We drive the European version of Volkswagen's Hyundai Creta fighter headed here in 2020-2021.
What is it?
VW has been in hibernation mode in India for some time. But come late 2020, early 2021, it will go on a product offensive with launches unlike anything the German brand has launched here before. The first of these made-in-India cars will be the VW T-Cross. Specifically tailor-made for our market, and specifically targeted at the Hyundai Creta, the India-spec T-Cross, however, will differ from this Euro-spec car greatly. It will be built on a longer wheelbase, have a more of a rugged look, and there'll also be a more powerful petrol engine. VW calls this sub-platform 'MQB A0 IN'. For India, and apart from being larger, the modifications made will even make it more affordable.
VW designers have done a good job on the European T-Cross. Apart from the baby Tiguan vibe, what the T-Cross also has is a nice balance. On one hand, it is neat and tidy, and on the other, it is also full of exciting details; a balance that's not easy to achieve. And what's even more important is that VW's designers have got the stance right. The high bonnet, the upright cabin, the strong shoulder line – they all work extremely well because the wheels are just the right size. As the T-Cross is targeted at a younger audience, the skinning is also a bit more aggressive than standard VW fare. The shoulder line and waist are nicely chiselled and there are strong creases at the bottom of the doors.
What helps complete the picture is the crisp detailing: the strong chin with the squared-out fog lights, and what I really like is how the horizontal LED strips in the headlights link with each other via a chrome strip that runs across the wide grille. And even at the rear, the interlinked tail-lights look cool.
What's it like inside?
The European Volkswagen T-Cross isn't very big – it is just 4.1m long and 1.58m tall. The T-Cross, however, is quite roomy on the inside because it is a substantial 1.78m wide and VW has, quite smartly, used a high seating position. The driver sits almost 600mm above the road and passengers at the back are sat even higher. And space for the driver and passenger are also impressive as the front axle is positioned as far from the front seats as possible, something the flexible MQB platform allows you to do.
The large and supportive seats then add generously to comfort levels and what also helps the driver is that both, the seat and steering wheel adjust have a wide range of motion. Legroom in the rear doesn't seem to be much, but once you get in you realise it is actually pretty good, and that's because you are sat high. Headroom too is sufficient, even for six-footers. Boot space isn’t massive at 385 litres, but with the unique sliding back seats, it can go up to 455 litres.
What will also delight Indian car buyers is the twin screen cockpit in the cabin. Apart from a flat 8.0-inch touchscreen placed over the central console, the T-Cross also gets an Audi-like screen-based instrument panel. And like the one on the Audi, this one can be configured to display navigation, information, traditional dials or various combinations of the three. The screen is super-sharp, very bright even in direct sunlight and so fluid, the dials look fantastic. And what also amps up the cabin feel is the new, high-quality VW steering wheel that is beautifully built, great to look at and because of its flat base, is easy to drop low. VW, however, has gone a bit overboard with the design of the rest of the dash, especially some of the more outlandish ones you can order. Yes, the textures and artificial grains work well but the additional colours and designs and patterns lack the sophistication you expect of a VW. The T-Cross also has almost no soft-touch bits or padded sections, and this makes the cabin feel kind of basic. What saves the day, however, is that the fit, finish and quality of the plastic parts are first-rate, and the anodized metal highlights work extremely well too.
Where the T-Cross scores is instead of material plushness, you get plenty of kit. There's inductive wireless charging, four USB ports, auto control for high and low beam, a 300-watt, eight-channel Beats audio system and even active lane keeping, radar-based cruise control and a degree of autonomous driving. But how many of these features will make it to India is anybody's guess.
What's it like to drive?
While the car in India will be powered by two petrol engines – a 1.0 and a 1.5 TSi – we've tested only the 1.0 version. On paper, the three-cylinder version of the EA211 that makes 115hp seems insufficient for the job, but this isn't entirely true. Yes, there is a bit of lag below 2,000rpm, it lacks the mid-range punch of a larger capacity unit and it does get 'thrummy' towards 6,000rpm. Still, in other areas, it does extremely well. Cross 1,800 or 2,000rpm and it pulls fairly energetically all the way to the 6,500rpm redline, the flow of power post 2,000rpm is quite linear and consistent, and between 3,500 and 5,500rpm it feels pretty peppy too. 0-100kph, in fact, can be dispatched in a not-so-pedestrian 10.2sec, and as the 6-speed manual is light, precise and has a nice, 'rubber-insulated' feel, swapping cogs to extract the maximum from the gearbox is quite pleasing. And, as you can expect, there's even a DSG automatic on offer; it is quick, intuitive and loads of fun to use via the paddles.
The T-Cross rides well despite the 17-inch wheels fitted on this test car. The suspension and tyres don't absorb everything the road throws at it and big bumps with sharp edges can unsettle the SUV a bit, but the ride, in general, is excellent. It is silent over bumps, the car doesn't get tossed around too much despite the 190mm clearance and it even isolates you from the road well. So, overall comfort levels are very high.
What adds immensely to the driving experience is the steering. Light, easy to twirl and blessed with an effortless 'oily' feel at low speed, it weights up nicely as speeds build. And the amazing bit is that there even is a fair amount of real road feel here when you press on.
The VW T-Cross is even stable at high speeds and feels sure-footed entering corners at speed. This means you don't need to really slow down and can confidently carry a lot of speed into corners. Manhandle it in tighter corners, hustle it around a bit and it does roll, and this means you naturally back off, but keep it neat and tidy and you'll be surprised just how much driving pleasure you can extract.
Should I buy one?
When the VW T-Cross comes to India in 2020-2021, it will be quite different from the car driven here. More spacious, more comfortable and bigger on the inside, it will give Indian customers what they want. Yes, a diesel engine is unlikely and it won't get all the tech we've experienced on this car. Still, what the European version of the T-Cross has shown us is that VW today is at the top of its game when it comes to SUVs, even compact ones. Attractive to look at, refined, comfortable, versatile, excellent to drive and with an all-round performance that smacks of deadly intent, this is a car that has huge potential. Get the price right – as VW says it will – and what you have is an SUV with the potential to be a winner.
Click here for all Volkswagen models, prices, reviews, images, videos and more.