4.5 / 5.0
By Wayne Gorrett
As the fifth member of Volkswagen’s SUV line-up, the compact T-Cross now holds the range-entry position below the slightly larger T-Roc introduced earlier last year.
Taking an upward range walk, the T-Roc is followed by the five-seat Tiguan, the seven-seat Tiguan Allspace and the flagship Touareg.
Unmistakably an SUV, the compact T-Cross is not an all-roader capable of taking you and yours to the back of beyond and, er…back again. Available only as front-wheel drive, the T-Cross is not for wet fields or riverbeds but is best suited to a spot of green-laning like the myriad of rivals it faces in this class.
You would be thinking along the right lines if you regard the T-Cross as an alternative, more fashionable body style for the Polo, with its high-riding seating position and commanding view of the road. Besides, both share the same MQB A0 platform as their respective VW Group sister cars, the SEAT Ibiza and Arona, as will the imminent Skoda Kamiq.
Earlier this week I was at the UK media launch of the new T-Cross and – with a lunchtime plane to catch 60 miles away – enjoyed an all-too brief drive in ‘LXV’ offered in R-Line trim grade, fitted with the 115PS turbocharged 1.0-litre, three-cylinder TSI engine. It was paired to VW’s seven-speed DSG automatic ‘box and finished in the eye-catching ‘Makena Turquoise’.
The new T-Cross is built in the same Spanish factory as the Polo, but is 54mm longer and 150mm taller than the Polo. You sit almost 100mm higher than in the Polo, too.
Outwardly, the beefy-looking T-Cross is more of a traditional, two-box SUV shape than its larger T-Roc sibling and many of its market competitors. This default profile helps maximise interior space, while maintaining the chunky, rugged look that many buyers of small SUVs prefer.
There is a good palette of exterior colours from which to choose, along with more traditional neutral tones. With youth-targeted personalisation still an industry buzz phrase, more vibrant colours such as Flash Red, Dark Petrol Blue, Champagne Silver, Reef Blue, Energetic Orange and Makena Turquoise are offered, in addition to design packs in Black, Energetic Orange and Bamboo Garden shades.
The inside story
The interior is a strength of the T-Cross and, in some places, its weakness. It feels more upmarket than most of its rivals and for buyers who don’t need a larger SUV but value a quality feel, the T-Cross makes perfectly good sense. What isn’t perfect is the all too generous sprinkling of low-rent plastics, most of which are fortunately located in parts of the interior you're less likely to touch.
Volkswagen is known for its upmarket interiors and the T-Cross is no different, but if the standard silver interior trim doesn’t appeal, you’ll be able to choose a range of different options and even match the dashboard to the exterior paint colour.
Just like any other VW product, the build quality in the T-Cross is impressive. Even though this car will be one of VW’s least expensive models, it feels solid and well-built and the controls feel reassuringly durable. There are stylish silver inserts on the steering wheel and a gloss black surround for the lower centre console, which adds to the feeling of quality.
Volkswagen has also chosen to stick with a manual levered handbrake, instead of switching to an electric version. Further good news is that the VW parts bin that contained the odious third-stalk cruise control finally appears to be empty as those controls are relocated to the steering where they belong. Hurrah!
The extra dimensions of the T-Cross over the Polo transfers well to greater interior space and the large windows allow the cabin to feel light and airy.
The extra headroom afforded by the taller body will be a big draw to many customers, as it makes the T-Cross that bit more practical than the Polo and was plenty spacious enough for two rear adults to sit behind a front pair of grown-ups.
Cleverly, the 60:40 split rear seats can slide backwards or forwards, depending on how you want to apportion cargo and passenger space. However, if you regularly carry passengers you’ll want to keep the rear seats pushed as far back as they’ll go as rear legroom all but vanishes with the seats fully forward.
In terms of boot space, the T-Cross leaves its rivals far behind.
The T-Cross offers between 385 and 455 litres with the rear seats up, depending on where you position them within the 140mm sliding range, but even the smaller number is five litres bigger than the boot in the Volkswagen Golf. With the rear row pushed as far forwards as it will go, the boot is no longer flat and exposes a large channel where the seats were, which your possessions will fall into if they aren’t secured.
Flip those seatbacks down and you’ll have a handy 1,281 litres to fill and, you can fold the front passenger seat flat to accommodate longer items for that trip to IKEA you’ve been dreaming of for such a long time.
Trim grades and equipment
If you’re familiar with Volkswagen’s usual trim grade hierarchy, the S, SE, SEL and R-Line trim grades on the T-Cross will be of little surprise.
