Volkswagen’s entry-level crossover confidently rides in on a rough wave of expectations. We test the new T-Cross...
"A life burdened with expectations is a heavy life. Its fruit is sorrow and disappointment.” It’s a poignant quote, isn’t it? The fact that it’s not the sage musings of a Greek philosopher but rather an excerpt from one of Douglas Adams’ (of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame) later works doesn’t detract from its relevance to any automaker pressed to maintain a legacy of solid and sought-after products. Give the people your best and they’ll inevitably expect better in future.
Given the sheer breadth of its product portfolio, it’s a surprise that Volkswagen has come to the small crossover party as late as it has with the T-Cross. After all, pickings are relatively slim at this end of the segment. Quality showings such as the Tiguan mean a knee-buckling weight of expectations has been placed on the T-Cross’ narrow shoulders but will this offspring of such lofty standards continue to carry the torch, or will it be sucked into a black hole of mediocrity?
Spun off Volkswagen’s MQB modular platform – an impressively versatile foundation for nearly four-dozen Volkswagen Group products – the T-Cross slots in at the bottom of the firm’s SUV/crossover pile. As such, it presents as an enticing entrée to this highly aspirational automotive bracket.
Visually, touches such as the one-piece trim bar incorporating the brakelamp arrays, sharp sheet metal creases and neat two-box profile create a tasteful canvas to customise. This makes the T-Cross a versatile little car, looking just as comfortable wearing the bold optional Energetic Orange styling pack pictured here, which includes eye-catching orange paintwork and alloy wheel trimmings, as it does in its more business-like standard garb.
Size-wise, the 4 235 mm T-Cross sits roughly 200 mm between the Tiguan and Polo, with its 2 551 mm wheelbase fairly on par with the latter. The dimensions are handily compact for urban driving but the cabin is deceptively spacious. There’s a degree of configurability courtesy of a rear bench with 140 mm of slide adjustment, allowing you to determine the rear-legroom/luggage-space balance. With the bench up against its rear buffers, there’s a remarkable 714 mm of legroom on offer, albeit at the expense of boot space – which at 200 litres is smaller than that of a Polo – while freeing up the maximum 272 litres sees kneeroom pared down to 574 mm. Seats stowed, the T-Cross’ load compartment swallows a useful but not class-leading 856 litres of our ISO measuring blocks.
While it is accommodating, the cabin’s finishes are a mixed bag. In general, it’s a tastefully executed environment. The orange trim panel elements accompanying the optional styling pack are an acquired taste but the layout is logical and classy. Much as we found in the Audi A1 Sportback 35 TFSI, though, upmarket features such as the switchgear, optional R9 000 Active Info Display and infotainment screen are at odds with hard finishes. It’s unlikely to be a deal-breaker and the construction feels pleasingly solid. However, it is a little disappointing to see firm materials adorning surfaces which are soft to the touch in the less expensive Polo.
When it comes to the overall driving experience, there’s little to complain about with the T-Cross. The 1,0-litre, three-cylinder turbopetrol engine has already proved itself a capable performer in both the Polo and Golf, and it continues to impress here. The engine’s segment-typical 85 kW is backed up by a hearty 200 N.m of torque in a 2 000-3 500 r/min spread, making it feel nippy in town and well within its depth on the motorway.
Testing the mechanically related Polo 1,0 TSI Highline DSG in our July 2018 issue, we had some reservations regarding the calibration of its seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Its tendency to upshift at low engine revs sometimes made the powertrain labour, impacting both mechanical refinement and smooth progress. Volkswagen appears to have got it right with the T-Cross, though. Shifts, both up and down, are swift and well measured against the engine speed.
The result is an altogether more balanced and wieldy demeanour, and may go some way to explaining the impressive 5,2 L/100 km it returned on our mixed-use 100 km fuel route. Mechanical refinement is especially impressive; the engine proving smooth and quiet at speed with just a hint of three-pot warble when leaning on the accelerator. This peaceful powerplant does mean road and wind noise are noticeable on the motorway.
Our test unit’s optional 18-inch alloys, shod with 45-profile rubber, and soft suspension resulted in a ride that was generally well resolved but occasionally gave over to a touch of jitteriness on less-than-perfect surfaces. The 16-inch items fitted to the Comfortline with their plumper footwear will likely hit the sweet spot in terms of overall balance.
There’s little remarkable regarding the T-Cross’s dynamic capabilities and that’s not a bad thing at all; when the driving experience is a composed, fire-and-forget affair, it means the powertrain/chassis union is a well-balanced one.
On the face of it, the sticker price seems steep, especially when you factor in a service plan that’s shorter than those of its rivals. Highline spec is reasonably generous, however, with the likes of dual-zone climate control, auto LED headlamps, auto wipers, auto-dimming mirror, electric windows, cruise control, ESC and brake-assist aids, roof rails, front/side/curtain airbags and a six-speaker audio system among the standard fitments.
The T-Cross has been well worth the wait (and the weight of expectation). Its combination of tasteful styling, spacious interior and balanced driving characteristics give it the making of a sales success on our market (it’s almost immediately became a top-10 best-seller on the passenger-car rankings). There are some areas where it could do with a little more polish for its price, most noticeably in terms of interior material quality. The Comfortline, with its sympathetic wheel/tyre combination and lower price, could well be the best option. Even so, the T-Cross will continue to fly out of dealerships at light speed...
ROAD TEST SCORE
See Full Volkswagen T-Cross price and specs here