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First drive: VW T-Cross fit for purpose

Volkswagen’s T-Cross arrives amid avalanche of new arrivals in baby crossover class

12 Jun 2020

VOLKSWAGEN has released what is arguably the most important new model for the German brand since the factory took control of Australian importation nearly 20 years ago, the T-Cross.


A long time in the making, the light-sized C1-series was first previewed as the T-Cross Breeze convertible concept at the Geneva motor show back in 2016 and stands as the smallest SUV to ever wear the ‘VW’ roundel.


It is also the cheapest at $27,990 plus on-road costs in entry-level 85TSI Life guise.


The model’s mission is to mount a strong challenge against a large stack of similarly-sized new and established crossovers, including the proven Mazda CX-3 and the recently launched CX-30, the Hyundai Venue and Kona, Kia Seltos, Mitsubishi ASX, Renault Captur, Peugeot 2008 and the soon-to-be-launched redesigned Nissan Juke.


Also coming this year is the all-new Toyota Yaris Cross, Skoda Kamiq, Ford Puma and Kia Stonic.


This list alone indicates the significance of the burgeoning category and an extraordinary level of competitiveness Volkswagen encounters with the T-Cross as it looks to make an impact in the Australian market.  


As if to visually manifest the burden of expectation bestowed upon it, the T-Cross is playing it cautiously from a design and packaging viewpoint, brandishing crisp and contemporary – if also sober and upright – styling that clearly prioritises practicality. 


There is no CX-30 svelteness for Wolfsburg’s hopeful crossover, but this is no bad thing, benefiting entry and egress along with all-round vision and cabin airiness, aided by the inevitable high seating position, deep windows and a tall, squared-off silhouette. 


The base 85TSI Life is a living monument to cleanly stark Teutonic interior execution, brandishing plastic materials and textures (not all of them soft and none are flocked) finished in shades of monochromatic grey, yet solidly put together too. 


Sensible switchgear placement, big air vents, huge storage, beautifully analogue instrument dials, firmly supportive seating and a flawless driving position are further drawcards, while a large touchscreen, reversing camera, wireless smartphone charging, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, leather-clad steering wheel, auto headlights/wipers, a front centre armrest underline a decent level of specification on offer. 


However, while autonomous emergency braking and lane-keep assist are also standard, you’ll need to spend another $1200 for a ‘Driver Assistance Package’ that nets the desirable blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert in the 85TSI Life, and also brings with it adaptive cruise control, ‘proactive occupant protection’ pre-impact injury mitigation technology and power-folding mirrors. 


These, along with auto high-beam LED headlights, climate-control air-conditioning, keyless entry/start, steering-mounted transmission paddle shifters, self-parking tech, sports front seats, glitzier trim and larger 17-inch alloys (up from 16”), denote the 85TSI Style, for a $4000 premium. 


Other key options include the $1900 ‘Sound and Vision’ package that brings digital multi-configurable instruments, sat-nav and premium audio, and the $2500 ‘R-Line’ pack that includes sportier trim, darker tint, premium steering wheel with extra functionality, racier upholstery and 18-inch alloys. More model grades are in the pipeline.   


Where even the cheapest T-Cross might win over admirers is in its rear-seat packaging, since the bench slides several centimetres forward to boost cargo capacity from an already-competitive 385 litres to a handy 455L. Folding the 60/40 backrests boost that to 1281L.


Positioning the rear seats forward does comes to the detriment of rear legroom, while the back seat also lacks overhead hand grips, cupholders and a centre armrest. We note the inclusion of two USB ports, while the spare wheel in the luggage compartment is a space-saver only.


Based the on MQB-A0 architecture that also underpins the latest Volkswagen Polo and Audi A1 superminis, the T-Cross is built in Spain alongside its imminent Skoda Kamiq and not-for-Australia Seat Arona fraternal twins for our market, and all share the Volkswagen Group staple MacPherson strut-style front suspension and torsion beam rear axle. No all-wheel-drive system is offered.


Also familiar to brand fans is the 1.0-litre three-cylinder direct-injection turbo-petrol engine, driving the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). No manual is available, disappointingly. 


As the 85TSI badge suggests, the engine delivers 85kW of power as well as 200Nm of torque, offering 0-100km/h acceleration in a claimed 10.2 seconds. Running on the required 95 RON premium unleaded, the official combined-cycle fuel consumption and CO2 emissions figures are 5.4 litres per 100km and 123 grams per kilometre respectively.


So far, so good, and typical of many modern Volkswagen and Audi models, though the T-Cross is a bit of a mixed bag in a couple of not-too-surprising ways. 


For starters, while moderate throttle and gentle everyday driving reveal a spirited and punchy performer with a sporty exhaust gargle to accompany the smooth and swift torrent of speed on offer, stomping on the throttle for an instant getaway is only met with a yawning delay followed by tardy and jerky off-the-line acceleration. 


This is frustrating and even scary if you’re attempting to join fast-moving traffic without a moment to hesitate. The same applies if you’re stuck in a heavy jam on a steep incline. Turbo and DCT lag are the culprits here. 


Conversely, stomping on the pedal for too long on damp roads will have the front wheels spinning and juddering with axle tramp. 


We are literally shuddering at what the coming 110kW 110TSI DSG version will be like in similar conditions. A manual AWD alternative would neatly sidestep such flaws.


Otherwise, the lightweight T-Cross, which tips the scales at around 1300kg, acquits itself well on our roads, thanks to brilliantly fluid and responsive steering, precise handling and secure roadholding – even through tight and bumpy corners and despite a lofty 185mm ground clearance. 


The suspension, though tuned on the firm side in our top-line R-Line test car, also remains composed, absorbing most surface irregularities while transmitting less tyre roar than we’ve come to expect from German cars. 


All in all, the Polo DNA connection equals a dynamically superior light SUV driving experience.


Which sums up the T-Cross in a nutshell – the full Volkswagen experience, wearing modish compact crossover packaging. 


It looks, feels and largely drives like a premium, quality piece of kit. Factor in the family-friendly practicality, five-star safety, undeniable powertrain efficiency and (now bare-minimum) five-year warranty, and it’s easy to see why this may overtake the Golf as Volkswagen’s best-selling model moving forward. 


The light SUV game is fierce but the T-Cross is match fit.


2020 Volkswagen T-Cross pricing*

85TSI Life (a) $27,990
85TSI Style (a) $30,990

*Excludes on-road costs

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