Two of the newest and cheapest European SUVs come together for this comparison. What's the verdict?
According to Australian classification, there are two classes of baby SUV: 'small' and the more recently formed classification of 'light'.
Semantics aside, this light-SUV class offers punters the cheapest entry ticket into a European SUV. In this comparison, we've gone one step further, however. Facing off are both entry versions – the aptly named Ford Puma and comparatively long-winded Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life.
Interestingly, both of these nameplates are new to Australia. The original Ford Puma, which was never offered in Australia, was actually a two-door sports coupe.
Volkswagen's T-Cross badge has no previous legacy, unlike its larger sibling, the T-Roc, which channels its origins from the discontinued Volkswagen Scirocco coupe.
Promises of fun character, creature comforts, and some semblance of convenience look to be the order of the day with these two. Which one nails the brief?
Pricing and features
It's refreshing to see a pair of European SUVs start their five-digit prices with a two. A segment that once conjured thoughts of expensiveness can now be bought into for the price of a Japanese or Korean hatchback.
The Ford Puma kicks off at $29,990 before on-roads, although from launch pricing starts as a $31,990 drive-away offer.
Up from here are two more models – the ST-Line at $33,990 and ST-Line V from $36,990, both as drive-away deals.
Despite being the cheapest Puma offered, it presents above its worth, both internally and externally. Hard and fast items include 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights with front cornering lamps, and heated side mirrors complete with puddle lamps.
Aside from pieces of equipment, Ford has been generous with lashings of shiny plastics on the outside. You'll find brightwork on its grille, around its fog lights, and down the side of the car, too, which all do their part to add premiumness to its exterior.
The Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life is cheaper from the outset, starting from $27,990 before on-roads, but with a $29,990 drive-away deal.
The wider T-Cross range is also simpler, with just the $32,990 drive-away 85TSI Style version sitting above the entry level.
Despite being subjectively as funky as the Ford Puma, it does miss out quantitatively.
Its headlights use inferior halogen bulbs, it wears a smaller set of 16-inch wheels, and stylistic elements such as chrome fog light surrounds are not offered on this version.
It also misses out on a few goodies inside, with its stereo being one speaker short (six in the VW, seven for the Ford), and its same-sized 8.0-inch infotainment system not featuring in-built navigation.
Passengers will likely prefer the T-Cross, however, as it features four USB ports, with two located in the second row of seating.
As for options, Ford offers a stack of extras. Equipment add-ons include roof rails ($250), an electric tailgate ($750), a 'park pack' detailed further down, which our test car had fitted ($1500), and a panoramic sunroof ($2000).
Beauty options consist of metallic paints ($650) or metallic paint with a black contrasting roof ($1150).
Despite that, there are three non-metallic colours that come at no cost – a dark blue, as our test car wears, a bright red, or plain white. In total, there are 15 different colourways to pick from.
Volkswagen's catalogue offers less choice, which to some is a good thing.
In terms of trinkets, there are two option packs: a driver assistance package ($1200), and a sound and vision package ($1900), which introduces Beats premium audio with amplifier and subwoofer, a digital instrument cluster, and native navigation.
With regard to colours, plain white and dark blue are no-cost options, whereas metallic and pearl paints vary depending on the selection ($600/$800).
There is no option for a contrasting black roof, and the colour selection is close to half with eight options offered in total.
|Ford Puma||Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life|
|Engine||1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol||1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||92kW @ 6000rpm, 170Nm @ 1500–4500rpm||85kW @ 5500rpm, 200Nm @ 2000–3500rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||5.3L/100km||5.4L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||7.1L/100km||6.5L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||410L /1170L||385–455L (via sliding rear seat) / 1281L|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (tested 2019)||5 stars (tested 2019)|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Volkswagen T-Cross, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke||Ford Puma, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$31,490||$27,990|
Infotainment and tech
Inside, the Ford Puma will over-deliver against expectations, with its exterior theme of sophistication continually flowing through.
An 8.0-inch touchscreen features smartphone connectivity in the form of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, but there's also native navigation and wireless charging, despite being an entry trim level.
Surprises continue to grow from here, with massaging seats also coming as standard, as well as fancy ambient lighting. These are two pieces of equipment that you just don't expect to find in a small, affordable European SUV.
Write off the massaging as a gimmick, sure, but as a result the driver's seat receives a useful, highly adjustable lumbar support system, too.
Continue to dig and you'll find DAB+ radio, digital climate control, and two USB ports up front.
Of the four available extras at this trim level, our Ford Puma test car was equipped with just one – the park pack. For $1500, it's worth the spend.
Despite its name suggesting it brings primarily parking aids, it actually adds a raft of important safety gear, such as adaptive cruise control with lane centring and evasive steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, plus front park sensors and semi-automated self-parking.
As for advanced safety systems that come standard, autonomous emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, lane-keeping assist and a 180-degree parking camera are all bundled in.
