Of the 10.83 million cars, vans, lorries and motorcycles built by the Volkswagen Group in 2018, 6.2 million came from VW itself. And so for all the prestige of Audi and Bentley, the growth of Seat, and the unstoppable rise of Skoda, the company contributing the largest volume is still the one that builds the Golf.
Given this dominance within the Group, and the sheer volume of cars it sells, it is no shock to see Volkswagen adding a small SUV to its armoury. Indeed, the only surprise is that it’s taken so long.
The car in questions is called the T-Cross, and is based on the same MQB building blocks as the Polo, meaning it shares the same engine, electronics, safety features and more. It is longer and taller, though, with a taste of the higher driving position favoured by SUV drivers.
It is also arguably more eye-catching than a Polo, with a wide grille at the front and the wholly on trend light bar between the rear lamps all making it look larger than it really is (for reference, the T-Cross is 5cm longer than a Polo and 15cm shorter than a Golf).
NO DIESEL FOR NOW
The engine line-up is about as simple as a Volkswagens get in that there’s just one unit. It’s a turbocharged, 1.0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine that can be ordered with 94bhp and a five-speed manual gearbox or 113bhp with a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Drive is sent to the front wheels only, so if your idea of an SUV has four driven wheels the T-Cross isn’t for you.
It is, however, very likely to suit most other people very well indeed. For straight out of the gate the T-Cross is vying with the Seat Arona (which also sits on the MQB platform) and the Suzuki Vitara to be the best small SUV on sale. Its strength comes not so much in any one area of unsurpassed excellence, but in its almost complete absence of flaws. Looking back through my notes I’m reminded that the boot-mounted subwoofer for the Beats audio system is so big that it blocks access to the lowest of the adjustable boot floor’s settings. But as the Beats system is an optional extra and can thus just not be ordered that’s easy enough to fix.
Otherwise, there is barely a chink in the T-Cross’s armour. For a start, it is about as practical as these compact crossovers get, with easily enough room for four taller adults to travel in comfort. The boot is a good size and, as with the Renault Captur, can be made larger still by sliding the rear seats forward in a 60/40 split. To put some numbers to this, trading up to 140mm of rear legroom gains you up to 70 litres of extra boot space, meaning the T-Cross can adapt as your family grows.
In the front there’s the expected storage spaces and enough elbow room for this to feel like a substantially sized car, plus a great infotainment touchscreen and plenty of ways to personalise the trim. What’s more, whether you have the basic analogue dials or upgrade to VW’s digital dash display, the ease of operation and access to information is superb.
DRIVING THE VOLKSWAGEN T-CROSS
The 1.0-litre engine is as impressively game in the T-Cross as in any other VW Group offering this side of an Up GTI. Even in 94bhp guise it zips along merrily and returned a respectable 41mpg despite being regularly extended to the upper reaches of its rev range (which it does without complaint). However, VW reckons it will be the more powerful version of this engine accounting for the bulk of sales, and it is marginally preferable both for its extra poke and the shorter gearing of the six-speed ’box.
The ride and handling could hardly be pitched more perfectly either. For while certainly no hot hatch, the T-Cross turns in to corners keenly, has a good build up of steering weight, grips well and controls its tall body in an impressive fashion. Combined with a nicely defined bite point for the clutch and a slick-shifting gearbox, it makes for a small crossover that is far more entertaining to drive than the class norm.
It’s just as good when you’re not feeling so racy, with a composed ride that soaks up bumps quite brilliantly, as well as good levels of isolation from noise and vibration.
What we have here is without doubt a latecomer to the junior crossover class, but by watching the market evolve Volkswagen has been able to pitch its product just right. The T-Cross is roomy on the inside without being too large on the outside, boldly styled without being weird, and good to drive without resorting to huge and expensive engines or rock-hard suspension. In terms of competency across the entire package, the T-Cross not terribly far off VW’s own Golf – and that’s high praise indeed.
Price: Volkswagen T-Cross from £16,995. As tested in SEL 115PS Manual specification £23,145
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Top speed: 120mph
Fuel economy: 48.2mpg (WLTP Combined). 41mpg (On test)
THREE VOLKSWAGEN T-CROSS RIVALS
Launched in 2017, the Seat Arona is a very similar car to the T-Cross – although that isn’t terribly surprising when you realise it shares many of the same components. Overall ride comfort isn’t quite in the VW’s league and you don’t get the sliding rear seats, but this is still an impressive all-rounder. Note as well that unlike the T-Cross, Seat offers the Arona with the VW Group’s 1.6-litre diesel engine.
Search for a used Seat Arona on CarGurus
The latest generation of Vitara, launched in 2015, has always been a good car, not to mention excellent value for money. However, by adding its refined and punchy 1.0-litre Boosterjet engine as part of a facelift in 2018, Suzuki has created an even more compelling package. What’s more, unlike many small SUVs the Vitara is available with all-wheel drive in the form of Suzuki’s Allgrip system.
Search for a used Suzuki Vitara on CarGurus
When it went on sale in 2010, the Juke kicked off the trend for supermini-based crossovers, thus allowing Nissan to establish an early lead over the competition. It practically flew out of showrooms as a result, helped by tempting finance deals and its bold design. The result, almost a decade later, is a huge supply of used models to choose from across a wide range of price points.
Search for a used Nissan Juke on CarGurus
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