Driven - Aug 2021

Is the Volkswagen T-Cross a better version of the Polo?

We got to spend a few days with Volkswagen’s popular small SUV – using it to run our errands and see how it stacks up to its smaller sibling – the Polo.

The local automotive market has mostly recovered from the dismal sales caused by Covid-19 disruptions in 2020. New car sales numbers are more or less where they used to be and the popular automakers namely Toyota, Ford and Volkswagen are back to duelling for the top spot in the passenger vehicle segment. While the top two titles are always occupied by South Africa’s preferred vehicle of choice; the bakkie, the third and fourth spot are taken up by Volkswagens Polo Vivo and Polo models which sell in droves. 

These cars are successful for a variety of reasons but chiefly because they are compact, affordable, have an abundance of spare parts and are from a well loved automotive brand locally. Volkswagen have transferred all of this ideology into the T-Cross and while it is not a brand new vehicle to enter their lineup, it is their best-selling SUV according to the June 2021 sales report with 465 units being sold. Which is about a third of the total number for the Polo. 

The popular compact crossover SUV from the German brand can be had in three different levels of trim starting at R352 300 for the basic Comfortline and ranging all the way up to the R-Line priced from R464 900. Our test car was a base Comfortline with the R-Line package. This expectedly costs a little bit more but comes better equipped with features such as a reverse parking camera, roof rails, park distance sensors and an 8” integrated infotainment screen. 

In some respects, you do get a very familiar looking car to the Polo, on both the inside and the outside. This makes sense since both models share the same platform and engines making the T-Cross a pumped up version of the Polo. While it shares some styling similarities to its bigger SUV siblings in Volkswagen’s lineup, the side profile, window-line and shoulder-line are almost identical to the Polo, albeit slightly stretched out on a vertical axis with a bit more rugged plastic.

Overall, its aesthetics consist of a well-proportioned design and restrained styling meaning it’s unlikely to snap pedestrians necks as you drive by, especially in Limestone Grey Metallic. Its purpose is far more focused on function by being a proponent of a more adventure-capable lifestyle.

At 180mm of ground clearance, 12mm more than the Polo, it can easily navigate onto pavements and tackle uneven off-road surfaces. The plush suspension is one of its most notable features as it can traverse speed bumps and loose gravel roads effortlessly. Since it is still only a front-wheel driven powertrain, we can’t advise taking this on a hardcore off-roading course but it wouldn’t look out of place on a dirt road or gravel track. 

Like the Polo, the T-Cross Comfortline is powered by a 70kW 1.0 TSI motor mated to a 5-speed manual transmission. The pokey 3 cylinder puts out an impressive 175Nm of torque that can often inspire a momentary spin of the front wheels before the traction control gets them back in line. As impressive as this torque figure is coupled to the 1154 kilogram body, the turbo only comes into boost above 2000rpm making stationery pull aways on inclines or fully laden stop-start journeys stall-inducing. In these scenarios, efforts to mitigate this can result in the front wheels screeching and very bemused looking pedestrians or passengers.

Despite this, after the turbo has come alive the torque delivery is smooth and linear all the way up to its redline – very impressive for a 1.0 litre motor! We achieved around 7.5l/100km during our time with the car which isn’t the most frugal but tranquil driving is stated to reward just below 5.0l/100km. 

The 5-speed manual gearbox on our test car was easy to use and comfortable in sedate urban driving scenarios. Where it fell short was on the highway where an additional 6th gear would have been ideal in lowering engine rpm and subsequently improving efficiency and engine noise. That being said, if you are looking for a nippy Volkswagen SUV runabout that is going to be predominantly doing open road/highway journeys then the full T-Cross range can also be specced with a 7 speed DSG which would be the better bet overall. 

The interior provides great forward visibility with a large expanse of glass around the drivers periphery. The front position seems much higher than a Polo yet the fully adjustable steering column and seat provide a platform to get completely comfortable in. The overall head, elbow and legroom in all seats is commendable while the rear door-wells are not awkwardly shaped to get in and out of either, making it more practical than the Polo. It scores well in the comfort and spaciousness department but does unfortunately fall short with interior fit and finish. 

There are a few cheap materials and crude plastic textures, more so than its hatchback sibling. Fortunately, the steering wheel and the main tactile points are soft and comfortable to use. It also comes with an integrated 8” infotainment screen which at times can be a bit sluggish with a reverse camera that isn’t the highest resolution.

If you prefer screen mirroring to the standard display then the T-Cross has you covered with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay accessible via one of two USB-C slots. Easily accessible Isofix anchorage is found on all passenger seats, including the one up front which should appeal to young parents. 

The T-Cross also trumps the Polo in terms of boot capacity with an impressive 385 litres as opposed to equally impressive, but inferior, 351 litres of the latter. The compact crossover SUV from Volkswagen emerges as the victor in most categories except for pricing where the Polo comes out on top starting from R293 800 for the base spec Trendline.

For comparative sake, other competing models in the segment such as the beautifully finished Peugeot 2008 comes in at R364 000 while more affordable options can be had with the seasoned Ford EcoSport at R303 900 or the new Hyundai Venue at R311 000. Included in the R352 300 base price of the T-Cross is a 3-year/120 000 km warranty and 3-year/45 000 km service plan.

The subcompact crossover SUV market is a hotly contested piece of real estate with new entrants from different automakers entering the market almost monthly. Volkswagen fortunately have a customer base that is steadfast in their loyalty and thus the T-Cross can be expected to remain their best selling vehicle in the lineup behind the two Polo models. Like the ageing Ford EcoSport, we can expect this shape to remain in circulation for many years to come but for the price, the Peugeot 2008 in this segment would be a strong alternative with its more refined and pleasant interior design.

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