The Volkswagen T-Cross is cheaper, so it does miss out in terms of nice-to-haves. There are no massaging seats or mood-setting lighting offered at all, but it does play to other arguably more relevant strengths.
As for the standard fitment of advanced safety tech, the T-Cross has the edge. It's equipped with the same autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and rear parking camera.
Despite it missing out on traffic sign recognition, it goes one better and includes both front parking sensors as standard, which are optional on the Ford Puma, and reverse emergency braking, which isn't offered on the Ford at all.
Also, adding the Volkswagen equivalent of Ford's park pack, called the driver assistance package, to a T-Cross is $300 cheaper, adding adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor with rear-cross traffic alert, park assist, proactive occupant protection system, and power-folding door mirrors.
The Ford Puma's cabin experience warps such notions of entry-model cars being devoid of quality materials and soft touchpoints. It presents above the quality of Japanese or Korean alternatives around the same pricepoint.
The seats are finished in a textural, denim-like material, and are bolstered well enough to be supportive. A large central display in the gauge cluster is orientated horizontally, not vertically, which enables easy consumption of driving data. Think trip information: fuel consumption and speed sign information to name a few.
Other items such as digital climate control, push-button start, and cloth inserts on the doors each lift its perceived quality. As for ergonomic touchpoints, the central armrest is reasonably sized, offers two layers of storage, and has a USB-C port buried at the bottom.
In the second row, space can be tight. A 182cm second-row occupant, sitting behind someone of the same height, will have around 2cm of knee room. Foot room remains satisfactory, and head room along those same lines.
However, if you're thinking about installing a baby seat in your shiny new European SUV, hang ten for a second. The Ford Puma draws inspiration from its sporty forefather, with a sloped, fast-looking roof line throwing back to the nameplate's genesis.
It impedes on the door aperture quite significantly, especially toward the rear of the car. That results in a slim load space to load baby into a rearward-facing seat. If you use a capsule, you'll likely not notice this. To those who opt for a 0–4-aged rearward-facing convertible seat, you will find this point troublesome.
Boot space kicks off at 410L, but the Puma also features an extra fixed storage tub under the boot floor. This is quite clever, as it gives you an option to store the miscellaneous bric-a-brac that comes with young children, dirty shoes after a hike, or even a wetsuit after a swim. Just factor in that you'll have to leave your spare wheel at home in order to maximise the space.
Over in the Volkswagen, the interior presentation is not cut from the same cloth. Black, hard plastics dominate the theme, with no lashings of chrome anywhere to be seen, nor soft pieces of fabric cladding its doors either. Its design is efficient and less fussy, which some will prefer; however, quality has taken a downward step when compared to the Ford.
A couple of high-traffic touchpoints bolster this impression most. First is having to use a key to start the thing, and second is its manual air-conditioning system. Not only does it lack any form of automatic mode, due to being mechanical, but its cable-driven fan position knob feels clumsy and dated. As two interaction points that'll be used on every drive, they have a greater importance over subjective interior design elements.
Another non-debatable topic is the amount of space offered. No questions here, the Volkswagen T-Cross has a much more generous second row. With the same scenario re-enacted in the back of the VW, the result was excellent, with a more generous 5cm of knee room offered. Head room was slightly better, too, thanks to its traditional boxy roof line.
This horizontal roof plane creates more space making things easier, and thus better, than the Puma. If you're going to be giving the second row of your new small SUV a flogging, then the T-Cross wins in that isolated comparison by a decent margin.
Its boot is smaller at 385L, but it can be extended via the standard inclusion of a sliding second row. With it moved 100 per cent forward, the VW leaps ahead with 455L worth of storage. In terms of how far you can go with adults in the second row, sliding it just past the halfway point brings knee room to comparable levels as found in the Puma.
Underfloor storage or a versatile second row? Horses for courses.
As is the fashion in Europe right now, low-emissions engines are what power this pair. In fact, despite being closely matched, they feel quite different. Calibration is king, especially when you're working with so little.
Powering the Ford Puma is a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that makes 92kW at 6000rpm and 170Nm at 1500–4500rpm. A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission receives the power and passes it to the front wheels only.
Thankfully, such undesirable drivability woes that existed with Ford's previous 'Powershift' dual-clutch are not found here. As for the reliability of this new transmission, it's too early to comment.
Volkswagen uses the same recipe – an equal in every way 1.0-litre three-banger. Power outputs are slightly down at 85kW at 5500rpm, but torque is up, over a narrower band, with 200Nm at 2000–3500rpm offered.
A seven-speed dual-clutch also manages engine output, and also sends output exclusively to the front wheels.
What's immediately noticeable after dabbling with the pair is the level of response. The Ford feels more direct when tasked with acceleration, both on the roll and from a standing start. Its driveline is the sharper of the pair.
The Volkswagen comes across more lethargic. Despite both cars having stop-start systems, the Volkswagen's was unanimously voted as irritating.
