One half of the T-Cross and T-Roc pair, the T-Cross is the German giant’s latest – and late to the party – SUV offering.
If you could show Karl Benz what his creation would become, I reckon the small SUV segment must be one of the most surprising things to him. Once he’d, you know, recovered from the massive changes wrought upon his chuffing wooden-wheeled machine, anyway.
It continues to surprise me, for two reasons. The first is that it exists at all. Yes, there have been compact SUVs for years (Suzuki Sierra springs immediately to mind) but nothing prepared me for the virtual replacement of the small hatchback with larger, higher-riding and more expensive versions to which buyers have flocked.
It just doesn’t make any sense.
The second thing that surprises me is just how late to this segment is Volkswagen. In typical fashion, however, it has arrived with something box fresh and reset the bar for the rest of them.
How much is a Volkswagen T-Cross and what do I get?
Life Auto: $28,390+ORC (MY21, +$400 from MY20)
Style Auto: $31,390+ORC (MY21, +$400 from MY20)
I drove a T-Cross Style R-Line, which is the top of the two-tier range with the added R styling pack.
The base car ships with 17-inch alloys, a six-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, auto parking (steering), heated folding mirrors, wireless charging and a space-saver spare.
Volkswagen’s media system runs on an 8.0-inch touchscreen and also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, although neither operate wirelessly to go with the wireless charger. The sound was pretty good from the six speakers and the hardware impeccable to use. The basic software on the system is getting on a little, but is very simple. Always a marker for me is when the DAB selection doesn’t require a PhD.
The car I drove had two packages added – the $2500 R-Line Package bolts on a set of handsome 18-inch alloys, badging, scuff plates, R-Line steering wheel and some nice Alcantara inserts on the seats.
The Sound and Vision Pack ($1900) throws in the digital dashboard, sat nav and a 300-watt Beats-branded sound system.
That brings this T-Cross to $35,790 before on-roads.
Safety – 5 Stars (ANCAP, April 2020)
This segment has a pretty good range of cars with excellent safety packages and the T-Cross certainly turns up and puts on a good show.
Along with the usual six airbags, ABS and stability controls, you get a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, front and rear low-speed AEB, high-speed forward AEB, driver fatigue detection, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic high beam.
You also get two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The T-Cross scored five ANCAP stars in April 2020.
Warranty and Servicing
VW offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is very nice indeed, bettered only by the Kia warranty. I should say the Mitsubishi warranty is ten years, but that would require you owning a Mitsubishi and there’s a couple of caveats in the program, too.
You can pre-pay your servicing for three years ($990) or five years ($1800), so you’re looking at roughly $300 per year for servicing, which isn’t too bad. VW reckons you’ll save $645 over five years or $256 over three years if you go with the Care Plan over Assure Service Pricing (ie pay-as-you-go).
It’s worth pointing out that VW says the first service is free, but either way, you’re amortising the costs over the specified period the same way you would with any other car.
Look and Feel
While it’s very obviously a Volkswagen, it’s not a jacked-up Polo. I think buyers find that important and I reckon that’s why the new Mercedes GLA isn’t just an A-Class on stilts in its second-generation. It does, however, look like a shrunken T-Roc which in turn looks like a shrunken Touareg and no, that’s not even remotely a criticism.
It’s a much taller and more upright design than the Polo and adds another five centimetres in length to the hatchback. The 18-inch wheels from the R-Line package look great but render the brakes hilariously dinky-looking.
Everything is simple, though – straightforward headlights, fog lights and daytime running lights, where Hyundai and Kia and Mazda have gone large, VW kept it very quiet.
Very conventional, very VW again in the cabin. The Sound and Vision package throws in the digital dashboard which is very slick and almost worth the price alone. Okay, not really, but you won’t be disappointed. The cloth trim has a kind of carbon weave vibe about it with the fake suede additions that come with the R-Line providing a nice lift.
I will remind you that I am a fan of cloth trim over leather in almost every situation and this is the good stuff. The cabin is a little grey if you were to push me for anything like an adverse reaction, but it all fits together predictably well (built in Germany, dontchaknow) and there are few genuinely cheap elements.
Rear space is good for adults but don’t expect to get three across. The back seat slides back and forth like in the T-Roc and excellent Tiguan and that’s a massive win if you want more boot space which you often need with small kids. Very clever and exceedingly useful.
