Volkswagen hasn't had an easy time in the Philippines.

When Ayala re-established the brand as an authorized official distributor in 2013, many thought that Volkswagen would become a force in the market. After all, only Volkswagen can stand up to the dominance of Toyota on the world stage. But that wasn't what happened here.

Importing cars from factories in countries that we do not have free trade agreements with means they were at the mercy of our import tariffs. It's OK for niche vehicles like the (then) New Beetle, but for volume models like Polo, Jetta, Golf, and Tiguan, that was a problem. Often we ended up driving cars that were oddly specced, and priced high. They even explored the possibility of setting up a factory or assembly here, but none came of it.

They found a solution in the form of SAIC-Volkswagen in China, but that proved to be challenging for them as well. Loyal VW owners and fans found very different nameplates when they visited VW showrooms; models they would only see when they went to Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou, but not in Berlin, LA, or Paris.

With the T-Cross, however, that isn't the case. While this little number is still a SAIC-VW model, it's not a “Mainland-exclusive” nameplate. T-Cross is a global one much like Golf or Polo, and I think VW Philippines has been waiting what must have been a lifetime for this.

Walking up to it for the first time, it's obvious why: this is a handsome little Volkswagen. In essence, it looks like VW compressed the dimensions of the Tiguan, and tossed in some neat and clean details like the lower bumper, the panoramic glass roof, and that blacked-out taillight assembly. I think they successfully combined classic VW business styling with modern youthful touches; like if you wore a suit, but somehow made it work with a pair of sneakers. Not everyone can pull that off, but VW did.

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross image

It is important to note that while the badge does say T-Cross, this is not exactly the same in looks like the one you'd find elsewhere in the world. There are some subtle differences like the design of the grille and the shape of the bumper. Essentially it is still a T-Cross, but with some design adjustments.

The interesting thing with this T-Cross, particularly this variant, is the interior. It's so lively just like the exterior. Even the color scheme with the orange accent panels gives it a nice vibe in here. Not since the now discontinued Beetle have we seen this kind of neat inside/outside color coordination a Volkswagen model here.

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross image

The important thing to keep in mind here is that this isn't a premium automobile, so do expect that while it may look neat and vibrant, most of it is plastic even though it looks good. Panel tappers will have a field day with the T-Cross, especially with the black on orange on black/dark gray dash. This appears to have been an exercise in design, but clearly, they didn't focus as much on the principles of automotive touchpoints.

Nevertheless, the driver's seat -even though the backrest is a one-piece- is quite comfortable. The controls are nice, and the buttons on the steering wheel, door cards, and on the center stack are nice and proper. I even like the prospect of a sunroof, and the one on this T-Cross is bigger than the usual.

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross image

The variant they sent us is the MPI SE; it's the top-spec model. However, there's an issue: it's not the 2022 model yet. This is still a 2021 unit as Volkswagen has yet to activate a 2022 version of the T-Cross MPI SE. Most, if not all of the units that come in are snapped up by customers. In reality, though, it's not a big deal because the only difference is the instrument cluster; this one has the more classic style with the multi-info display in between the tach and speedo. The 2022 model gets the Active Info Display which is basically a digital screen. Everything else is the same.

This T-Cross gets a 9.2-inch digital touchscreen infotainment system which does look slick with the interior design. It has Bluetooth (of course) and both wired and wireless Apple CarPlay. Unusually it doesn't have Android Auto, but I don't use it much anyway. There is no wireless charger, but there are USB and USB-C ports, which is neat. Cruise control is also present, along with a lot of safety features like stability control, 6 airbags, and the like.

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross image

There are some things I feel should already be standard given the price and positioning of the vehicle, especially when you start comparing it to its rivals. For one: the speaker system. It's good for general use, but there are only 4 speakers. Given the target market (young people do like their audio with a bit of bass and clarity) they could have upped it to at least 6. The other one is the A/C system: it's still a rotary dial type. Many of the models this variant of the T-Cross would be pitched against (e.g. Coolray Sport) already comes with auto climate control.

If you've ridden in the back seat of a T-Cross in Europe, this will feel different. The back seat of this T-Cross is nice and roomy. The reason for that is, well, China. As is common with Chinese-market models, the wheelbase is longer. While most T-Cross models around the world have a wheelbase of 2550 millimeters, the one on the SAIC-VW T-Cross is 2651 millimeters. The rear doors appear to be longer, and there seems to be more knee room in the back. If you're sitting back there, you'll definitely appreciate it.

