The rapidly expanding small crossover market has a major new player as Volkswagen finally brings a contender to this ever-more-popular segment
On the road
On the road
In completing its crossover and SUV line-up, Volkswagen has made a move into the fast-growing baby crossover segment with the new T-Cross, which sits below the T-Roc as the entry to the brand’s line-up of taller off-road-style vehicles.
It’s a simple range, with a single diesel added recently to the initial launch line-up of two petrol engines. The diesel is a 95hp 1.6, but doesn’t offer significant enough savings to be cost-effective for any but the most high-mileage drivers, which means the petrol engines – 95hp and 115hp TSI 1.0-litre units – are the more logical choices.
The 95hp 1.0-litre comes only with a five-speed manual gearbox, which adds another compelling reason to go for the more powerful petrol, because the £750 price difference adds a sixth cog to the manual gearbox. It also opens up the option of a £1500 seven-speed DSG automatic. The diesel has a five-speed manual or DSG auto alternatives.
1. The standard sliding rear bench is a handy feature to increase boot space if you don’t have rear occupants, though it’s only really any good for boxy loads as it leaves a big gap behind the rear seats.
2. The T-Cross is slightly longer than most rivals and it shows in terms of offering a little more boot and rear passenger space.
3. The VW Connect app is offered with all cars and includes the ability to split, download and analyse work and private journeys.
The more powerful model’s case is improved by the fact that, with the auto, it’s actually 1g/km more efficient than the less powerful model, although the manuals are matched on 112g/km. However, what potentially seals the deal is that the lower-powered petrol is only available in the lower two of the four trim levels, S and SE. The SEL specification that is the next one up is the one that pulls in some useful additional equipment items to bring the T-Cross up to a good company car spec.
All cars get 16-inch alloys, the smart-looking 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, lane-keep assist and autonomous emergency braking. They also all feature the VW Connect app that offers a series of useful features including driving style analysis, vehicle location (which can be sent to breakdown recovery assistance if required), trip analysis split by business and private, and driving challenges to help efficiency.
S-trim models are quite sparsely specified, are only available with the 95hp petrol engine and aren’t really a sensible option for company drivers. Going up by £1820 to SE adds 17-inch wheels, front foglights, black roof rails, the handy variable boot floor, automatic lights and wipers, adaptive cruise control and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, which is almost there from an equipment point of view. Unfortunately, satellite-navigation, LED headlights, privacy glass, front and rear parking sensors and dual-zone climate control aren’t added until you go a further £2100 up the scale to the SEL trim driven here.
At the top of the range is the R-Line trim, which adds 18-inch alloys, a sports styling pack and sports front seats, as well as the upgraded dash display, but they’re luxuries for the additional £1900 that aren’t exactly necessary for a company car driver.
It’s better to step back to the SEL trim, which has enough extra to be worth paying the money for if you want a car that doesn’t feel like it’s missing certain useful and expected equipment.
The T-Cross looks smart, with the sleek lights and front grille at odds with a lot of more brash larger-grilled designs in the market. The boxy shape works well for a grown-up small crossover look, and the tinted reflective bar across the tailgate and neat rear light design make for a more characterful rear end than most VWs. The £540 optional R-Line alloy wheels of our test car (see main pictures) are also a step up from the standard wheels, and the car looks better in lighter colours where the plastic-clad wheelarches aren’t too contrasting.
However, sit inside and the initial impression of a classy, smart design begins to fade slightly. The main issue is that there’s a disappointing amount of hard plastic adorning the cabin in all directions, including the dashboard top, steering column, door panels and central area. Apart from a strip across the middle of the dash there’s not really any attempt to disguise it and the steering column of our test car was already showing some serious scratching from the key around the ignition barrel, despite
having done comparatively few miles.
That’s a real shame, because customers have been groomed to expect better from a VW interior.
On the plus side, the T-Cross is a touch longer than most of its small crossover rivals, which means better rear legroom for passengers, and a decent boot size that, with the standard-fit sliding rear bench fully back, is still 385 litres – 105 more than a Polo. Slide the seats the other way and, with the rear bench pushed up against the front seats, the boot extends to 455 litres. There’s deep under-floor stowage where the spare wheel would once have sat, although it’s a metal area so isn’t the place for delicate things.
Up-front, the wide door bins are useful, given the central cup holders are small, and the stowage space under the central armrest on all cars from SE upwards is also pretty small.
To drive, the T-Cross is typically Volkswagen in that it doesn’t offer sparkling entertainment, but everything is pleasant enough and rather neutral in feel, so happy whatever the terrain. There is more road noise than could be expected, but the 115hp 1.0-litre TSI engine is another good example of the Volkswagen Group’s small petrol engine prowess at the moment, feeling perkier than the figures may suggest. It also seems to produce good real-world efficiency figures.