While you get two rear USB ports in addition to the two up front, there’s no armrest or cupholders or air vents, though. You do get cupholders in the front, two of them in the centre console and each door will hold stuff. The front doors will take bottles but the rear pockets aren’t really shaped for it. So a bottle will go in, it will just loll about a bit in cornering.
The boot has 385 litres when you have the rear seats all the way back, slide them forward and you have a very healthy 455 litres. That’s a lot of boot space for such a small car. With the back seats down it expands yet again to 1281 litres.
Drivetrain and chassis
Being Polo-based, the 85 TFSI has the familiar 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo. Cards on the table – I love a three-cylinder engine.
While the 85kW (at 5000rpm) figure is in more of a Toyota C-HR league rather than a naturally-aspirated Kona or Seltos, it matches the torque figures of most of its competitors. It’s also unusually light at 1240kg (I think only the Vitara is lighter) and with the snappy seven-speed twin-clutch driving the front wheels, you’ll slip under the ten-second mark to 100km/h by a solitary tenth. Not quick but not C-HR slow, either.
There is a 110TSI coming, but for the moment COVID is keeping things a bit loose. I can’t see how that car will be remarkably better, but if you need more power, it’s coming, along with a 7.8-second run to 100km/h.
Volkswagen’s official testing yielded a 5.4L/100km on the combined cycle. One should always be fairly suspicious of ADR-derived figures and I have a 30 percent rule – add about a third of that figure on top and you’re in good shape. It’s not VW’s fault, it’s just not a very good testing cycle for real world figures, but is a benchmark to give you a good idea..
Anyway, the T-Cross spent a week in my hands and went through the premium unleaded at 6.5L/100km, just inside that rule. And given it’s a bit of a laugh to drive, that’s a pretty good result, I reckon.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the T-Cross. I thought it would feel either a lot like a Vitara (given its weight is similar) or a bit leaden. I don’t know why, it had been a while since I had driven any VWs.
I was, however, not expecting much from the 85kW engine. I hang my head in shame because it has all the character one might expect from a three-cylinder but actually got the T-Cross moving along very nicely. In fact, once the seven-speed was over its customary dithering on anything under about half-throttle, it felt like a bigger engine. Which is why I’m wondering if most buyers will rush for the 110TSI when it arrives.
I found the T-Cross very agreeable around the burbs and didn’t once felt like it was a particularly slow car. I think it’s because the low-down torque gives you a good shove across the intersection and really only starts to run out of puff once you’re into second gear. In town, that doesn’t matter.
The steering is good, with a nice positive feel from the front and the chassis is pretty keen to go with you, too. That’s an emerging trend in compact SUVs as car companies work out nobody takes them anywhere slipperier than a Coles underground car park.
The ride, too, is excellent around town without getting too bobbly unless you’re hitting sharp bumps. That’s where the optional 18s make their presence felt, so if you’re not keen on the occasional jolt through the cabin – and jolt is rather over-playing it – stick with the 17s. Obviously you get a bit more grip from the bigger wheels and tyres, so have a think about that too.
There’s a lot going on in this segment. The Ford Puma is a relative newcomer and is packed with stuff and a more powerful engine. It costs a little less in mid-spec ST-Line and has a few bits and pieces the T-Cross doesn’t have but is on balance less practical.
The Kia Seltos looks like a bit of a whale size-wise next to the T-Cross, almost approaching its bigger brother, the T-Roc. It’s sharply-priced and for the same money as a T-Cross R Line you can get a mid-spec 1.6-litre turbo all-wheel drive.
The Hyundai Kona is about to score a facelift and isn’t quite in the same league as the interior and nor does it have as much boot space. Drives well, though, and again you’ll be getting a mid-spec turbo 1.6-litre AWD for this money.
The Mazda CX-3 is in its twilight years. It still looks great but the tight rear seat and boot aren’t a match for the T-Cross and nor is the driving experience as refined.
Despite strolling on to the stage a couple years after everyone else, the T-Cross pretty much resets the bar. While other compact SUVs might be cheaper, have more stuff, be bigger inside, etc etc, the T-Cross rolls up a whole bunch of stuff and presents it in a package that looks great and isn’t too riotously priced.
If you can stretch to the Style, do it – you get more safety gear, more stuff and it’s the better of the two. Not a lot wrong with the Life, but the extra inclusions are worth it.
While the total cost of ownership is a little higher than some of its rivals, it’s not nearly enough to knock it from the top of the compact SUV perch. The gap isn’t huge to the rest of the pack, but for what is effectively a walk-up start, the T-Cross is a mighty opponent.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.