From £20,1009

VW's new compact crossover retains its classy, substantial feel on UK roads, even in mid-range, lower-powered form

Of all the SUV-shaped cars that Volkswagen produces, the T-Cross is the smallest. And although the Wolfsburg-based firm originally kept the derivative line-up relatively simple from its launch in 2019, with just one petrol and one diesel engine available, the range has since grown to offer those typically younger, lifestyle-type buyers a much more comprehensive list of derivatives.

The 94bhp 1.6-litre diesel model was available for a while with a choice of five-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmissions. It’s a refined, efficient option but was never going to be a big-seller. In 2020 Volkswagen made the decision to introduce its more powerful 1.5 TSI EVO engine to the T-Cross line-up, paired exclusively with a seven-speed dual-clutch ’box. With 148bhp on tap, this engine lends the compact crossover a healthy performance boost, but our testers agree that the T-Cross remains at its most appealing with the VW Group’s 1.0-litre turbocharged three-pot under the bonnet. 

While the T-Cross driving experience is a little less vigorous for the inclusion of the 94bhp 1.0 TSI engine, it’s not one that seems particularly slow or frustrating

It’s this engine that continues to represent the meat of the range. It's available in several states of tune and with a choice of gearboxes. We’ve yet to test the newly RDE2-compliant 109bhp version, but the most powerful 113bhp unit - fitted as it was with a six-speed manual ’box - proved to be a highly polished performer when we drove it out in Majorca in 2019. Here, though, we’re focussing on the 94bhp version, which comes with a five-speed manual transmission.

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This car is pleasant, spacious, comfortable and easy to drive. The T-Cross strikes the same mature and rounded impression on UK roads as it did elsewhere, and while its driving experience is a little less vigorous for the inclusion of the 94bhp 1.0 TSI engine, it’s not one that seems particularly slow or frustrating.

What's the T-Cross like inside the cabin?

There’s plenty of scope for adjustment in the driver’s seat, which is comfortable and of a good size even for the bigger-of-build, and there’s plenty of space for heads, limbs and feet. A sliding second-row bench is fitted as standard, which means you can trade off a bit of space in the good-sized boot for extra legroom or vice versa. You’re unlikely to need to except in occasional circumstances, though, because there’s enough space in the back for average-sized adults or teenagers to ride comfortably, and that variable boot floor makes for every bit as much cargo space as you’d expect in a small car.

SE-spec cars do without VW's Active Info Display digital instrument cluster, although it can be added as an optional extra. It comes as standard on R-Line cars and helps elevate the cabin's already modern feel.

Volkswagen's standard interior treatment is still a bit monotonous, but there’s scope to add a bit of colour and life with one of the optional Design packs – particularly if you happen to like orange things. Perceived quality, meanwhile, is good, rather than great. If you’re giving up a lower-end Golf for this car, there’s just a chance you might notice the shortfall, although it’s unlikely that you’d be offended by it.

How does the T-Cross perform on the road?

The 1.0-litre engine is just vocal enough when it’s working hard that you won’t confuse it for a four-pot, but is generally smooth and well-mannered at cruising speeds. It's a little laggy when picking up from below 2000rpm (a problem exacerbated by the longer intermediate gears of the five-speed gearbox) but responds well from there on upwards and gives the car a performance level somewhere between adequate and ample. Driveability is generally good, and the engine will spin up to 6000rpm for overtaking quite freely and without protesting too hard.

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The T-Cross is more boxy and upright than some cars in this class, and because it’s also a touch softer-sprung than some, there’s just a hint of floatiness about its body control when dealing with bigger lumps and bumps around the national speed limit. That's a price most owners will very happily pay, however, in return for a quiet and absorbent low-speed ride and good absorbency at trunk road pace, and it doesn’t adversely affect handling precision or high-speed stability.

The T-Cross corners with a touch of roll but still good chassis response. It has a very secure and dependable mid-corner feel and doesn’t get knocked off its path easily by bumps or crosswinds at motorway speeds.

Is the T-Cross the compact crossover to go for?

If you’ve decided on the compact crossover segment already and like a car of substance as well as style, you should absolutely consider the T-Cross. For those after a dash of extra style, there is also the mildy coupe-ish Volkswagen Taigo.

You certainly don’t lose out on refinement or well-furnished functionality as a consequence of plumping for the lesser engine or SE trim, and if there’s a penalty on driveability, it’s a minor one.

The T-Cross has the measured, grown-up aura we expect of a Volkswagen, with fine space and versatility and just enough visual distinctiveness to catch your eye but not a hint more. That should play well against much of the established compact crossover set, above which it now rises for recommendation pretty clearly.


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Volkswagen T-Cross First drives