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FIRST DRIVE: Is the Tharu a proper Volkswagen?

Mikko David · Nov 6, 2023 06:00 PM

Volkswagen Tharu

Does the Volkswagen Tharu live up to the brand's renowned heritage?

A lot has been said about Volkswagen Philippines’ more recent product lineup. 

Since the brand shifted its vehicle sourcing from Europe to China in the late 2010s, famous nameplates such as the Polo, Golf, Scirocco, and  Tiguan have vanished from the brand’s local lineup.

Today, the German automaker’s local distributor has the Santana, Lavida, and the Lamando as its primary offerings. All imported from the Mainland, these models have faced some rather harsh criticism just for being made in China.

“They’re not European at all,” naysayers claim despite Volkswagen proudly brandishing its logo on these cars. “We want the Euro models back,” read the clamor of local fans of the brand. 

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But the fact of the matter is that sourcing Volkswagen’s European-built models with all the bells and whistles will only result in higher SRPs, much higher than its local market positioning dictates. Taxes, duties, and the lack of bilateral or even multilateral arrangements with European source countries prevent the brand from bringing its “best bakal,” so to speak.

That doesn’t stop Volkswagen from being innovative, however. Its strong presence in China as a manufacturer has opened up an avenue where China-sourced Volkswagen vehicles can be marketed and sold in the Philippines while offering similar levels of quality, fit, and finish as its models from Europe at a more palatable price.

Enter the Volkswagen Tharu

Volkswagen Tharu

18-inch wheels come standard with the Volkswagen Tharu. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

As a China-specific model that is also known as the Taos, the Volkswagen Tharu is a 5-seat crossover that shares its platform with genuine Volkswagen Group products such as the Jetta VS5, Škoda Karoq, and Seat Ateca.

Yes, Volkswagen Philippines admits it is a China-specific model. But as with most global businesses, the parent company has found a way to create an export market for the Tharu, with it becoming the brand’s first Chinese-developed product sold outside of China. It has been around since 2018, with the model we have here representing its latest model upgrade.

Volkswagen Tharu

ID EV design cues abound in the Volkswagen Tharu. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

Former Volkswagen Group design head Klaus Bischoff oversaw the development of the Tharu. He is also credited with the design of Volkswagen’s ID series of electric vehicles, hence the implementation of ID styling cues such as the LED strip that connects the front headlights and the front fender model nameplates on the Tharu.

Volkswagen Tharu

Along with the rear LED strip, the Tharu's VW logo lights up red at night. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

But design isn’t the only feature that links the Tharu back to its European roots. Volkswagens have been known for their interior quality and fit and finish.

During our short day drive with the Tharu, we could see how much effort the brand put in to preserve this impression. The cabin is lined with soft materials around. Leatherette seats in a bluish hue, along with white stitching and ambient lighting, elevate the interior ambiance. 

Volkswagen Tharu

Deep Blue and Pine Green provide color the the Volkswagen Tharu SEL's interiors. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

Like most China-market cars today, the Tharu also sports a panoramic sunroof, giving the cabin an airy feel.

Volkswagen Tharu

The panoramic sunroof makes the interior roomier than it seems. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

The 300 TSI DSG SEL unit we drove for a day is equipped with dual 12-way power seats with heaters. It would have been better had they been cooled seats instead. Nonetheless, they were supportive and comfortable enough during the long day of driving around the traffic-stricken metro. One benefit I noticed was the low height of the seats easily aligned with my hip, making ingress and egress a breeze. Seniors take note.

Volkswagen Tharu

A subdued interior greets the mature Volkswagen Tharu owner. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

Two LCD panels make up the information and entertainment offerings of the Tharu. A 10.25-inch active info display for the driver shows revs, speed, and temps, and a 12-inch touchscreen controls the audio options and displays efficiency reports.

Volkswagen Tharu

Like in most China-made cars nowadays, vehicle functions are incorporated into the touchscreen LED. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

My iPhone connected seamlessly through Apple CarPlay, but the system doesn’t support Android Auto. The infotainment screen also supports gesture control, though when we tried it, it was kinda hit or miss, and I rather just let my digits make the choices. 

Driving miss daisy

Volkswagen Tharu

Driving a Volkswagen is still an art in itself. The same holds true with the Tharu as well. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

It is behind the wheel, though, where the “Volkswageness” of the Tharu really shines. Unlike many cars made in China today, the Tharu has a weighty steering wheel. This gives a reassuring feel on the road as if you’re driving a large and stable car. 


Acceleration is likewise linear and predictable. It doesn’t suddenly lurch forward even if you don’t press on the gas pedal. Brake feel is familiar as well, and you won’t need to spend extra time getting used to it. So, if you’re used to driving a Japanese or German brand, your right foot’s muscle memory will feel right at home in the Tharu.

Volkswagen Tharu

This 1.5-liter mill from China is very much refined. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

With 160 PS and 250 Nm on tap from its 1.5-liter turbo and a seven-speed dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox to manage its distribution to the front wheels, it isn’t lacking in the power department.

Volkswagen Tharu

Are those Porsche buttons? PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

Volkswagen's BlueMotion Technology of fuel efficiency solutions, such as its Start/Stop system, tempers the engine’s consumption. With the system turned off, though, and in typical metro traffic, we were able to get 9.1 kilometers to the liter. 

Volkswagen Tharu

Decent fuel economy for a day's run from BGC to QC and back. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

Most importantly, handling is where the Volkswagen Tharu reminds you of what makes the brand such an aspirational name. While the Tharu is a crossover, it does maneuver reassuringly well, not only on tight corners but on sweeping bends as well. Bumps and ruts are well-dampened, and no crashing suspension bits here, just a refined, quiet ride you’d expect from a European car or a higher-end Japanese brand.

Volkswagen Tharu


And this is where the Volkswagen Tharu makes a case for itself. Despite its manufacturing origins, the German carmaker has done enough to ensure that its brand identity is infused in the Tharu. Remember, this is still an export model, and markets around the world have their own interpretation of what a Volkswagen should be. So, making sure that the Tharu lives up to its global positioning, and indeed the brand’s promise, is clearly high on their priority list. And this includes ensuring the best levels of safety. 


Volkswagen Tharu

Parking assist really helps! PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

Front and side airbags, along with curtain airbags also for the front and back, are standard on the two variants of the Tharu. Cruise control, speed limiter, Electronic Stability Program, electronic brakes, Area View Camera, and intelligent Parking Assist System are all present in the SEL trim. 

Who’s the Tharu for?

Volkswagen Tharu

A stitched-on reminder of the car you are driving. PHOTO BY MIKKO DAVID

There will always be brand loyalists, and they will likely be satisfied with what the Tharu has to offer. And then there are those who want to be different, to be unique, and to stand out from the crowd. If Japanese brands aren’t your thing, then exploring the Volkswagen Tharu might be a wise option. 

Unfortunately, price isn’t exactly one of the Tharu’s come-ons. At Php 1,950,000, the Tharu doesn’t do itself any favors, especially when compared to other China-sourced crossovers. Even the higher-priced Japanese brands in the compact crossover category have a bit more equipment and features to cover the price difference. 

But if you’re really after a Volkswagen because of its driving dynamics, renowned build quality, and brand value, then the Tharu would be your best bet at the moment.            


Mikko David


With an automotive career spanning 27 years as a former touring car racer turned automotive journalist and photographer, Mikko also handled marketing and PR for two major Japanese car brands before finding peace and purpose in sharing his views about cars, driving, and mobility.

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