Volkswagen T-Cross Review: dots every 'i' in its category04 October 2019
➤ The T-Cross is Volkswagen’s first foray into the hotly contested small SUV class, but straight out of the blocks, the T-Cross is one of the class leaders in the compact SUV sector.
The Volkswagen T-Cross is the company’s fifth – and smallest – SUV, in a stable that now includes the T-Roc, Tiguan, Tiguan Allspace and the flagship Touareg. It aims to capitalise on the current demand for compact yet practical SUVs and joins a class saturated with excellent rivals, including the Suzuki Vitara, Nissan Juke, SEAT Arona and Citroen C3 Aircross.
While the T-Cross is an all-new Volkswagen model, it borrows the same VAG Group underpinnings as the SEAT Arona, Volkswagen Polo and Skoda Fabia.
It also adopts some of its styling cues from the T-Roc and looks to imitate the Touareg with its wide grille. From whichever angle you approach it, the T-Cross is clearly from the VW stable and manages to stand out from an expanse of similarly sized rivals. Volkswagen concentrates on making smart-looking, well built, practical cars, and the T-Cross is simply the latest product of that approach.
For its first foray into the hotly contested small SUV class, VW has given the T-Cross some bold details. The rear lights are surrounded by a thick black strip, while the headlights are joined by a chrome strip that goes straight across the middle of the grille. Under that are fog lights and daytime running lights, which look similar to those on the T-Roc, and T-Cross lettering stretches across the boot lid.
Roof rails and black plastic wheel arch covers give the T-Cross a rugged look and design packs can give the wheels, upholstery and interior trim a finish in orange, grey or blue.
The Volkswagen T-Cross has a bright and airy cabin that can be customised with optional colour panels for the dashboard. The materials from which the rest of the dashboard is made look reasonably smart at first glance, but further investigation with the fingertips reveals a hard finish rather than a cushioned one, which some drivers will find less appealing, especially given the T-Cross’s comparatively high price compared with rivals.
That said, getting into a comfortable driving position is helped by a height-adjustable driver’s seat and a steering wheel that can be set for height and reach, and the high-set seat affords good visibility in all directions. All the controls are easy to identify and use, and the touchscreen infotainment system is fairly self-explanatory, too.
Trim grades and equipment
The T-Cross is offered with very good levels of standard kit, even on the range-entry S trim. It features 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, front and rear electric windows and electric folding door mirrors. The inclusion of an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system and DAB radio means that it doesn’t look or feel like the budget model inside.
The SE-spec T-Cross gets 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, front fog lights with cornering function, better smartphone connectivity and adaptive cruise control.
The SEL model gets styling upgrades, along with more useful features such as European mapping for the satellite-navigation and speed limit display, along with front and rear parking sensors and dual-zone climate-control.
If you’re more image-conscious, the range-topping R-Line model (as tested and pictured) might pique your interest. It receives more distinctive styling by way of unique front and rear bumpers, a roof spoiler and 18-inch wheels. When fitted with the automatic gearbox, R-Line versions include paddle shifters on the back of the steering wheel, too. Sports seats in the front are embossed with R-Line logos as well and, instead of the analogue instrument dials, there is a 10.25-inch digital display.
Volkswagen offers a range of design packs that allow buyers to further customise the exterior and interior look of the T-Cross through coloured alloy wheels, dashboard panels and upholstery.
Practicality and luggage space
The T-Cross is quite a practical car generally, not just in the context of its compact size. It’s slightly longer than the Polo and 107mm taller, which makes it feel considerably more spacious inside than VW’s supermini hatch. Large windows allow the cabin to feel fresh, light and airy.
The rear seats can slide backwards or forwards, depending on how you want to divvy up cargo and passenger space – a trick usually offered on much more expensive cars, or people carriers that prioritise substance over style. As a result, the T-Cross is very versatile, despite the distance between its wheels being identical to the Polo.
You’ll want to keep the rear seats pushed as far back as they’ll go if you regularly carry passengers, as legroom vanishes with the seats fully forward.
The T-Cross offers between 385 and 455 litres with the rear seats up, depending on where you slide them, but even the smaller number is five litres bigger than the boot in the Volkswagen Golf. With the rear seats pushed as far forwards as they’ll go, the boot is no longer flat - there’s a large channel where the seats were, which your possessions will fall into if they aren’t secured.
Flip those seats down and you’ll have 1,281 litres to fill - plus, you can fold the front passenger seat flat to accommodate longer items. In this configuration, the T-Cross offers almost as much space as a small van, which means it’s perfect if you occasionally need lots of luggage space but only have a small parking bay.
Engines, performance and drivetrains
A 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine is all that's currently available for the T-Cross, with outputs of either 94 or 113hp. While the latter is essentially the engine from the Volkswagen up! GTI, the T-Cross doesn’t provide mini-hot hatch performance.
However, it manages 0-62mph in a smidge over 10 seconds, or 11.5 for the 94hp version and both will be absolutely fine for the majority of drivers.
Refinement is impressive for such a small car. In fact, it feels very mature and capable. The higher-powered version offers a six-speed manual gearbox over a five-speed in the S version and both are available with a slick seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox, at extra cost.
A diesel engine isn’t available from launch, but Volkswagen may decide to offer the 1.6-litre engine from the Polo if demand is sufficient. Surprisingly, no hybrid version will be offered either. However, Volkswagen is planning to electrify most of its range, so a pure electric version to rival the Hyundai Kona Electric could be in the pipeline.
On the road
Small SUVs are unlikely to be dream vehicles for keen drivers, but the T-Cross easily competes with the current class leaders in this regard. It drives well, with pleasingly light steering and a comfortable ride. Over most bumps and bad surfaces it’s composed, and body roll is kept to a minimum through the majority of corners.
It’s refined all the way up to motorway speeds, and keeps its composure over most bumps and small potholes. VW has certainly prioritised comfort over sportiness, which is what most small SUV buyers will prefer.
It’s unlikely that many T-Cross owners will use their car for towing, more so if there’s no grunty diesel in the line-up. Volkswagen hasn’t provided a figure for the T-Cross yet, but the VW 1Polo with the 113hp petrol engine will safely tow a braked trailer weighing up to 1,070kg.
Euro NCAP awarded the T-Cross a maximum of five stars when it tested the car earlier this year, giving it impressively high category scores across the board in the process. Those included 97 per cent for adult occupant protection and nothing below 80 per cent in the other three categories, which is rare.
The T-Cross features a range of passive and active safety systems to protect its occupants and pedestrians. These include pedestrian and cyclist protection, automatic emergency braking, front assist and a speed limiter. More expensive trim levels add features like adaptive cruise control, hill start assist and blind-spot monitoring.
The T-Cross has been a long time coming, but Volkswagen has observed its rivals’ introduction of small SUVs – and improved on it.
It is somewhat of a review that here is a contender in the class that doesn’t major on ‘quirkiness’ (Juke, Captur) and instead offers a grown-up driving experience and a remarkable amount of practicality. As a result, it is thoroughly recommended.
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