Volkswagen T-Cross 2020 85tsi life

2020 Volkswagen T-Cross review

Australian first drive

Rating: 8.1
$23,590 $28,050 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
  • Engine Power
  • CO2 Emissions
  • ANCAP Rating
Volkswagen’s T-Cross represents one part of a two-prong attack on the compact-SUV space. Is the cheaper, smaller SUV the better pick?
- shares

Finally, a year after its initial European launch, the Volkswagen T-Cross has landed in Australia.

Volkswagen’s T-Cross represents one half of its new small-SUV offering in Australia, with the other half represented by the larger, faster, and much more expensive T-Roc.

This dual-model onslaught arrives at a good time for Volkswagen. It comes as some of its bread-and-butter product lines begin to age and reach the end of their life cycle, be it the Golf 7.5, or the second-generation Tiguan.

We’ll be sharing our first local drive of the T-Roc in the coming days, so keep your eyes posted for that. But today, we’ll focus on what I think is the more rational choice – the 2020 Volkswagen T-Cross.

The Australian range is simple and consists of two models: the 85TSI Life, and 85TSI Style. Both are powered by the same 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged engine that is paired with a seven-speed automatic dual-clutch transmission.

The 85TSI Life kicks off with a list price of $27,990 before on-roads. Competitors at this level consist of the similarly sized Mazda CX-3 sTouring priced from $28,840 plus ORCs, and the larger Kia Seltos Sport from $30,190 drive-away.

However, there are two option packs available on the T-Cross 85TSI Life. First is the Driver Assistance Package, which costs $1200. This brings blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, plus a few other small items.

Second is the $1900 Sound and Vision Package. By opting for this, your T-Cross will be graced with a digital instrument cluster, satellite navigation, and a 300-watt Beats premium audio system.

The top-of-the-line 85TSI Style starts from $30,990, also with two option packs on offer. The first pack is the same Sound and Vision Package at $1900, and the second is a variant-exclusive R-line Package for $2500.

This latter choice is actually quite comprehensive for the dosh, and includes a set of 18-inch wheels, R-line badging with dark exterior accents, privacy glass, interior scuff panels, leather sports steering wheel and sports-themed seating. It’s a solid value-add.

It’s built on VW’s modular MQB-A0 platform, which is a smaller derivative of the Golf, Tiguan, and T-Roc platform. It’s also utilised by the Volkswagen Polo to shed some light on its overall size and footprint.

It’s smaller and narrower than a Honda HR-V and Kia Seltos, which both sit in the size class above. End to end, the T-Cross is about 20cm shorter than either of those competitors. Width- and height-wise, there’s anywhere from 20–30mm setting them apart, so they’re all fairly similar in that regard.

In lieu of an Australian launch, CarAdvice was provided with two vehicles to sample over a four-day period. One was a fully optioned 85TSI Style complete with R-line pack, the other a basic 85TSI Life model.

Both examples were a hoot to drive around town – predominantly because of that little firecracker three-cylinder turbocharged engine. Don’t let the tiny odd-cylinder configuration fool you. It only produces 85kW, but it makes up for it with 200Nm of torque on offer from 2000rpm.

It feels quite gutsy and doesn’t mind being revved out. Its power band is firmly set for the middle-RPM range, but it’ll continue to turn past the peak torque figure up to 5500rpm quite enjoyably. There’s also a cool, gruff sound that it emits on load. A welcome change for the segment, I might add.

On test, the T-Cross returned 5.8 litres per 100km against the official combined claim of 5.4L/100km, which is a good result.

Combining the fruity running gear with a reasonable mass of 1240kg results in the T-Cross being great for myriad situations. It isn’t one of those small cars that struggles to leave the big smoke, by any means.

During the four-day period, I completed a large loop that took me from the outer suburbs of Sydney, where 80–100km/h country roads still exist, right through to the compact hills of North Sydney, where the roads are tight and the hills are steep.

In both of these scenarios, and the numerous highways, freeways and suburb legs in between, I found the powertrain to never cause me any grief. Nor did I lust for more, given the price tag and overall presentation of the car.

Inside, it’s well put together. Sure, the materials used are hard and not soft-touch. But after an initial first press and squeeze of the numerous plastics, you quickly forget and no longer care. The gaps are all millimetre perfect, there’s some shiny and glossy bits to break up the sea of satin finishes, and the overall layout remains intuitive.

The entry 85TSI Life model is well equipped from a technology standpoint, too. There’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen with all of our favourite smartphone connectivity apps, wireless phone charging, four USB ports, rain-sensing wipers, as well as an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

The safety package is almost as good as the tech. It has city AEB that operates up to speeds of 30km/h, as well as front assist, which is a form of high-speed AEB that works well beyond our legal speed limits, lane-keep assist, rear parking sensors and driver-condition monitor, but misses out on blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

Still, a decent attempt at cramming as much safety in as possible across the range is always recognised by this reviewer. It was also recognised by crash expert ANCAP, which awarded the T-Cross with a five-star safety rating, too.

The standard spec on the entry model is also comparable to the Kia Seltos Sport, which I believe represents the overall benchmark for both light- and small-class SUVs.

It’s worth stating that the missing equipment mentioned is either available as an option on the entry Life model, or as standard on the more expensive T-Cross Style.

