New car review: Volkswagen T-Cross 85 TSI Style

T-Cross a worth contender in strong SUV class.

It’s a sign of the times that car makers can release a new SUV without bothering to have an all-wheel drive variant in the line-up.

Given that the SUV concept was built on the idea of multipurpose vehicles with a modicum of all-road ability, a front-wheel-drive-only model like Volkswagen’s new T-Cross compact SUV might seem a bit odd to some buyers. 

But a growing number of car makers have been offering front and all-wheel drive options in their SUV line-ups for years now, with many consumers happy to have the SUV looks without the extra capability and cost of an all-wheel-drive system.

With that in mind, Volkswagen has simply cut to the chase and delivered its new T-Cross as a front-wheel drive only, and in a simplified two-model line-up, topped by the $30,990 85TSI Style tested here.

Technically, there’s nothing to differentiate the Style from the $3000 less expensive 85TSI Life, but the former obviously gets a chunk more kit to justify its price.

Volkswagen T-Cross 85 TSI Style

Before getting to that bit, though, it might help to know that the T-Cross is based on the VW Polo and designed to fly the German car maker’s colours among the growing band of small SUVs that included Mazda’s CX-30, Nissan’s Juke and the market-leading Mitsubishi ASX.

While the T-Cross might be based on the popular Polo’s mechanicals, you’d never know that by looking at it, thanks to an entirely new SUV-body that sits comfortably within VW’s established design language, but looks fresh and fun enough to appeal to its youthful target audience.   

Slightly longer but notably taller and wider than the Polo, the T-Cross boasts a higher driving position, so is easier to get in and out of, and can carry a bit more kit.

The boot offers a decent 385-litre capacity, which can be expanded to 455 litres if you slide the second row forward, or 1281 litres with the second row folded.

Rear-seat accommodation is fairly generous, too, and will easily accommodate two adults or three kids, with the ability to slide the seat forward to expand the luggage bay.   

Volkswagen T-Cross 85 TSI Style

The dash is nicely designed and well laid out, although the use of hard interior plastics on the dash and door trims does detract a bit from the car’s overall look and feel. 

No such complaints with the high-tech look and feel of the digital dash and 8.0-inch colour touchscreen, part of the $1900 Sound and Vision Pack fitted to our test car. The latter also includes factory satnav, and a 300-watt premium sound system. 

Our test car also featured a $2500 R-Line package, which adds a flat-bottomed leather steering wheel, firmly supportive bucket seats with embossed R-logos, metal-faced pedals, 18-inch alloy wheels, and some additional interior and exterior sports trim.

For those not wanting to drop the extra cash but still wanting nav, the standard touchscreen includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity.

Other standard features on the 185TSI Style include 17-inch alloys, wireless phone charging, keyless entry, push-button start, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifts, dual-zone climate control, LED headlights and front sports seats.  

Volkswagen T-Cross 85 TSI Style

Safety is well accounted for, too, with standard reversing camera, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, auto high beam assist, driver fatigue detection, and low-pressure tyre indicator. 

Beneath the bonnet is the same 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo found in the Polo but only in the feistier 85kW/200Nm tune, rather than the 70kW/175Nm tune deployed on lower-spec Polo models. 

We say “feistier” with tongue firmly in cheek because performance is hardly neck-straining in the Polo and the T-Cross’s extra 90kg means its 0-100km/h of 10.2 seconds is 0.7 seconds slower again. 

This puts T-Cross performance more or less on a par with the 2.0-litre Mitsubishi ASX and the Mazda CX-30, which is not a bad effort when you consider its modest capacity. A more powerful 110TSI model with larger capacity engine is due later this year. 

Of course, small cubic capacity usually equates to superior fuel efficiency and here the T-Cross doesn’t disappoint, sipping 95RON unleaded at an impressively frugal 5.4L/100km. 

Volkswagen T-Cross 85 TSI Style

This betters the efforts of the base versions of both the aforementioned rivals, with the Mazda consuming 6.5L/100km and the Mitsubishi 7.6L/100km. 

The VW engine has the distinctive warbly note that’s characteristic of “triples” and generally does a pretty decent job of motivating the T-Cross, in what we imagine will be its mainly urban habitat. 

Steep hills and overtaking manoeuvres require a determined stab of the go-pedal, but otherwise it gets about with a decent amount of zip, aided and abetted by a seven-speed dual clutch transmission that does a good job of serving up the right ratios for the conditions. 

Performance in the transmission’s default “comfort” mode is a bit soft but switching to sport sparks things up. 

The engine’s modest capacity, combined with turbo lag on start-up prompted us to try deactivating the standard stop-start system, to avoid getting left behind at the traffic light grand prix. 

Volkswagen T-Cross 85 TSI Style

On hill starts and slippery surfaces we found this lag would often result in the front wheels “chirping” on take-off, as the engine restarted, the turbo boosted up and the transmission found the right gear.   

Out on the road we found the T-Cross to be confident and composed in most conditions, despite the car featuring less sophisticated torsion-beam rear suspension.

The optional 18-inch wheels sharpen the handling but also stiffen the ride and allow a fair bit of coarse chip road noise into the cabin.

The steering proved well weighted for both city and open road driving. 

Volkswagen has taken its time getting the T-Cross to Australia, but now that it’s here it presents a strong case for anyone shopping in the staggeringly competitive small SUV class, where there are currently 20-plus rivals and counting.  

Key stats  

MLP: $30,990 (plus on-road costs).
ENGINE: 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder.  
ANCAP SAFETY RATING:  5-Star (2019).  
TAILPIPE CO2 (g/km): 123g/km (5.4L/100km). 

For

Styling, fuel efficiency, safety, five-year warranty .    

Against

Modest power and performance, engine and transmission take a moment to “wake up” when using stop-start system.