Small and tall: that’s how increasing numbers of people like their cars. The market for supermini-sized SUVs is booming. And Volkswagen, with the new T-Cross, wants a slice of that crossover cake.
Nissan launched the Juke – arguably the car that popularised the compact crossover – back in 2010, so Volkswagen is late to the party. Its many rivals now include the Renault Captur, Ford Ecosport, Vauxhall Mokka X, Citroen C3 Aircross, Peugeot 2008, Seat Arona and new Skoda Kamiq.
The T-Cross is on sale from April 2019, with prices starting at £16,995. Can it stand out in such a crowded class?
It’s a pumped-up Polo
Volkswagen likes SUVs that start with a ‘T’. And it now offers five of them: T-Cross, T-Roc, Tiguan, Tiguan Allspace and Touareg (in order of size, from little to large).
The T-Cross is based on the Polo hatchback, but is 54mm longer and a lofty 138mm taller. Its footprint is roughly the same size as Mk5 (2003-2009) VW Golf, so we use the word ‘little’ advisedly here.
Four vertically-unchallenged adults – five at a squeeze – can sit comfortably, and the boot holds 385 litres. That compares to 355 litres in a Polo.
The styling is chunky and funky
Whether owners acknowledge it or not, part of crossovers’ appeal is how they look. They compress the rugged style of an SUV into a smaller, more socially acceptable package.
The T-Cross isn’t as radical as some rivals, but it’s more than simply a high-riding hatchback. Pumped-up wheelarches, chunky sills and a stocky stance bestow a suitably ‘go-anywhere’ look. Never mind that most won’t venture further off-road than mounting a kerb.
Too jazzy? Volkswagen T-Cross in Makena Turquoise Metallic.
Regulation 2019 full-width rear light bar is present and correct. pic.twitter.com/wSGIycbB82
— Tim Pitt (@timpitt100) March 7, 2019
Its most distinctive angle is the rear view, especially the full-width light bar. Trend-spotters will recognise this as the must-have styling feature for 2019, seen on the new Porsche 911, Peugeot 508, Audi A8 and others.
Volkswagen calls it an ‘urban SUV’
The T-Cross won’t be climbing any mountains, then – particularly as all versions are front-wheel drive. Customer demand for a 4×4 model simply isn’t there, we’re told. The Suzuki Jimny can breathe easy.
Volkswagen calls this an ‘urban SUV’, which sounds like an oxymoron. However, an elevated driving position and squared-off bodywork do help when manoeuvring and parking. Those beefier bumpers might be beneficial on city streets, too. Leaving the airport in Palma, Mallorca’s congested capital, the T-Cross felt instantly at home.
Visibility is further heightened (literally) for rear passengers, who benefit from theatre-style seating. They’re perched around 50mm higher than the driver and front passenger, allowing a good view of the road ahead.
There’s one engine, with two power outputs
Two engines are offered at launch. Actually, if we’re being pedantic, there’s just one – a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol – but available in two states of tune.
The entry-level 95hp motor serves up 62mph in 11.5 seconds, with fuel consumption of 57.6mpg and 112g/km CO2. Trade up to the 115hp version and you’ll hit 62mph in 10.2 seconds, and economy and emissions are identical. Note these are NEDC figures, though; the more stringent WLTP stats, which become mandatory later in 2019, aren’t available yet.
In terms of transmissions, the 95hp car has a five-speed manual gearbox only, while the 115hp model offers a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG automatic.
Other European markets get 150hp 1.5 petrol and 95hp 1.6 diesel engines. The former may come to the UK at a later date, depending on demand.
It’s practical enough for a small family
This car has the R-Line styling tweaks. Two 1.0-litre TSI petrol engines are available in the UK: 95hp and 115hp.
Not all crossovers are as capacious as they look, but the T-Cross is usefully more practical than a Polo. It would be perfectly adequate for a couple with one child.
Day two in the Volkswagen T-Cross.
This car has the R-Line styling tweaks. Two 1.0-litre TSI petrol engines are available in the UK: 95hp and 115hp. pic.twitter.com/Z23CaowpKo
— Tim Pitt (@timpitt100) March 8, 2019
One useful feature is the sliding rear seat. Move it fully forward and luggage space swells from 385 to 455 litres. The only downside is a large downward step in the boot floor. The front passenger seat backrest also flips down for loading long objects.
There’s plenty of stowage space for family detritus, plus up to four USB ports for charging phones, tablets and other devices. Cries of “Are we there yet?” should be a thing of the past.
