First Drive: Volkswagen’s T-Cross puts funk into a practical package
Can Volkswagen's smallest SUV to date be a success? Ryan Hirons finds out...
What is it?
Another day, another new SUV from the VW Group — and this time we're looking at its smallest yet. This the Volkswagen T-Cross, the firm's assault on the compact SUV market.
Based on the firm's MQB platform, it's similar in size to its Polo hatchback — coming in at 55mm longer and 97mm taller respectively — and sits below the T-Roc in the range, which itself has become Europe's class best-seller since its 2017 launch.
With tough competition from the likes of Nissan's Juke and Mazda's CX-3, plus the imminent rival of the Ford Puma, it's going to have to be special to emulate that success.
This is an entirely new model from the brand, and one spawned from the T-Cross Breeze concept shown in 2016 — though that car was a convertible, unlike the eventual hardtop version.
Though fresh to the range, it does take a healthy amount of parts from the breadth of the VW Group catalogue — namely its choice of 1.0 TSI petrol engines, DSG gearbox options and wide array of safety and luxury gizmos on offer. Notably absent at launch is a diesel engine option — though one is available on the continent, and VW UK hasn't ruled out bringing it over later down the line.
What's under the bonnet?
Powering our test car is the 1.0-litre petrol engine in its most powerful form. Producing 113bhp and 200Nm of torque, which here is delivered to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. It covers the 0-60mph sprint in 10 seconds flat and can go on to a 120mph top speed. As for efficiency, Volkswagen claims this unit can return 48.2mpg on the WLTP combined cycle while emitting 112g/km in CO2.
This powertrain setup has to be the pick of the bunch. The engine is punchy and offers just the right amount of power for the car, while its slick gearshift and well-weighted clutch make it a breeze to operate. Its lower-output sibling just lacks the crisp edge of the more powerful option, and its DSG alternative feels comparatively sluggish.
What's it like to drive?
The T-Cross is designed first and foremost for the city, and that's where it excels. A combination of light steering, compact dimensions and excellent visibility results in a car that's perfectly at home when navigating concrete jungles — and softly-set suspension allows it to absorb speed bumps and potholes without an issue.
Its strengths as a city car do prove to be its downfalls elsewhere, though. At speed on the UK's bumpier back roads, its ride is akin to driving a slab of jelly — wobbling about all over the place and not inspiring too much confidence as a result. Road noise is also prominent when cruising along, though the supple suspension at least makes it comfortable on motorways.
How does it look?
It'd be easy to accuse Volkswagen of making a range of cars that are quite boring to look at, though with the T-Cross it's managed to inject a bit of funk into the design — more so with its exterior.
Though about the size of a Polo and very mechanically similar to one, you wouldn't guess a direct relation from the design alone — save for the keen-eyed who may spot a side strike directly taken from the hatch. Up front, a gaping grille brings it in line with the rest of VW's SUV range, while toward the back a concept car-like look is created with a huge light bar transcending the boot.
With our money, we'd look toward to more creative end of the T-Cross' palette of colours. The design is best exposed in eye-catching 'Energetic Orange' and 'Makena Turquoise', and admittedly looks a bit dull in more conventional shades.
What's it like inside?
Things are very in line with the typical Volkswagen norms inside. A boxy cabin design features, with good quality materials deployed for the steering wheel, switchgear and other points of contact throughout the cabin. Search hard and it's easy to find some scratchier plastics, though these are confined to areas drivers are likely to never interact with so can be forgiven.
As for space, five can be seated comfortably — particularly when the sliding rear row is taken advantage of, creating as much as 14cm of extra legroom, though it's not lacking in the first place for a car of this size. The T-Cross also boasts 455 litres of boot space when the rear seats are moved forward, putting it comfortably ahead of the Mazda CX-3's 350-litre and Nissan Juke's 345-litre capacities.
What's the spec like?
Pricing for the VW T-Cross begins at £16,995, making it one of the most expensive in its class, for an entry S model. It's quite light on equipment, with the only noticeable additions being 16-inch alloy wheels and an eight-inch infotainment display with Bluetooth support plus DAB radio. There is, however, a generous helping of no-cost safety equipment such as automatic post-collision braking, automatic emergency braking and lane-keep assistance.
Tested here is the SEL trim, which brings with it LED headlights and daytime running lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, adaptive cruise control and support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Options ticked here include Reflex Silver metallic paint (£575), 18-inch alloy wheels (£540) and VW's Active Info Display Technology (£375), bringing the cost of the car to £20,795. It's a high price to pay, especially as it's not even the range topper — that honour belongs to R-Line models, starting from £22,695.
Volkswagen is on to another hit in its ever-more successful SUV range with the T-Cross. It blends style and practicality into a package that's perfect for the city, which is where these cars are destined to spend a good chunk of their time on the road — and perhaps for the best when its poor refinement elsewhere is considered. A decent amount of safety equipment as standard is a positive too, although we'd like to have seen some of that generosity extend further into the luxury bonuses thrown in the package.