VW turns its hand to a growing niche market. 

Story Bruce McMahon

The Volkswagen T-Cross is a smart-looking, compact sports utility – one of a number of fresh offerings in this popular segment.

This one stands out, having a little more style than some and carrying that Euro cachet the German brand brings to most of its vehicles. It looks and feels solid and more substantial than some rivals – more than simply a jacked-up hatchback. 

The T-Cross is the smallest and cheapest of VW’s SUV fleet, which now includes the larger T-Rocs, Tiguans and the range-topping Touraeg wagons. Yet this little front-wheel drive is wider and taller than an EH Holden of 1963, if 500mm shorter, with no conventional boot and, while our home-grown icon needed a 2.95L, six-cylinder engine to produce 86kW, the T-Cross delivers 85kW of power from a 1L, three-cylinder turbocharged engine.

That petrol engine is one of the T-Cross’s most encouraging features. While it can be hampered getting off the line – waiting for VW’s fuel-saving stop-start system to fire up and auto clutch to engage – the compact German loves to rev right through to 6500rpm. It runs smartly through a seven-speed, direct-shift automatic gearbox and up to highway speeds with purpose and a little mechanical snarl. For more sporting performance, it’s best to shift manually, because the engine management systems look to shift into top gears as soon as possible, so at lowish speeds the drivetrain can grumble and sound like it is lugging a tad.

Out beyond the city limits, the T-Cross is quiet and comfortable, riding on 16-inch (40cm) wheels with road-biased 205/60 tyres. (There is a tyre pressure warning system but, as with most SUVs today, no full-sized spare wheel. Instead, there’s a space-saving wheel and tyre with speed limitations.) 

The T-Cross has 185mm of ground clearance and on the open road has a tendency to understeer, with a touch of body tip if harassed into a turn. There is some tyre noise on coarse-chip bitumen but, in the main, this is a composed and cheerful machine with decent manners on bitumen, gravel or dirt roads. It rides, steers and brakes with confidence and a fair degree of suppleness over rougher conditions. 

The driver is helped by a subtle lane-keeping system that makes mild corrections if veering off line, a fatigue detection system, front sensors to monitor and help brake for wayward pedestrians and wildlife, plus an excellent rear-view camera for parking or turning back in a 10-point turn when the narrow bush track runs out.  

The amount of cabin space is a surprise. Aided by a tallish roof, the VW makes room for a passenger around 2m tall to sit behind a driver of the same stature. There is also good shoulder room for four full-sized Australians. Helping out here is a rear seat that can be slid forward or back to make more room for either passengers or cargo. 

The interior design is clean, tidy and functional, illustrated best perhaps by the black and white analogue displays for the speedometer and tachometer. Less special are the hard plastics across the dashboard and doors: there are very few soft spots in the cabin trim. Storage space is not great, aside from good-sized door pockets. The centre console bin is small and the console cupholders best for a piccolo rather than a grande latte. Rear cargo room is adequate for a groceries run, perhaps not so for a family holiday.

The T-Cross has wireless charging for phones, two USB ports up front and two for the rear plus a 20cm display screen for that rear camera, audio and connecting phone apps – the latter needed for satellite navigation. The vehicle’s trip computer keeps an eye on fuel consumption (a mixed town-country run should see around 6L/100km), distances travelled and elapsed travel times.

The VW T-Cross is a competent and appealing compact SUV in a busy segment. Designed more as a city and suburban machine, it still has enough ability to tackle a long country run over indifferent road conditions. Larger VWs will offer more space and options as family cars for the open road. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #136

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2021