Volkswagen has taken its sweet time to join the small-crossover fray but its maiden effort has all the makings of a class leader. Be afraid Ford EcoSport.
On your next traffic-clogged commute, see how many small crossovers you can spot. I’d wager the number is higher than you may have predicted. Here you’ll see a Ford EcoSport; there, a Renault Captur. They’ve become a desirable stop-gap between the small hatches sold in their thousands each month and the aspirational midsize SUVs that are just out of financial reach. Odd, don’t you think, that until now you didn’t see any of those compact crossovers sporting a Volkswagen badge? Wolfsburg’s certainly taken its time to develop a rival to the popular Ford and Renault but, with the new T-Cross, that generous gestation period has allowed the Germans to fashion an entrant that addresses all the shortcomings of its rivals, while sticking to the staples that make VW’s so popular.
That starts with an oh-so Germanic design language. T-Cross resembles a hiked-up Polo because that’s exactly what it is underneath, running the brand’s MQB-A0 platform underpinning the hatch and a series of other Volkswagen Group products. Yet, there are enough unique flourishes to set the T-Cross apart, most notably that long light band aft, that’s suddenly so popular. The face is strong, if a touch bland, perhaps, but its link to the more expensive Tiguan won’t go unnoticed by prospective buyers. The cockpit, too, adopts many of the features from larger VWs, including the brand’s excellent eight-inch touchscreen-controlled infotainment system with the usual Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, plus optional Active Info Display swapping classy analogue instrument dials for a TFT screen configurable to the driver’s needs.
More so than up-to-date tech features, the cabin impresses with its considered use of space in a body measuring a scant 4.1 metres long. Sat atop a wheelbase spanning 2 563 mm, four adults sit in breezy comfort with the rear bench slid backwards by 140 mm. Luggage space doesn’t take a big knock, though. VW claims 385 litres, which is par for the course in this segment. Push that bench forward, however, and you have 455 litres. It’s a simple but brilliant solution that should be standard in all cars of this ilk.
A touch disappointing, though, is that this level of sophistication doesn’t extend to the cabin materials. Aside from some funky patterns on the dash and padding on the armrests, the plastics are uniformly unyielding throughout. This cabin is still better finished than those of all its rivals, mind, but Volkswagen normally does this sort of thing just a little bit better. It does feel very connected and solid and our launch vehicles elicited few squeaks and grumbles on the Eastern Cape blacktop for our first introduction.
The freshly minted crossover is built in Spain, however, it mirrors the locally produced Polo’s engine line-up. That means the familiar 1.0-litre three-pot boosted with a turbocharger. There’ll be two states of tune – 70 and 85 kW – with an identical 170 Nm of twist driving the front axle through either a slick six-speed manual gearbox or even-creamier seven-speed dual-clutch DSG (the one to get, by the way). Spec wise there’s the Comfortline TSI (R334 600) and Highline (R365 000) currently on offer, with a top and bottom spec R-Line and Trendline coming soon. The R-Line will act as the flagship in the range with a 110 kW 1.5-litre engine, when it arrives early next year priced at R403 500.
The maiden showing of the 85 kW DSG driven at launch, makes for an accomplished drive. Offering point-and-shoot ease, the engine’s twist kicks in early and strong, propelling the 1 270 kg body along impressively. It’s nicely refined, too; there’s a recognisable three-pot thrum but it’s never intrusive. Wed say the Ford EcoBoost engine still has the edge for outright punch, but there’s not much in it. Diesel diehards can look forward to the introduction of a 1.6 TDI next year; amazingly. A test unit shod with upsized 18-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile tyres, made the ride on the Highline a touch too abrasive at low speeds, settling down somewhat at cross-country velocities.
Our advice is stick to one of the more modestly specced variants and their chunky tyres, and the T-Cross rides with the same aplomb as the Polo, itself one of the class leaders in this discipline. It handles nicely as well, leaning gradually but never alarmingly; it steers cleanly through a quick-geared electronically assisted rack; and has progressive brake-pedal feel. All in all, the T-Cross shows a great deal of polish in a market not exactly endowed with dynamic prowess.
Like any Volkswagen should, the new T-Cross feels like a well-rounded, considered product. It may lack outright sparkle, but its design is on point and Veedub fans will love the way it drives, how well packaged it is, and how easy it is to use.
In a nutshell
Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0 TSI 85 kW DSG Highline
Practical interior; driving manners
Interior fit and finish
Engine: 999 cc, 3-cylinder
Power: 85 kW @ 5 000 rpm, 170 Nm @ 2 000 rpm
Performance: 0-100km/h 10.2 sec, top speed 193 km/h
Tyres: 18-inch (in R-Line spec)
Economy: n/a l/100 km (for some reason this hasn’t yet been announced)
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
CO2 emissions: 112 g/km
Price: R365 000