Two small, T-badged Volkswagen SUVs, but should buyers choose a fully optioned three-cylinder T-Cross or a sportier four-cylinder T-Roc?
Volkswagen has been busy building new SUVs. And with 2016’s second-generation Tiguan stepping up in size to move into the midsize-SUV segment, the German brand has put particular focus on filling the space left below it.
The response is not one but two small SUVs: the Polo-derived T-Cross and the Golf-based T-Roc.
With the T-Cross slightly longer than a Polo and the T-Roc slightly shorter than a Golf, there aren’t massive differences in their dimensions. About 14cm separates them nose to tail: 4.11m for the T-Cross and 4.25m for the T-Roc.
We were curious to discover just which of these models makes for the best T-badged compact Volkswagen SUV.
To line them up as closely as possible, we have the top-of-the-range T-Cross 85TSI Style equipped with every option pack and a T-Roc 140TSI Sport with zero extras fitted. (A new, base T-Roc, which wasn’t available back when this comparison was conducted, is arriving imminently.)
Pricing and equipment
The Volkswagen T-Cross range starts with the $27,990 Life, with the Style kicking off from $30,990 (both prices before on-road charges).
Style adds key features as standard over the Life, which include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, auto high beam and brighter, LED headlights.
Two option packs give the T-Cross a lift both aesthetically and technologically.
A $2500 R-Line package switches out 17-inch ‘Bangalore’ alloy wheels for 18-inch ‘Nevada’ alloys, while the exterior also gains ‘R-Line’ badging on the grille and sides, body-coloured bumpers, and privacy glass.
Inside, there are aluminium-finish pedals, R-Line treadplates, ‘R’ cloth/microfibre seats and a sporty leather steering wheel.
The $1900 Sound and Vision package introduces a digital instrument cluster, integrated navigation and a 300-watt Beats audio system.
With Makena Turquoise metallic paint costing another $800, our test car adds up to $36,190 RRP – placing it within $4300 of the $40,490 T-Roc 140TSI Sport. (Drive-away pricing currently makes the gap wider between our shared-house contenders.
A drive-away deal for the T-Cross (until end of the year) gives our test car a $38,346 total against $45,134.
There’s very little that splits the standard equipment lists for VW’s small-SUV duo.
Our optioned-up T-Cross’s main advantages are its wireless smartphone charging (standard) and the Beats audio, which is available for the T-Roc Sport as part of a $2000 Sound & Style package (which also throws in 19-inch wheels and an adaptive chassis).
A $3500 Luxury package for the T-Roc groups Vienna leather upholstery, heated front seats and a panoramic roof.
Aside from being a slightly larger vehicle, the T-Roc sets out to justify its higher price with a superior drivetrain.
|Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life||Volkswagen T-Roc 140TSI Sport|
|Engine||1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||85kW at 5500rpm, 200Nm at 2000–3500rpm||140kW at 4900–6000rpm, 320Nm at 1500–4800rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||5.4L/100km||7.2L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||6.1L/100km||7.3L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up/down)||385–455L (via sliding rear seat)/1281L||392L/1237L|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (tested 2019)||5 stars (tested 2017)|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km||5 years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Ford Puma, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke, Skoda Kamiq||Ford Puma (ST-Line V), Mazda CX-30, Skoda Kamiq 110TSI, Toyota C-HR|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$36,190||$40,490|
Infotainment and tech
Wireless charging is standard on all T-Cross models. Its omission from the T-Roc has more to do with the model’s age. It was released three years ago, before the feature started to become more widely offered.
Both models share VW’s 8.0-inch touchscreen that has much to commend about it in terms of graphics quality, response and user-friendliness. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also common.
The T-Roc’s standard audio offers a decent sound quality, though it’s simply not a fair fight against the T-Cross’s excellent Beats system that will quickly have you searching for all your favourite tracks.
That Sound and Vision package also ensures the T-Cross matches the (easy to use) factory navigation and digital instrument cluster standard in the T-Roc.
The graphical display is a neat tech-touch and isn’t just a gimmick, giving the driver options on how (and what) information is presented.
The front cabins of the T-Cross and T-Roc are very similar to their respective relatives, the Polo and Golf.
In both instances, the key difference is a bolder design execution of the main dash section (and of course the more elevated seating).
Neither SUV matches the interior presentation of its passenger car siblings, though it’s the T-Cross that unexpectedly has the edge in perceived quality over the T-Roc.
