Sales of small SUVs are skyrocketing with nearly every car maker now selling one, and VW’s latest model brings style and flair to the little family car segment.
The T-Cross is the new baby of Volkswagen’s SUV family. It’s available in 85TSI Life or 85TSI Style grades from $29,990 on the road.
Rivals include the Mazda CX-3, Toyota Yaris Cross, Ford Puma and our 2020 Car of the Year, the Skoda Kamiq.
Our family of testers sampled the entry-level model for size.
Jules: Just what the world needs. Another small SUV.
Iain: We now have 40 for sale in our market. Few look as good as this T-Cross though. It’s a charming, chunky little unit.
Jules: Like a baby VW Tiguan from the front. But I could live without its smoke-tinted rear lights.
Iain: Really? I reckon its back end and black alloys are standouts. Perfectly funky for its target market.
Jules: Which is?
Iain: VW will tell you first-car buyers and childless professionals, but we know it’ll mainly be empty-nest Baby Boomers.
Jules: Because they have all the money?
Iain: Yep. Our entry-level 85TSI Life is $29,990 drive away — hardly first car money. That’s $4500 more than the equivalent VW Polo it’s based on, with the same engine and dual-clutch auto gearbox.
Jules: That’s the premium you pay for the higher ride height and better looks than a daggy hatchback.
Iain: Hatches are where the smart money goes. Anyway, VW won’t sell you a manual or all-wheel-drive T-Cross, emphasising its city credentials.
THE LIVING SPACE
Jules: The Kamiq’s a good car to compare with the T-Cross. For the same $29,990 on the road you get a larger SUV and a better cabin finish.
Iain: Agreed. Skoda may be VW’s sub-brand, but its soft-touch cabin surfaces really leave the T-Cross in its wake.
Jules: I don’t like the hard, scratchy door and dash plastics in here, but the rest of the interior’s impressive. It feels big, with good headroom and VW does cabin layouts so very well. Lovely, stylish dashboard angles are a plus for me.
Iain: It has comfy chairs, good visibility and the leather steering wheel’s excellent. Goodies include a high-res 8-inch screen running wired Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, wireless phone charging and auto headlights and wipers.
Jules: Shock horror! No push-button start, the key has to go in the ignition! Also, it’s a shame VW’s digital dash isn’t included — it’s in the Skoda Kamiq as standard.
Iain: It’s part of a $1900 option pack that also brings in-built satnav and better audio.
Jules: I love our 2017 VW Golf, and this T-Cross has the same solid, well-engineered drive feel, despite being a city SUV.
Iain: You can certainly buy cheaper city SUVs, but the T-Cross has assured road holding and a quiet cabin.
Jules: At first I thought the 85kW engine was too weedy, but in Sport mode it’s got some beans.
Iain: Turbocharged three-cylinder engines work well in these small cars. It’s zippy, sounds rorty and has excellent performance in the middle of the rev range.
Jules: It’s a bit lazy when pulling away from standstill, though.
Iain: That’s the nature of a twin-clutch auto gearbox sadly. Once up to speed, such as on the highway, this little SUV shines. It drives and sits on the road like a bigger car.
Jules: It bats above its average on the tunes front too. This may be the basic sound system, but it’s a belter. No need to upgrade.
Iain: The rear seats slide forward for more boot space — a clever design feature rare in this segment. You get up to 455 litres. That’s more than the bigger VW T-Roc.
Jules: The rear camera display is very clear and there are sensors front and rear for tight parking spots.
Iain: I reckon VW has nailed the brief. It’s not a thrilling back-road car and the steering’s a bit lifeless, but it handles, grips and goes with a solid, fun feel.
Jules: My ideal Sunday would be parking this cute funster outside some boutique shops. I’d pick a better colour than our white. Energetic Orange or Reef Blue please.
Iain: To help the auto gearbox out, I’d love paddle shifters on this Life grade. They’re standard on the more expensive Style, which is $33,490 drive-away.
Jules: A city SUV as a family car? This just about manages it, as long as your kids are little.
Iain: That versatile sliding back seat helps. Our two kids felt as well accommodated as they do in our Golf.
Jules: Pity about the lack of rear air vents, but at least they can plug devices in to the two rear USB points.
Iain: The safety kit’s decent, but lacks a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert or radar cruise control. A $1200 pack buys these, which I’d recommend.
Jules: We returned an efficient 6.1L/100km over 500km, but these VWs need pricier 95 fuel.
Iain: VW usually trumps its rivals on cabin quality, but it’s outshone by the Kamiq at the same price. All else impresses, especially the cabin space and killer good looks.
Jules: It’s really easy on the eye. A standout in the city SUV segment. But you’re right, the cabin needs some polish for the price. Order one in a bright colour and it’s a little gem.
VOLKSWAGEN T-CROSS 85TSI LIFE VITALS
Price: $29,990 drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unl’td km; $1900 for 5 years/75,000km
Engine: 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo-petrol, 85kW/200Nm
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, rear camera, low-speed auto braking +pedestrian/cyclist monitoring, lane-keep assist
Spare: Space saver