Tested: 2021 Volkswagen T-Cross

Fresh on the heels of my last anecdote-laden review, this trendy Vee Double You gave me plenty of chances to load this article with pleasant stories.

First and foremost is the fact that I finally got my turn behind the wheel of what must be the most hotly-anticipated Volkswagen of 2019. And 2020. You see, although I was given plenty of opportunities to swing myself behind its stylish steering wheel, father fate had other ideas and flummoxed my plans on at least three occasions.

For starters, there was the media launch. VWSA kindly invited us to attend the car’s South African press event and – although the exact reasons escape me right now – I couldn’t attend. Never mind, I thought, I’ll just drive the press vehicle when it arrives. And so, as is often the case at NamWheels, my younger colleague attended the T-Cross launch.

He was impressed. He was very impressed. So much so that we immediately jumped on the blower to the local press fleet and booked our week-long slot with the first available model. However, when the car arrived sometime in November, both our travel schedules filled up with such severity that I would’ve only driven the car for one night.

Never mind, I thought (again), we’ll get another one with some different spec and I can drive that. My colleague agreed and wouldn’t you know it, we were pencilled in for a different model in early December of that year. Which is when… 12 hours before the car was due to arrive… I went in for an emergency operation.

To begin wrapping up this sop-story, you can’t drive a car after a groin hernia op. You can’t even walk properly for a few days. Which meant that, upon my insistence, my kind young co-worker picked me up at home and gingerly drove around the block a few times so I could at least experience the T-Cross as a bent passenger.

And that was it. We’d driven all the cars they had. And by “we” I mean not-me. Despite my best attempts, and even though we have a great relationship with VW’s local keepers, I’d missed every single chance of driving this car. So you could say that the Volkswagen T-Cross was my professional unicorn.

Before we get to suggestions of dealer cars or private vehicles, I also remember how I was recovering from my op and fielding a weekly phone call from family, friends and long-forgotten acquaintances: “Have you driven the new T-Cross yet?” No. “Is it any good?” Yes. “Should I buy one?” Most probably, yes.

One such enquiry came from the brother of my folks’ neighbour’s wife (I think) who was keen on buying one but somehow craved my final blessing. After he learnt that there was a considerable waiting list at that time, it was easy to convince him about signing for the perfect specimen standing at his town’s best dealer.

How they had an unsold unit, and why he briefly hesitated, is still beyond me?

Which finally brings me to the review bit of my T-Cross article. You could argue that it’s just another sub-compact city SUV – and you’d be right – but there’s something more going on here. It doesn’t possess insanely superior tech, or power, or looks, but the combination of what it has seems to be an absolutely winner.

Sure, that badge also helps to seal deals and let’s not forget about its favourable pricing at the time of its local introduction. I also think that its design (and beautifully brash colours like this “Checkers Trolley” one) helped to imprint this as the coolest car to come out of 2019. It’s a mini Tiguan but looks like the handsome Volvo XC40. At half the price…

Just look at those stubby proportions. The chunky front bumper and almost non-existent rear overhang. The creases, those wheel arch contours, the grill and headlight chrome play, those Bauhaus rear-view mirrors, and its most distinguishing feature: the futuristic rear light clusters flanked by a bold black light bar.

Geez Louise, it’s good-looking.

That also goes for the interior, where Volkswagen’s more simplistic design language has you observing smoother surfaces and minimalist design. Sure, it’s not quite on the quality levels of a Volvo but for the price you simply can’t go wrong. The cloth seats in our test unit felt spongy yet supportive, while cabin build quality was also commendable.

As for driving this mini-SUV, besides a tricky initial clutch bite-point, I cannot report about any true negatives. All pedals, its steering mechanism, and the manual gearbox of this model are super easy to operate and provide sufficient feedback for a vehicle of this ilk.

Ride quality? Textbook split between sporty handling and acceptable comfort. The manual gear shift is a clue, by the way. Most of the more posh and powerful T-Cross models can only be had with automatic transmissions, while this 1.0 TSi 70kW Comfortline derivative is shipped with five do-it-yourself gears.

And an optional R-Line kit, as fitted here.

More important for potential buyers will be the price of R365,100 with inclusion of a 3-year/120,000km warranty and optional service plan. Other vital stats are the 377L boot, 1130 kerb weight, 590kg maximum payload, 5.4L/100km claimed average consumption from the 40L petrol tank and a total length of just 4.23 meters.

Performance? VWSA claims a top speed of 180km/h and 0-100km/h in 11.5 seconds – our best time was a pleasing 11.58 seconds. Braking from 100km/h took an equally acceptable 3.07 seconds and 39.22 meters. And yes, those aren’t sports car values but no, unless you’re a complete speed demon, this car’s 175Nm won’t disappoint.

That fairly impressive chunk of twisting power comes on song from 2,000rpm which is slightly higher than the usual 1,500 clicks per minute but I adjusted my driving style quite quickly. The torque curve also remains fairly flat (or stable) unlike the clumpy power delivery of some T-Cross competitors.

Which means that, if you stay in this car’s optimum power band/s, it never leaves you wanting more. Overtaking at (or above) highway speeds may test your patience, but that’s also why VW didn’t fit a sixth gear; and kept this car’s final ratio at a comparably high engine rpm*.

(*the cruising revs are higher but it pulls better when trodden on)

So. Final verdict – should you buy a Volkswagen T-Cross? Well, I think that this compact SUV is very deserving of its initial hype. It’s funky, stylish, reasonably luxurious, good value, easy to live with, drives well, has a decent amount of kit and looks fantastic.

Even though it took me four attempts to confirm that.

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