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross image

The cargo area of the T-Cross is decent; nothing great, but it is pretty good. There's also that tonneau cover that flips up when you open the tailgate. The rear seats fold down to generate more cargo area, but it does not line up with the floor of the boot. It's not a big deal, but something worthy to note. Maybe another board or false floor that lines up with the folded backseat would be a good addition.

The drive is where it gets interesting, and for a variety of reasons. If you're looking for an exhilarating, soul-stirring drive, you will probably want to look elsewhere. The T-Cross will not deliver in that aspect. But if you're looking for a vehicle that can function very well as a daily driver, then the T-Cross can live up to it.

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross image

For starters, there's the engine. Powering the T-Cross is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 113 horsepower and 145 Nm of torque. It's not turbocharged. It's not direct injection. It's not a TSI. But together with the six-speed automatic driving the front wheels, it is smooth and it is efficient; I was getting 9.2 km/l in the city and 14.6 km/l on the highway. One of our guys was able to actually do better fuel economy figures compared to mine.

What I really like about the T-Cross is how it works as an urban commuter. For most of my time with it, I was doing mundane things like driving to the office or to the supermarket, and it works well in that role. The cabin is quiet, the suspension is good in town, and the brakes have a good response to my inputs; that's a stark contrast to another SAIC model I drove recently (the Chevrolet Tracker) which felt like it had air in the brake lines when I drove it. I heard it had been addressed already.

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross image

As a highway cruiser, it's nice as well. Wind noise is there, but that's always expected. The vehicle also feels fairly light, so keep that in mind when driving at 100 km/h while passing trucks and buses. If you're driving on two-lane (one lane for each direction) provincial highways, you'll have to plan your overtakes well in advance because it's not a quick vehicle. So you will have to floor it to overtake certain vehicles especially on the uphill. Oddly enough Volkswagen included the 0-100 km/h time in their brochure: they say the T-Cross can do it in 13.3 seconds.

The low power of the T-Cross isn't exactly a criticism because it was expected; I would note that at this price point I would have really wanted the TSI. The same goes for the handling; it's OK, but could be better.

There are two things that I've really identified, and the first is the pricing and features versus the competition. I've mentioned earlier that many rivals are offering more at a similar price point. Actually, at PHP 1,250,000 (for the 2022 model), the T-Cross will have an uphill climb against the leader of the class, the Geely Coolray Sport which has more power and more features for less. We hear that VW is planning more variants of the T-Cross which includes the TSI; we can't wait to pit the Geely and that variant against each other.

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross image

The other thing is a bit more fundamental: the torsional rigidity. One of my basic tests for any car is approaching a ramp or speed bump at an angle, and the purpose is to check how the vehicle twists or doesn't. It's difficult to notice, but what you do is listen for squeaks and other strange sounds as the car twists. In the T-Cross, you can hear it with the interior panels.

Whenever you go up a ramp at an angle, the interior plastic panels do make a little noise. And you can tell why when you look at the dashboard and other interior panels. The dash has three layers of panels on top of one another: the black dash, the orange trim, and the black accent. When the vehicle twists ever so slightly, those panels rub against one another. That's just one example; as I'm driving, I can hear similar squeaking from the other panels as well.

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross image

Is that enough to spoil the T-Cross? Honestly, it's one of those once you notice it, you can't un-notice kind of deals, but it's not a dealbreaker by any means. I think VW finally has something that will strike the right chords in our market that's becoming more and more saturated with crossovers. It's important they keep at it and improve the product though; this is just a matter of fine-tuning and attention to build quality. All in all, I can appreciate the T-Cross as a daily driver that you'll enjoy walking up to every day in your garage. That's where the T-Cross is most comfortable in: a daily commuter.

VW Philippines has waited a long time for something like this from SAIC-VW: a model that is recognizable as a global VW nameplate. That has always been the appeal of the VW brand in the eyes of the brand-conscious and discerning Filipino consumer. Some would say that it's superficial, but given that cars here are expensive when compared to local income brackets as well as against prices abroad, we have a right to be that way no matter what outsiders may say.

  • Make: Volkswagen
  • Model: T-Cross 180 MPI SE
  • Engine: 1.5-liter DOHC 16-valve Inline-4 MPI
  • Max Power: 113 PS @ 6000 rpm
  • Max Torque: 145 Nm @ 3900 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed AT with Sport / Manual mode
  • Price as Tested: ₱1,198,000 (2021 model)