It takes a good, clean two seconds to fire up and get back to moving. Despite not sounding like long, it feels like forever in the right scenario, such as the peak-hour madness of 8:30am school drop-offs or 3pm returns home.
Where the Volkswagen made its laid-back demeanour clear was in terms of fuel usage. After an initial highway-exclusive run, it was ahead at 5.1L/100km versus the Puma's 6.6L/100km.
Throughout the day, it continued to better the Ford, and finished up on 6.5L/100km after bashing around the ’burbs.
The Puma, over the same roads, used 7.1L/100km.
The official combined fuel figures for both are 5.4L/100km for the VW and 5.3L/100km for the Ford.
On the road
Ford must care about its nameplates more than other brands. It's easy to assume that the Ford Puma has nothing to do with the two-door coupe that came before it. I understand this viewpoint, as it's happened before. There are probably more unfaithful brand resurrections out there than actual faithful ones.
However, such assumptions are usually framed when not having driven the thing, of course.
There's an absolute fun, sporty nature to the Ford Puma's suspension. It feels sharp, much like the driveline, and enjoys a flick through back streets. Quicker sweepers are managed with no fuss, and you'll never find the grip's end around town. It's enjoyable, somewhat jovial, and will keep keener drivers well-tamed.
The steering is also right on, being easy to comprehend and not woolly.
However, despite the ride quality being more intrusive, it's not negative when balanced against its ability. When looking at handling proficiency it over-delivers and feels in line with wider calibration as found in other areas, such as steering. It's a great example of when each individual area related to driving is complementary.
Although, much like VW's underactive driveline, its ride quality errs on the side of comfort and suppleness. Again, it treads this path in a way that's not floaty or inconsistent.
It's the more comfortable car, and does a stellar job of being the calmer yet still composed experience. Like the powertrain, despite employing similar chassis technology and managing similar weights, they're quite far apart in terms of targeted result.
At higher speeds, the Ford Puma is the more rest-assured bet, which may be enough to steer out-of-towners into trading their cash for the Ford. Another non-debatable factor is that the Ford Puma's cabin is quieter, likely due to more, or higher quality, sound-suppression materials being used.
Both cars are covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Ford charges $299 a service for the first four years and $320 for the fifth. Its expectations are that you return every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever ticks over first.
Over 75,000km or five years, the bill is $1516. If you include extras, which in this case is just brake fluid at the third year, the price rises by $115 to $1631.
The Volkswagen is much dearer to maintain on a service-by-service basis. Going down this path it costs $2445 to keep your T-Cross maintained as per the book, with intervals identical to that of Ford's. Paying upfront does help, but at $1800 it's still dearer overall.
The victory goes to the Ford Puma. The brand has high hopes for this car in the Australian market, and rightfully so. The light-SUV segment is undergoing growth, whereas nearly all others are regressing.
Luckily for them, they have an excellent product to play in the space. Whereas its last effort, the EcoSport, was woeful, this new replacement is anything but.
I often hear people say the one-per-cent wins are what truly matter, and in the case of the Ford Puma, they're exactly right. A superior interior vibe, punchier engine, and lashings of excitement and quality throughout make its $2000 cost increase well worth paying.
Some will prefer the cushier, debatably more pleasant ride that's found in the VW, or find pragmatism steering their judgement once aware of its extra second-row space.
Taking that on board, the Volkswagen notches up two wins on its tally.
The Ford's has a strike through it, however. A lot of those wins are also in key areas, too, which is enough to hand it first place.
It’s hard not to like the Ford Puma. From its cute exterior demeanour (subjectively) to its interior presentation and funky mix of materials that feel like quality, the Puma has re-energised Ford’s small-SUV platform. Certainly, sitting alongside the cutesy but altogether more boxy T-Cross, the Puma stands tall.
It’s a similar tale in just about every area of assessment. There’s more pep from its 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, better road manners under wheel and greater levels of equipment for your spend. Yes, it’s $2000 more than its Volkswagen rival, but it doesn’t take long to see where the money has been spent.
A meagre 7kW advantage to the Puma in engine output might not seem that much on paper, but it’s tangibly noticeable on the road, the little Ford more eager to get away from standstill and more urgent when pressed while on the move. And that’s despite giving away 30Nm of twist to the T-Cross. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is a peach, too, at once intuitive and responsive to inputs.
On the road, the Puma feels a touch firmer than its European rival, and that’s no bad thing. Where the Volkswagen offers a soft and cushioning ride, it comes at the cost of feel.
The Puma is still comfortable, but its slightly firmer ride translates to a better-feeling car, providing confidence behind the wheel, especially when having a bit of fun around some twisties. It is, in short, the more engaging small SUV to drive.
It’s also the more engaging of this pair to sit in, despite giving away some room in the second row to the Volkswagen. Whereas the VW is typically Teutonic in its presentation, Ford has channelled its inner funky. And that is, after all, what the typical buyer in this segment is after.
The Puma wins for mine, not by much, but there are enough key areas where it sits above the T-Cross that help sway the verdict in Ford’s favour.