Standard key equipment on entry-level S models includes 16-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured bumpers, door handles and door mirror caps, LED day-running lights and LED tail lamps, decorative dashboard inserts, height-adjustable front seats with lumbar adjustment, eight-inch colour multimedia touchscreen, DAB radio, six-speaker audio system, air-conditioning, all-electric windows and electrically-heated and -adjustable door mirrors and two USB ports.
Step up to the T-Cross SE and you’ll discover 17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, black roof rails, automatic windscreen wipers, adaptive cruise control, front centre armrest, leather-trimmed steering wheel, pineapple design dashboard inserts, four USB ports, a variable height boot floor, auto dimming rear view mirror and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Progressing to the T-Cross SEL nets differently-styled 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, parking sensors front and rear, anodised silver roof rails, rear privacy glass for the rear windows, lizard pattern dashboard trim panels, dual-zone climate control and integrated navigation.
The range-topping T-Cross R-Line gains 18-inch alloys, R-Line-specific body kit including tailgate spoiler and black wheel arch extensions, black interior roof lining, aluminium-look pedals, race decorative dashboard inserts and 10.25-inch active info display digital instruments.
On the options list
In additional to the standard kit list, the T-Cross is available with a range of goodies from an expansive options list. These include the usual alloy wheel upgrades and pricier paint finishes, but also offer individual options such as a reversing camera, navigation, a Beats audio package upgrade and the Active Info Display.
As with other brands, Volkswagen offers the T-Cross with a few option bundles, but in this case limited to bold design packs. Available in Black, Energetic Orange and Bamboo Garden Green, these comprise of colour-keyed alloy wheels, dashboard panels and seat upholstery.
Connectivity is high on the agenda for the T-Cross as all models above range-entry S trim come equipped with Car-Net App Connect, which combines the functionality of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and MirrorLink allowing ‘mirroring’ of a smartphone display on the infotainment touch-screen, via a USB connection. At SE spec and above, the T-Cross is equipped with four USB charge points for passenger’s devices – two in the front and two in the rear.
Engines and transmissions
With the T-Cross, Volkswagen has elected not to offer their 1.6-litre TDI diesel to the UK market as only a very small percentage of small diesel-powered cars are sold.
From launch, a pair of three-cylinder 1.0-litre TSI turbocharged petrols will be on offer, tuned to 95hp and 115hp, while the punchier turbocharged four-pot 1.5-litre TSI Evo producing 150hp is expected to be available in the second half of 2019.
The 95hp TSI engine is only paired with a five-speed manual gearbox, but the gutsier 115hp TSI is available with a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG automatic.
There was no word at this week’s launch event about a plug-in hybrid variant coming to the UK, but a T-Cross PHEV is surely to be in the pipeline. On the all-electric front, Volkswagen is keen to promote its forthcoming standalone I.D. range of five fully electric models that will include a production version of the I.D. Crozz concept SUV expected in 2020.
On the road
As you might expect from a compact SUV, the T-Cross is quite fun to drive. The light steering works well with the peppy nature and of the turbocharged three-pot petrol engine and it’s very easy to manoeuvre in tighter confines, or when parking, thanks to speed-sensitive steering that requires less effort at low speeds.
That the T-Cross is only available with front-wheel drive won’t bother many buyers and out of town the T-Cross is very composed at cruising speeds. Because it rides higher than the sharp-handling Polo on which it’s based, the T-Cross tends to lean a little too much when taking corners enthusiastically, yet remains composed and predictable in how it handles.
As you increase the speed, the well-weighted steering feels good and provides accurate feedback. Poorer road surfaces are well absorbed by the excellent suspension setup and the larger wheels on the R-Line as tested don’t massively detract from the overall ride comfort as is often the case.
Crash-test safety gurus Euro NCAP have yet to render to scrap any of the T-Cross variants, but given its shared underpinnings with the Polo, it would be safe to expect the same five-star safety rating acquired by its smaller stablemate.
Standard safety equipment on the new T-Cross is comprehensive as all models feature ABS brakes, six airbags, automatic low-speed emergency braking, automatic hazard lights activation under emergency braking, pre-crash preventive occupant protection, automatic post-collision braking, pan-European emergency call service, electronic stability control, lane-keep assist, hill start assist, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and two Isofix child seat mounting points.
As there is no four-wheel drive system on any T-Cross model, it would be a good idea during the colder months to invest in a set of winter tyres for enhanced traction.
The five-door T-Cross is VW’s latest SUV. As an urban and country all-rounder, it dots more i’s and crosses more t’s than the majority of its two-wheel drive rivals and is available in four generously equipped trim levels across an eight-model range.
Despite its compact dimensions, the T-Cross is big on style and customisation, bang on trend and has a deceptively spacious cabin. As you would expect of VW, it drives exceptionally well and is loaded to the gunwales with usable, everyday lifestyle tech.
Browse our latest top leasing deals on the new Volkswagen T-Cross.