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With the Tharu, Volkswagen PH wants to bring back ‘premium’ to its lineup

With prices starting at P1,808,000

The Tharu slots in where the Tiguan used to sit in the distributor’s lineup. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Better late than never, as the old adage goes. We’re pretty sure the pandemic derailed AC Motors’ plans to introduce the Volkswagen Tharu earlier, but we’d argue that the official distributor of the German brand here couldn’t have picked a better time.

Named after an indigenous Nepalese tribe, this SAIC-assembled Volkswagen wants to revitalize the marque by showing the public that it can offer a reasonably priced, well-featured crossover that can slug it out with its established Japanese competitors.

It is available in two trims: The SE goes for P1,808,000, while the SEL costs P1,945,000.

If you've been wanting a larger and grown-up T-Cross, here you go. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

This compact crossover measures 4,458mm long, 1,841mm wide, and 1,632mm tall, with a wheelbase of 2,680mm. It comes in four colors: Pure White, Mangan Gray, Petroleum Blue (SE only), and Polytech Blue (SEL only).

The SE has classier chrome bits all around. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

It’s a much more mature-looking crossover compared to its T-Cross sibling, with features such as LED lighting front and back, chrome accents, power-folding mirrors, and 18-inch wheels coming as standard on both variants.

The SEL is sportier with blacked-out brightwork. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The biggest upgrade for the SEL comes in the matrix LED headlights. It includes animated turn signals, cornering lights, adaptive leveling, and an illuminated grille. All the brightwork gets blacked out (including the spoiler and the roof rails), and the wheels get a different design with red accents.

The cabin of the SE. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The spacious interior can accommodate five passengers inside. There are three different colors and materials depending on which trim and color you choose.

On the SE, you can only get it in a Deep Blue/Light Gray color scheme with copper accents, and the leather seats have fabric inserts.

The two different interior colors available on the SEL. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

As for the SEL, it comes standard with full-leather upholstery.

Opting for Pure White and Mangan Gray colors will give you a Deep Blue/Light Gray cabin with red accents, while Polytech Blue is the only way to get a Deep Blue/Pine Green color scheme with silver accents.

The SEL is the way to go if you want to experience this car in full. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

The SE has eight-inch screens for the gauge cluster and the infotainment, a six-speaker sound system, Apple CarPlay connectivity (no Android Auto), wireless charging, USB-A and Type C ports, a 12-way electric power driver seat, and dual-zone climate control.

Step up to the SEL, and the screens grow in size. The digital instrument cluster is now 10.25 inches, and the infotainment is 12 inches with gesture controls.

Both front seats are now heated, and have 12-way power adjustments. There are more USB-C ports and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Plus, additional ambient lighting zones are added to the cabin.

On the SEL, the kick sensor will detect if there are people around before opening. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

Other niceties include a power tailgate (the SEL gains an “intelligent” kick sensor that detects if people are nearby), a panoramic sunroof, and a 60:40-split rear seat that can expand the 455L cargo area up to 1,543L when folded down.

A fairly decent driver-assistance suite, but is lacking for the price. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

In the safety department, there are six airbags, ABS-EBD, traction control, standard cruise control with a speed limiter, blind-spot monitoring with rear-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The SEL provides a 360° camera, additional drive modes, a parking assist system, and front parking sensors.

Unlike the T-Cross, this drivetrain is more potent. PHOTOS BY SAM SURLA

Finally, both variants are powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged in-line-four gasoline mill with 158hp and 250Nm. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission—DSG in Volkswagen-speak—sends power to the front wheels, with independent suspension and disc brakes all around.

Is the Tharu enough to sway you back into buying another VW? PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

It’s a fairly upscale offering from the brand, albeit with some glaring omissions like the absence of advanced driver-assist systems for the asking price, even if the hardware is already there. Only you can vote with your wallets if the distributor has made the right move with its pricing over other compact crossovers.

But if there is anything to take away from the introduction of the Tharu, it’s that it is a bridging strategy for the inevitable journey of the brand into an electrified future, as Volkswagen Philippines president Antonio Zara III mentioned. No, this is not a typo. Zara has indeed taken over the position of the former boss, Felipe Estrella III, who we believe is still AC Industrials’ chief finance officer.

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.