The Volkswagen T-Cross aims to capitalise on the growing demand for small SUVs; so is it a car that you should buy?
Car buyers want SUVs, and compact SUVs especially. So should the Volkswagen T-Cross be worthy of your consideration?
The Volkswagen T-Cross sits between a Polo and a T-Roc in terms of size. Our test car had a 115 PS 3-cylinder, 1.0-litre engine with a seven-speed DSG gearbox and front-wheel drive.
Design is a very subjective thing, but to our eyes the T-Cross isn’t a styling success. The interior isn’t exciting either, and it’s very dark, especially low down in the centre console where the temperature controls are located.
The T-Cross is described as a ‘compact SUV’ – although in our view it certainly doesn’t deserve the ‘Sports Utility Vehicle’ title – so it’s perhaps not a surprise that it’s also compact inside; if you need a big boot, look elsewhere.
Because the T-Cross has SUV pretensions it also has an SUV-like driving position. This means that the steering wheel is high relative to the driver’s seat – in other words it’s not a driving position that will suit everyone.
When you’re underway, the good news is that the T-Cross has a comfortable ride over poor road surfaces and speed bumps – which is perhaps somewhat of a relief as the car is designed to be an ‘urban SUV’.
However it may not come a surprise that what is effectively a high-riding Volkswagen Polo doesn’t have precise cornering abilities, either in terms of handling, grip or steering.
One other important criteria for any car that’s intended to be used in urban areas is quick responses for pulling out into gaps in traffic. Unfortunately the T-Cross doesn’t have much power, and combined with this, there’s slow take-up from standstill via the 7-speed DSG gearbox.
Although the T-Cross does have steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gear manually, and you can pull the gear selector down twice to select Sport mode (which doesn’t change the slow take-up from standstill), there’s no choice of different drive modes.
The infomedia system will be familiar to anyone that’s driven recent Volkswagens; there are sharp graphics, but you have to hover your hand over the screen to get certain menu buttons to appear.
When you’re reversing, there’s no camera, and there aren’t even any ‘beeps’ or other warnings when approaching stationary objects. If you regularly drive cars that always warn you just before you hit a wall or another car, driving the T-Cross with no camera or audible warning is just asking for trouble.
However the biggest issue with the T-Cross was the lane departure warning system. If you overtake a parked car and come close to crossing a white line, the steering wheel is wrenched out of your hand, with the result that you almost end up crashing into the parked car. For anyone who is driving consciously, rather than when asleep or when looking at their phone, this system ruins the driving experience and needs to be switched off. But to switch it off you have to go through a sequence of pressing five – yes five – different buttons in the sub-menus of the infomedia system. And you have to do this every time you start the car. You’re a lot more likely to crash when trying to do and looking away from the road at the screen than when consciously driving over a white line.
The official WLTP combined fuel economy for the Volkswagen T-Cross SE 1.0 TSI 115 PS 7-speed DSG is 45.7 mpg, with CO2 emissions of 111 g/km. In real-world driving we achieved 59.2mpg at a constant 70mph on the motorway, which is good. However around town economy could slip to around 25mpg. After a week we averaged 44.5mpg – which is close to the combined WLTP figure of 45.7 mpg.
The Volkswagen T-Cross SE 1.0 TSI 115 PS 7-speed DSG costs £21,055. Our test car had the options of metallic paint (£575), Discover Navigation with ‘Car-Net Guide and Inform’ (£725), carpet mats (£85) and detachable towbar (£780), taking the total price as tested to £23,220.
There are two engine choices for the T-Cross; the 1.0 TSI 115 PS (as tested), or the 1.0 TSI 95 PS – ie. with even less power than our test car. There’s a five or six-speed manual gearbox, or the seven-speed DSG is available on the 115 PS model. Trim levels are S, SE, SEL and R-Line.
The Volkswagen Group is in the early stages of launching a major electric vehicle offensive. This has required investment of billions of Euros, and based on the electric vehicles that we’ve driven so far, these products will be impressive in terms of quality, and there will be many vehicles at the more affordable end of the EV spectrum. So perhaps it’s not a huge surprise that it feels like the T-Cross has been put on sale to fill a gap in the market, but the serious investment has gone into EVs rather than this vehicle.
We’re not convinced that the design – exterior or interior – has received the input that some other Volkswagen vehicles have, and even the more powerful of the two engines is lacking in sufficient performance – and this is made worse by the slow DSG gearbox. But the one thing that we just couldn’t live with is having to press five buttons to disable the lane departure warning system every time we get in the car, to prevent the steering wheel being wrenched out of our control every time we drove near a while line.
A compact SUV should be fun to drive and attractive to look at, and there are many rivals, including from within the Volkswagen Group, that meet this brief, such as the SEAT Arona FR; unfortunately the T-Cross falls behind and ends up with a Green Car Guide rating of 6 out of 10.