The interior is packed with tech
Indeed, technology is a T-Cross strong suit. An intuitive eight-inch touchscreen media system is fitted to all models, and connects seamlessly to your smartphone via Apple Carplay or Android Auto.
Volkswagen’s Active Info Display is an option (standard on top-spec R-Line), replacing the traditional instruments with configurable digital dials. And you can download the Volkswagen Connect app for info specific to your car, such as average fuel economy and when the next service is due.
Other optional niceties include keyless entry and start, automatic headlights and a 300w Beats audio system with a large subwoofer in the boot.
But the lines between VW, Seat and Skoda are blurred
The T-Cross is less successful when it comes to perceived quality, specifically inside the cabin.
As you may know, it’s virtually identical to the Seat Arona and forthcoming Skoda Kamiq under the skin. Yet while Volkswagen has traditionally positioned itself as an ‘in-between’ brand – above the likes of Ford and Renault, and below Audi and BMW – the differences in feelgood factor here are marginal.
Nothing rattled, squeaked or fell off, of course. But the T-Cross feels built to a budget, with hard plastics that might make you think twice about paying a premium versus its VW Group cousins.
It tries to be down with the kids
Thankfully, you can jazz up your T-Cross to the extent that nobody will notice the minor details. Fancy Energetic Orange paint or Bamboo Garden Green alloys? Step this way.
Indeed, the T-Cross is a tad anonymous in silver, white or black, so we’d go for one of the brighter shades; Flash Red and Makena Turqoise look great. The latter is a minty-fresh shade last seen on modified hot hatches in the 1990s: we approve.
The interior can also be customised with tiger stripes on the dashboard and two-tone seats. A list of permitted colour combinations prevents you going too wild, however. Probably a good thing when it comes to resale value…
Yet the driving experience is very grown-up
The T-Cross feels pretty sensible on the road, too. It’s easy to drive, with the calm, measured maturity Volkswagen does so well.
As noted previously, the car feels in its element around town. Its light steering is direct, if a little lifeless, and its suspension is supple enough to soak up potholes and speed humps.
It also keeps its composure on faster roads, without the bounciness that afflicts some small SUVs. Body-roll is kept in check and the handling is safe and predictable at the limit. Yes, a Polo is slightly more agile and engaging, but few buyers will care.
The engines are peppy and refined
If you can afford it, the 115hp T-Cross is the one to go for. It’s the same engine used in the Up GTI, and feels fizzy and eager to rev.
The more powerful engine is mandatory if you want an automatic ’box, but the DSG does blunt performance. Unless you select Sport mode, it constantly tries to change up in the name of efficiency. Go for the snappy manual instead.
In either state of tune, the TSI is exceptionally smooth and refined. Rev it hard and you’ll hear a distinctive three-cylinder snarl, but most of the time it’s inaudible.
A sporty T-Cross R could be on the cards
Despite the Up engine transplant, a GTI version of the T-Cross seems unlikely. Volkswagen has always limited those three iconic letters to hot hatchbacks – perhaps rightly so.
We could, however, see a T-Cross R in the not-so-distant future. A precedent has been set by the recently launched T-Roc R, which borrows its 300hp engine from the flagship Golf. Stranger things have happened.
Possibly not so strange as a convertible, though. The T-Cross Breeze concept, a drop-top SUV in the mould of the Range Rover Evoque, actually previewed today’s production car at the Geneva Motor Show in 2016. Thankfully, there are no plans to build it.
Volkswagen T-Cross verdict: 4 stars
If you like how the T-Cross looks, it could be the pint-sized SUV for you. Volkswagen took its time, but the end result is a solid all-rounder that majors on practicality, comfort and connectivity.
It certainly has the edge over the dated Captur, Ecosport and Mokka X. Its in-house Arona and Kamiq rivals, however, are a sterner test. The Volkswagen is the most expensive of the trio, but a more upmarket image (and thus likely stronger residual values) could mean the monthly payments are almost identical.
Us? We’d stick with the Polo, or upgrade to a Golf – still perhaps the most solid all-rounder of all.
Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0 TSI 115 SE manual: specification
Engine: Three cylinder 999cc petrol
Drivetrain: Front-engine, front-wheel drive
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Wheels: 17 inches
Power: 115hp@5,000 rpm
Torque: 148lb ft@2,000rpm
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Top speed: 120mph
Fuel economy: 57.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 112g/km
Kerb weight: 1,655kg