The steering is well-weighted – slightly heavier than average so providing some good feel, but still light enough for low-speed manoeuvrability. Overall, it’s not the most engaging of driving experiences, but is quietly competent in every area.
The T-Cross is the newest entrant into a segment that ballooned about 18 months ago with the arrival of the CCT100 Small Crossover Award-winning Citroen C3 Aircross, and the Hyundai Kona and Kia Stonic, followed closely by others including the excellent Seat Arona. The brands that first spotted the opportunity of small crossovers are all about to refresh the sector by the end of this year, with the arrival of the second-generation Nissan Juke, Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur, so the VW won’t be the new kid for long.
From a cost perspective, it’s a rollercoaster ride that exposes different strengths for different rivals, before all ending up pretty much at the same spot. The VW looks expensive, as it sits above all of the Citroen C3 Aircross, Kia Stonic and Seat Arona for cost, but recoups a large portion of that via the strongest residual value. But you pay for the Volkswagen badge, because the car isn’t as well-specced as any of its cheaper rivals. The Kia’s emissions are a way behind its rivals, but the low P11D price for the top-spec 4 model brings that car back into play, while the Citroen C3 Aircross is the most efficient and cheapest of the four, but has the lowest residual value. In the end, the four cars are covered by less than a penny per mile over three years and 60,000 miles, so it’s easy to make a case for any of them.
The T-Cross is another boost for a sector already flying in sales terms, attracting buyers out of regular hatchbacks. It’s pretty practical, looks good, especially with the up-specced wheels and in the lighter colours, and has an excellent residual value to bring running costs back in line with cheaper rivals. But those rivals are cheaper to buy, and most are better equipped for less money while still having an interior quality that at very least matches the Volkswagen. It’s a shame that so many bits you touch every time you get in the car aren’t of a higher standard, because this does take away from the car’s feeling of quality, but the T-Cross still makes a case for itself and sits well at the bottom end of VW’s new crossover and SUV family.
The T-Cross completes Volkswagen’s crossover and SUV line-up, finally entering a growth segment that is around 45% up year-on-year in 2019.
The new model fits into the VW range between the Polo hatchback supermini and the larger T-Roc crossover, two cars that were both launched at the beginning of last year.
Volkswagen’s latest model was previewed as a baby crossover convertible in 2016 by the T-Cross Breeze, which was shown at the Geneva motor show that spring. At that point, Volkswagen had only the Tiguan and Touareg small and large SUVs respectively, but it has since added the seven-seat Tiguan Allspace and the T-Roc, ahead of its latest arrival.
The T-Cross is described by the brand as “the most compact sport utility vehicle that Volkswagen plans to make”, as well as being touted as “the new start” of the Volkswagen brand and “a true people’s car”.
The exterior design closely sticks to that of the concept car’s, although the switchless interior where everything bar the window buttons and control stalks is instead operated via touch-sensitive surfaces or gesture control didn’t make it through to production.
What they said
What They Said
“The T-Cross has been one of the most successful launches for us this year; it’s had an overwhelmingly positive reaction from customers and critics."
“As the newest model in our SUV range it is designed to offer a broad range of talents and appeal to a wide customer base."
“The compact SUV sector has more choice than ever before, which has seen an increase in corporate demand. The T-Cross offers competitive pricing, a range of frugal diesel and petrol engines and well-equipped trim levels making it a great choice for private and fleet buyers.”
Claire Haynes, product manager, Volkswagen UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
There’s a large and handy under-floor boot stowage area
The T-Cross looks like a stylish but mature crossover; typically VW
The big door bins are useful, especially as other stowage in the cabin is small
...And one we don't
The scratched area around the ignition is just one example of the cheaper cabin plastic
Drama-free, the small crossover offers secure and well-planted handling, but nothing to get the pulse racing.
The emissions figures put the T-Cross close to the class best, although official economy is a little further adrift and the diesel doesn’t have a big benefit over petrol.
The VW has a hefty boot, especially with the rear bench pushed right forward. Adults will be pretty comfy in the back
Equipment levels are reasonable, although you have to go up to this SEL trim to get items such as privacy glass, sat-nav and parking sensors. The VW badge means needing to dabble in options to get to the level of other volume brands.
The T-Cross has a combination of pleasantly boxy crossover looks and classy VW styling that works.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
Ride quality is generally good, and the car is quiet under acceleration, although there is some road noise.
Some bits are nice, but it feels much less premium than the VW brand would position itself as. Plenty of cheaper plastics give the car a more budget feel than rivals.
The infotainment screen is the high point of the cabin. However, Apple CarPlay sometimes takes too long to boot up when you start the car.
Whole life costs 8/10
Great residuals are a VW forte and are alive and well here, helping to counter the higher price.
CCT opinion 8/10
Plenty to like, but the cabin quality is a bit of a let-down.
The T-Cross makes sense on paper for emissions and running costs, and it is a good-looking small crossover that offers practicality as well as style.