The Good, The Bad, and The Pricey
When Volkswagen Philippines launched the Tharu last year, they were out to prove that they could take on the other stalwarts of the compact crossover segment. With rivals like the Toyota Corolla Cross, Ford Territory, MG HS, Honda HR-V, and the Changan CS55, the Tharu has plenty of competition to go through.
There is the T-Cross but it’s a smaller vehicle and has some issues of its own which you can read on about in a separate review. The T-Cross is packed to the brim with features but lacks a turbocharged engine, a cabin that can rattle on concrete roads and squeak on ramps, and a price tag that makes its closest competitors have better value for money.
With Volkswagen giving us the keys to the 2024 Tharu, they wanted to show us that this particular crossover looks and feels different. It also comes with a turbocharged powertrain which the T-Cross badly needed to keep up with its contemporaries. But are the upgrades and size increase worth it?
Let’s start with the most obvious first, the design. The Tharu we get is actually based on the most recent facelift which borrows some inspiration from the Atlas (AKA Teramont in the PRC) 7-seater. The result is a distinct front fascia that features a pair of sleek LED headlights, and a bold front grille with honeycomb-like inserts which can also be found on the lower front bumper.
It’s painted in a unique shade of color called Polytech Blue which blends nicely with the black roof rails, black side mirror caps, chrome door handles, and 18-inch diamond-cut wheels with red accents. Perhaps my most favorite part of the vehicle is the full-width LED taillights which are eye-catching to say the least.
All in all, I have to commend Volkswagen’s designers for making the Tharu a good-looking crossover. While it won’t stick out like a sore thumb, the 2024 Tharu could still catch some attention from bystanders thanks to its upmarket appearance.
The Tharu may be a compact crossover (4458mm long, 1841mm wide, 1632mm tall), but steeping inside the Tharu feels like you’re in a much bigger vehicle. Yes, this top-of-the-line SEL comes with a panoramic sunroof which lets more light into the cabin and also gives the illusion of space in a small vehicle. However, thanks to a generous wheelbase (2680mm to be exact) and spacious cabin, this 4.4-meter-long vehicle looks and feels bigger than it is.
Whether you’re seated in the back seat, at the front, or in the driver’s seat, there is ample space for vertically-gifted individuals, as well as those with a bit of girth like myself. And despite my 5’7" frame, my driving position will easily allow someone over 6 feet tall to sit comfortably in the back. That’s because aside from the generous legroom, the seats at the back are placed low and are complemented by a low floor. Did I forget to mention that the Tharu comes with leather upholstery as standard along with power-adjustable front seats?
Like most vehicles today, the Tharu comes with a pair of high-resolution displays. One is a 10.25-inch multi-info display while the other is a 12-inch touchscreen infotainment with gesture control. I didn’t get to use gesture control that much but I was impressed with the crisp graphics and the quick response of the infotainment system.
What I don’t like, however, is the fact that you have to sometimes dig through menu after menu just to change a setting or set up the equalizer of the 6-speaker sound system. Yes, there are shortcuts, but the shortcuts themselves can sometimes take a while to get you where you want to be. The touchscreen does support Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay but lacks Android Auto. If other automakers can cater to both phone systems, why can’t Volkswagen do it for the Tharu (and T-Cross)?
While the cabin looks nice and premium, there are some portions that I wish Volkswagen paid more attention to. For starters, the haptic buttons on the steering wheel are a no-go for me. Not only do they feel un-intuitive to use, but they don’t deliver precise feedback unlike typical buttons. You just don't know what you're pressing if you're keeping your eyes on the road which is the whole idea behind steering wheel controls. While I can commend Volkswagen for trying to introduce new technologies, they didn’t have to replace traditional buttons with touch-capacitive ones. I also don’t want to know how much the haptic buttons will cost if they need to be replaced.
Then there’s the dual-zone automatic climate control panel. Instead of dials or buttons that are easy to use, they made use of a touch-sensitive panel. While this looks great in theory, it’s a completely different story in practice. Adjusting the temperature or fan speed via the touch panel is not the most intuitive to do and you have to sometimes avert your eyes from the road to make proper adjustments.