Size-wise, I found the first row comfortable enough for my six-foot one-inch frame. My legs were resting against the lower centre stack, but it wasn’t irritating or annoying to do so. Visibility is satisfactory, as is access to multiple storage pockets.

You can start to see the more affordable nature of this car come through in some areas of the cabin, however. The air-con controls are a little basic, with entry-level models having to make do with a rather old-school system that relies on mechanical, manual adjustment. Upper-spec Style models get a digital climate-control unit, however.

There's also an odd open storage area featuring no cover or lid, alongside some pretty simple materials used lower down in the interior.

More importantly, the seats are great, with both front pews featuring lumbar adjustment. It’s amazing how many entry-model cars in our market forgo something as simple as lumbar support, even just on the driver’s seat.

VW has focussed on including as many useful features as possible, which is commendable.

The second row is equally as impressive as the front. I was surprised to discover that I could slot in behind a deeply adjusted driver’s seat with ease, only to find ample knee room to enjoy. More often than not, I find my knees hard-pressed against the seatback in small SUVs, and larger hatchbacks, too, for that matter. Sitting behind a seat tailored to myself in both a Hyundai Kona and Hyundai i30 revealed that to be true.

There’s more room in the second row of a T-Cross. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised, despite what the length, width and height figures say about the car, as I was.

However, out back, there are no rear air vents, just a deep storage pocket, again with no lid, alongside a nice inclusion of twin USB ports for rear occupants to charge their devices.

Both outboard seats feature ISOFIX points, and the rear seat design is conducive to taking both a regular-style child seat as well as a larger convertible-style seat. There’s ample room to load children, too, but don’t expect to fit three child seats across the back bench.

The VW's boot is quite versatile, and has the ability to grow in size courtesy of a modular second row. With the rear seats adjusted as far forward as they go, cargo capacity becomes a top-of-segment figure of 455L. With the seats set up to allow for maximum leg room in the second row, boot capacity shrinks to 385L.

However, this latter figure empowers the T-Cross to beat cars in the segment above for space. Its maximum space of 455L is greater than the Kia Seltos at 433L and the Honda HR-V with 437L. The Mazda CX-3 makes do with a lowly 263L, making it bow out of this contest before it has even begun.

It’s quite a feat that the T-Cross manages to cram in a decent-sized boot with a space saving spare wheel, alongside a large second row, despite playing with 20cm less length when compared to the Seltos and HR-V.

So far so good. But what’s the ride like?

As mentioned at the start of this article, the T-Cross is a hoot to drive around town. It employs a supple suspension tune. Naturally quite soft, it encourages the T-Cross to plod along, soaking up bumps and road imperfections pleasantly with ease.

It comes slightly undone when an attempt is made to tip it in at speed, though. The first sign of a white flag is the tyres reacting to stress and roll quite audibly, and prematurely. It’s not the ultimate corner-carver at high speeds, but it’s acceptable for the segment.

At speeds of 50–60km/h in the ’burbs, you’ll find that the T-Cross deals with the forces of cornering a lot better. This is likely what a small SUV will spend most of its life doing, too, commuting between metro areas, managing the school run, and heading to events like weekend sport.

However, it just isn’t as poised as the Kia Seltos. The Kia manages to behave better at higher speeds, which would be a consideration for those in regional areas where the roads are windier and the average speeds are higher.

The VW is a bit noisy inside, too, with motorway strips and joins becoming quite loud when struck by the tyres at some pace.

It remains fun in ways, more so because of the direct steering rather than anything else. You feel urged to zip around without a care in the world, with a satisfactory amount of compliance and trust in both the steering and suspension at these lower speeds.

For a car aimed squarely at the inner-city types, Volkswagen has this covered with the T-Cross.

Plus, there’s always the more expensive T-Roc on offer, which is better at pace thanks to its 4motion all-wheel-drive system and superior chassis set-up. All of that comes at a cost, though, with the T-Roc starting from $40,490 before on-roads. That’s a $9500 jump from a top-of-the-line T-Cross 85TSI Style.

Volkswagen has been a bit clever here. It has split the difference and created two compelling products. This strategy will likely translate to wider appeal and therefore more sales, when compared to the option of offering just one car with a broad price spectrum and many variants.

Then there are the styling differences between the pair. The T-Roc is sharp and clinical, whereas the T-Cross is funky, fun, and available in bright colours to boot. I think the styling of the T-Cross is a wonderful departure for Volkswagen. It breaks away from the ever-so-suave mould and goes a little bright and lairy, which I’m all for. The bold, rear single-light treatment has a tinge of ’80s retro about it, too.

Its looks will win hearts first and foremost. I like that it’s a little jovial, and I can see both young and old retaining, or earning, a bit of their youth through choosing to buy a T-Cross.

Adding that layer on top of the gruff, interesting three-cylinder engine and decent second row and boot means VW has a sure bet here. Expect to see the T-Cross aplenty in a neighbourhood near you soon.

It’s a great choice and you’d be hard-pressed to pick otherwise. That also makes it my pick between Volkswagen's small-SUV pair.

MORE: T-Cross news, reviews, comparisons and videos
MORE: Everything Volkswagen