George, Eastern Cape - The first-ever Volkswagen T-Cross has finally touched down in South Africa and it certainly has all the ingredients for success: Polo platform. Butched up SUV styling. Increased dimensions. Modern and digitised cabin. It will even boast a sub-R300 000 price tag when the entry-level Trendline version joins the range next year, but for now the range is priced between R334 600 and R403 500.
Although it already had the makings of a big seller, Volkswagen didn’t take any chances with the styling of this one, and as a result the T-Cross looks more conservative than some of its rivals, but don’t get me wrong, it still looks purposeful with its slightly boxy shape, muscular shoulderline and large wheels. On that note, 16-inch wheels are standard, but a range of 17” and 18” temptations are also available on the options list.
So is it really much bigger than the Polo? Measuring 4.2 metres in length and 1.58m in height, the T-Cross is a good 182mm longer and 123mm taller than its hatchback cousin, and it shows in the amount of cabin space available. Those in the back can stretch their legs out a little, and the rear seat can slide back or forth by 14cm, so you can expand the 377 litre boot without having to fold the seat forward. It’s not a particularly big boot in its normal configuration, and there is quite a bit of wasted space between the space-saver spare wheel and the boot floor panel, which could have been used to make the boot bigger.
The dashboard looks a lot like the Polo’s, but most of the panels are actually different, and there are some interesting trim options, including '3D' decor for the large dash pad as well as two-tone seat upholstery. However, unlike its sister hatch with its abundance of soft-touch surfaces, the main dash panels in the T-Cross and hard and a bit shiny. That’s unlikely to matter to most owners, but just thought you should know....
Big on digital
Various touchscreen options are available depending on how brave you are with the options list, and buyers can also opt for Volkswagen’s Active Info Display digital instrument cluster.
The T-Cross is also the first local VW to feature a new connectivity system called ‘Dataplug’, which plugs into the car’s diagnostic system and sends all sorts of useful data to an app on your smartphone - while even giving you access to a digital logbook.
We’ll take a stroll through the specification grades later, but first let’s get behind the wheel.
A peek under the bonnet
Only one engine is available at launch in the form of VW’s familiar 1-litre, three-cylinder turbopetrol engine, mated only to a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox, and producing 85kW and 200Nm. But the range will expand to include a 70kW version of this engine during the second quarter of next year, paired with a manual gearbox, while a more powerful 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbopetrol DSG model with 110kW will ship to dealers in the first quarter of 2020, although you can already pre-order it.
So what’s it like to drive?
After landing at George airport for the local launch, I spent the next two days in a 1.0 TSI Highline DSG, tackling a variety of surfaces from highways to twisty tar sections and even a bit of dirt road.
What impressed me most was the drivetrain and its overall sophistication, and on top of that it's got enough oomph to get the job done with relative ease. The engine feels refined for a three-cylinder and it’s quite responsive too, while the dual-clutch gearbox swops cogs smoothly.
The T-Cross feels stable and surefooted through corners and the steering is as communicative as you need it to be. There is a slight firmness to the ride of the Highline model with its 18-inch rims, but the overall ride quality is still comfortable enough, even on gravel.
A walk through the range
As with the Polo, you can order your T-Cross in Trendline, Comfortline, Highline and R-Line flavours, although the Trendline will only be available next year, in combination with the 70kW engine.
What features come standard?
The entry-level Trendline is fitted with a 16.5cm ‘Composition Colour’ audio system, as well as air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, height-adjustable front seats, tyre pressure monitoring as well as front and side airbags. Trendline models roll on 16-inch steel wheels.
The Comfortline adds cruise control, front and rear park distance control, a multi-function steering wheel, front centre arm rest and Volkswagen’s Light and Sight package. On the outside you’ll tell the Comfortlines apart by their 16-inch ‘Belmont’ alloy wheels, black roof rails and front fog lights.
Customers can also make life more interesting with a long list of optional extras available from the Comfortline grade upwards. These include a 300W Beats sound system, Composition Media infotainment system with App-Connect, navigation, ‘Active Info Display’ digital instrumentation, reverse camera, Keyless Entry and Adaptive Cruise Control, which includes Blind Spot Monitor, Front Assist and Lane Assist.
At the top of the range, the Highline comes with that aforementioned Composition Media system as standard, along with automatic climate control, ‘Comfort Sports’ seats, inductive wireless phone charging, Driving Profile Selection, LED headlights and 18-inch ‘Cologne’ alloy wheels.
You can flavour up your Highline even further with an optional Energetic Orange design package as well as a matching titanium black and orange interior pack.
1.0 TSI 70kW Trendline
1.0 TSI 70kW Comfortline
1.0 TSI 85kW Comfortline DSG
1.0 TSI 85kW Highline DSG
1.5 TSI 110kW R-Line DSG
Prices include a three-year/120 000km warranty and three-year/45 000km service plan, with service intervals set at 15 000km.