Despite my criticisms of certain parts of the Tharu’s cabin, there are three things I really liked about the Tharu’s performance. First is the 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It’s not the most powerful but it has more than enough pep to motivate the Tharu in both city and highway driving. It makes 160 PS at 5500 rpm along with 250 Nm of torque between 1750 - 4000 rpm. The engine doesn’t deliver all its power in one go but instead delivers it linearly - resulting in a smooth power delivery.
Speaking of smooth, the engine is paired with a slick-shifting 7-speed wet dual-clutch gearbox that drives the front wheels. If there’s one thing German automakers like Volkswagen get right, it’s the way they do dual-clutch transmissions. The gear changes are so smooth that I initially thought the Tharu had a torque converter automatic.
There are still some subtle hints that it’s a DCT (or DSG in VW terms) when you come to a complete stop, have to crawl at an intersection, or go through stop-and-go traffic, but it’s barely noticeable. Once you get up to speed and reach city/highway speeds, however, you will only notice the revs dropping when it changes between cogs as there’s practically no shift shock. I can only wish more Chinese brands get to the same level of Volkswagen’s dual-clutch technology.
Last, but not least, the Tharu has one of the most comfortable ride qualities in the compact/subcompact crossover segment. It’s soft but not floaty which means occupants will not have to worry about becoming carsick while in the Tharu. Combined with the quality Noise, Vibration, and Harshness (NVH) deadening, and this crossover ensures a serene ride wherever you go.
When it comes to fuel consumption, the Tharu can easily average 10 km/L in light city driving but it does go down to around 8.5 km/L in heavier traffic conditions. Out on the open road, however, the Tharu can return around 18 km/L at an average of 90 km/h which is impressive. This makes the Tharu easier on the fuel bills compared to the T-Cross despite its (slightly) bigger dimensions.
Despite the many praises I have to say about the Tharu, there are still some things I wish Volkswagen changed or improved on. While I did say it has good NVH, I was surprised by the amount of tire noise that intrudes into the cabin. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the Hankook Ventus tires causing it or perhaps the Tharu needs a bit more tire noise insulation or just better tires.
Then there’s the rather numb steering feel. While I do get that the Tharu is geared towards comfort, I just wished there was a bit more steering feedback coming from the front wheels. Yes, it handles fine for a crossover SUV but sometimes it feels like the steering wheel is not hooked up to anything.
Last but certainly not least are the parking sensors. While they do serve their purpose of helping drivers avoid hitting nearby objects while parking, they’re a bit too sensitive for my liking, especially in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Even when you turn them off they will automatically turn themselves on which can be quite annoying. There are even times that the sensors will turn on when you have a loud motorcycle (or jeepney) in front of you as the loud exhausts can trigger them. I wish Volkswagen put a button or program that would allow users to deactivate them entirely.
So the Tharu has some hits and misses. It has a smooth-performing powertrain that’s complemented by a soft ride. However, certain features could be worked on like the haptic feedback steering wheel controls, the touch-sensitive climate control, and the aforementioned tire noise which can be a nuisance on long drives.
The range-topping SEL has plenty of features including several driver aids like a 360-degree camera system, an intelligent parking assist system, lane-keeping assist, cruise control, and a blind-spot monitoring system. All is well and good, but all of us at AutoIndustriya were surprised (or shocked) about the price tag of this particular Tharu.
At PHP 1.945 million, Volkswagen appeared to have priced the Tharu way out of the segment. One of the Tharu’s closest competitors, the Ford Territory, tops out at PHP 1.599 million and comes with the same level of equipment and is a far bigger vehicle. The MG HS and Changan CS55 are also slightly bigger but are priced much more competitively even though the Tharu also comes from the PRC. Heck, it’s in the same price level as the Chevrolet Trax RS we got to review before, and that one is (not) selling for PHP 1,948,888.
Perhaps Volkswagen needs to review its strategy in the Philippines. While I can say that the Tharu is a quality vehicle, the price is just astounding. That means we have to be very critical of it because, like our EIC said during the launch, there are no excuses at PHP 1.945 million.