ‘trick’ was that the B-0 platform that they started off with, has actually
    a ‘plus-sized’ vehicular architecture).

    VW is perhaps entering a new era, in which their entry segments will attempt to offer the best of both worlds:

    -Otherworldly street-cred, that only a premium badge,
    and premium ‘Spillover Styling Effect’ can produce (I consider this to be crucial nowadays, in the Insta-era, as most customers
    are becoming extremely image-aware, form defeating substance).

    -Fantastic, dominant engineering (within the constraints of today’s absurd regulations that suffocate any chance
    of mechanical elegance whatsoever, but it’s still
    possible to outsmart others)

    -Gradually lower entry prices, enabled by the switch to
    cabin simplicity (this could, eventually, kill-off the
    entire raison d’etre of low-cost brands).

    If the amazingly convincing Up!MiiGo is to reckon with, they might be on a good path, if that’s the future they are aiming at.
    The Up! is sized out of convention, with straight cabin sides
    and a radically MPV-layout (even a minor shunt tends to damage much of the mechanicals, so far forward are the drivetrain
    & ancillaries pushed). Its roof-surface area dwarfs those of cars even two segments above. It’s far too wide to be a true A-segm. car. Yet, it’s so succesful, so appealing and so undeniably
    good and comfy as a allrounder, that all of the above just
    doesn’t matter. People are buying it.

    As long as the Golf and Passat are kept posh and convincingly high-quality products, and as long as the engineering and
    the drive experience is ace, personally I don’t mind
    this back-to-basics approach that VW displays.

    The review found out serious deficiencies in the drivetrain area,
    and that’s worrying indeed. Still, I’d reckon it’s just
    a phase – they’ll iron those bugs out in no time.

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