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Volkswagen T-Cross SE: Smartphone syndrome

Can this car be the German brand’s redemption in PH market?

Volkswagen wants to redeem itself in the country with an affordable crossover. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

I see the Volkswagen T-Cross like a modern Android smartphone. No, not like the range-topping stuff like the Samsung Galaxy S21 or the Google Pixel. It’s more like midrange devices from other manufacturers like Oppo or Vivo.

Yes, these phones tick a lot of boxes for most consumers: a big battery, lots of storage space, or maybe some revolutionary camera tech not seen in other gadgets. But they often have some compromises to meet that midrange price point. The trade-offs are usually not bad. But sometimes, such compromises can end up destroying the user experience down the line.

Syringa is more commonly known as lilac, a type of flowering plant with purple petals. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

As for the T-Cross, it’s a product with excellent value for money, but with the same sort of trade-offs found in midrange smartphones. For P1,198,000, you get a crossover with a curious mix of features usually seen in much more expensive (and also cheaper) cars.

For starters, the design turns heads. I’ve been told that the car looks quite expensive. This SE test unit has LED lighting with DRLs (guaranteed to make any vehicle look upmarket), nicely proportioned 17-inch alloy wheels, and a unique paint job called Syringa Violet (which I affectionately call “Thanos Purple”). I got some curious stares while driving around, and the car received multiple compliments from my parents and grandparents.

The interior gets trim that is color-matched to the exterior paint. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

I’d say the interior is the best part. If you opt for the colors that aren’t gray or white, parts of the dashboard complement the body paint. Add in the panoramic sunroof and the basic ambient lighting, and you have a relatively well-designed cabin. Earning brownie points among techie people are the two USB-C ports that I’ve only seen more expensive machinery such as BMW and Audi.

You can summon the infotainment system by just waving at it. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The 9.2-inch infotainment screen is quite sharp and responsive, and it supports Apple CarPlay (but, curiously, not Android Auto). It can recognize hand gestures that navigate the interface and control several functions. I turned it off, though, as it’s simply faster to use the touchscreen and the steering-wheel controls. There are some China-only features that don’t seem to work unless I “sign in,” which I couldn’t do. Why leave those in there if we can’t even access them?

Despite its compact dimensions, the T-Cross has plenty of room for your friends and their stuff. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. While the interior has some strategically placed soft-touch zones to make it feel more premium, a lot of trim pieces are made from hard plastics. I find the analog climate control weird as I’ve seen cars at similar price points with fully digital air-conditioning controls. Even the infotainment system has some grayed-out features that appear to interface with the air-conditioning system.

The T-Cross offers more ground clearance and a sunroof for sedan money. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

But at its core, the T-Cross is a five-seat crossover, and it does the job pretty well. The cabin is wide enough to make you think you’re in a bigger car. Passengers have a lot of legroom up front and at the back, and the car can carry quite a lot of cargo (if you remove the tonneau cover).

The Type-C ports are welcome additions to the regular USB charging docks. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The ride is relatively comfortable, soaking up bumps and rough roads a lot better than the competition. It also handles surprisingly well, despite the extremely light steering feel. It’s quite fun to toss this car around corners, and there’s very little body roll while you do so. You also have some niceties such as cruise control and autonomous emergency braking (just pray that you’ll never need to use it).

The 1.5-liter engine could use more torque especially at low revs. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

As for speed? Well, the 1.5-liter engine is a little underpowered. You can safely merge onto expressways or overtake other vehicles, but expect the T-Cross to be screaming at around 4,000rpm just to get up to speed. Putting the transmission in Sport mode holds the revs a little longer, but the difference in performance is not really noticeable.

Some users might be turned off by the lack of Android device integration. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Because of this, my average fuel economy for combined city-and-highway driving was around 7.8km/L. I’m sure that other people who are in no rush to get around can generate better numbers. After all, most owners will end up using the T-Cross as a city car. The almost nonexistent low-end grunt is adequate for motoring to the office or to your favorite mall.

Do you think the T-Cross will turn Volkswagen's fortunes around? PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Like a midrange smartphone, the T-Cross is great in some respects. It’s the ideal car for people looking to upgrade to a crossover for the first time, or for Gen Z consumers looking to acquire their very first vehicle. The trade-offs are still there, but I think they’re easy to overlook considering the excellent value that the car offers.

Volkswagen is offering the T-Cross SE at an introductory price of P1,168,000 until June 30.


Engine1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline
Transmission6-speed automatic
Power111hp @ 6,000rpm
Torque145Nm @ 3,900rpm
Dimensions4,218mm x 1,760mm x 1,599mm
Drive layoutFWD
UpsideThe car offers premium looks, lots of features, plenty of space, and great handling for the price.
DownsideThe hard plastics and the sedate performance might turn off some buyers.

Sam Surla

Sam is the youngest member of our editorial team. And he is our managing editor (believe it or not). He specializes in photography and videography, but he also happens to like writing about cars a lot.