T-Cross and the search for meaning



To be human is to be cursed with a never ending search for meaning. We spend our lives camped on hard church aisles or in stuffy philosophy lecture halls looking to answer simple questions: Why are we here? What is our purpose? This problem, one would think, is not a concern for a car.

Yet, sitting in the Volkswagen T-Cross after a few days at the wheel, it was easy to hallucinate, its orange wheel arches flaring up and lamenting its existential meanderings.

Sorry, young one, we don’t know why your German Gods made you.

This is not a bad car. In a vacuum it’s actually quite a good car. The problem is it’s not immediately clear why you would want this car.

The T-Cross was essentially designed as a larger Polo; a new addition to VW’s sport utility vehicle (SUV) fleet to capitalise on the global trend towards bigger cars. But growth does not correlate with practicality.

You’ll sit a bit higher in the driver’s seat and have a smidgen extra leg room in the backseat, but aside from that, the size difference between the Polo and the T-Cross is not noticeable in any meaningful sense. Even the boot, which you would want to be big if you’re buying an SUV for long-distance travelling, only has a few extra litres on the spec sheet.

Driving capabilities are equally identical. Despite a rugged roof bar, no one is pretending the T-Cross has any off-road ability. Nor is it any more powerful — the Polo and the T-Cross have the same 1.0 TSI 85 kW engine (VW does intend to offer bigger blocks in 2020). Speed, handling, control … it’s all a carbon copy.

Which, again, is not a bad thing when the original you were copying was solid in the first place. But it does mean you need some pretty good reasons to drop the extra cash. The Highline trim of the T-Cross costs about R50 000 more than its Polo counterpart — not an insignificant amount to most people. If anything, the Polo has a slightly stronger whiff of luxury inside it, with VW inexplicably replacing the soft-touch upper dash with hard, cheap plastic.

And we’re back to where we started: the T-Cross driving through life searching for meaning.

Except it turns out that while it’s doing that, a few heads are turning in its direction, admiring the 18-inch alloys and idiosyncratic rear styling.

Yup, turns out quite a lot of people like how this thing looks. And it’s hard to disagree. An overgrown Polo it might be but side-by-side the T-Cross definitely has more of a presence to it.

My test car came in orange — the one you’ve likely seen on billboards — with orange rims and orange all over the interior. Your predisposition will determine how you rate the look on a scale of garish to rad.

It had struck me as I was pulling away from the trendy Farmers Market in Fourways that no one really knows what stands for cool these days. Personally, these bright colours aren’t for me; to others they’ll be the hottest to be released this year.

Objectivity is lost on the T-Cross, far more than it arguably is on most other cars. It’s the consumer that determines the reason for its existence. If you’re after something bolder than a hatchback, and don’t mind a steeper price, you can’t go too wrong here. But if you want pure value for money, you’d do well to follow some simple life advice: just buy a Polo.

The T-Cross starting price is R334 600, with the Highline trim beginning at R365 000

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Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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