While the T-Cross loses the soft upper dash compared with the Polo, the T-Roc’s material selection feels particularly dumbed down compared with VW’s famous hatch.
Whereas the Golf has been regularly praised for having one of the best interiors in the small-car class with heavy use of soft-touch materials, the T-Roc’s cabin is constructed with about 95 per cent hard plastics.
A redeeming feature can at least be found in the upholstery: the sporty-ish cloth/leatherette seats look good and are also shaped with beneficial bolstering.
The T-Cross Style’s R-Line package gives it even smarter-looking seats; a fairly posh combination of fabric and leather capped off with an ‘R’ logo on the headrests.
Its steering wheel also looks more contemporary, and the climate panel offers better tactility than the T-Roc’s fan/temperature dials.
‘R’ pattern trim on the dash and doors (also part of the R-Line package) and the gloss-black centre console further lift the ambience.
Large door cubbies are common to both SUVs, as are small console bins and a pull-out tray beneath the driver’s seat. The T-Roc’s centre console adds a little tray for the key fob, and its cupholders are a different arrangement, including a piccolo-type holder.
Each SUV has a storage tray on which smartphones of varying sizes can be placed – though as mentioned earlier, only the T-Cross’s is able to replenish the battery.
In the back seats, it’s the slightly smaller T-Cross that delivers the most leg room (especially with its sliding bench in the rearmost position). Head room is similarly good.
The T-Roc’s rear door cubbies aren’t as big as the T-Cross’s, but it counters in other useful ways. While the T-Cross’s rear seats are comfortable, they’re a touch flatter compared with the T-Roc’s scalloped outer pews, while the larger SUV provides both rear vents and a centre armrest with adjustable cup holders.
The T-Cross’s sliding bench allows owners to vary boot space. With the bench in its default (rearmost) position, Volkswagen quotes 385L of boot capacity. That’s already competitive with the T-Roc’s 392L before expanding to 455L with the T-Cross’s bench fully forward.
That extends the T-Cross’s floor length to 77cm, though the T-Roc’s floor is not much shorter at 75cm.
The standard T-Cross comes with a dual floor height set-up, though this is lost when the Beats audio system is added as the subwoofer sits under the boot floor.
Both sets of seatbacks fold in a 60-40 split and go fully flat to expand cargo space, and each SUV has a temporary spare wheel under its boot floor.
Skiers will be among those who will appreciate the through-port incorporated into the T-Roc’s seatbacks.
The T-Cross range in Australia was originally set to feature a flagship 110TSI model with a 110kW/250Nm four-cylinder turbo engine.
That would have closed the price gap to the T-Roc from below, though an imminent T-Roc 110TSI entry-level model – with the same engine – will still close it from above.
Yet, the 140TSI already feels like it is the more natural sweet-spot for the T-Roc range – with its 140kW turbocharged four-cylinder, 4Motion all-wheel drive, multi-link rear suspension and seven-speed dual-clutch auto helping to position it as the sporty crossover to the T-Cross’s more conservative, practicality-based approach.
The 140TSI’s 2.0-litre engine and gearbox combination is impressive, making the T-Roc feel responsive regardless of road speed – and without a requirement to select the Sport mode. Keep the throttle pinned and acceleration is satisfyingly urgent.
Volkswagen quotes 7.2 seconds for 0–100km/h – exactly three seconds faster than the company’s figure for the T-Cross 85TSI.
The T-Roc 140TSI has an obvious advantage off the line with all-wheel drive compared with the front-drive T-Cross, though its engine also has the more muscular mid-range.
Yet, while the T-Cross’s inherently imbalanced three-cylinder isn’t as naturally smooth or free-revving as the T-Roc’s four-cylinder, it’s still a likeable motor.
A distinctive thrum as well as an initial raspiness when accelerating lends the three-cylinder some aural interest, and throttle response can be sharpened by flicking the gear lever backwards to switch from D into S(port).
Both T-models feature paddle-shift levers on the steering wheel.
The T-Cross’s stop-start system isn’t the quickest to restart the engine. It’s best to lift off the brake pedal a little early at traffic lights, so the three-cylinder is ready once they’re green.
The gearbox can also be a bit sluggish to engage if trying to accelerate quickly away from a junction.
With one less cylinder burning fuel, the T-Cross is expectedly the more economical small SUV here. Its 5.4 litres per 100km claimed fuel consumption compares with 7.2L/100km for the T-Roc 140TSI.
We consistently found the gap to be smaller during real-world testing, however – 1.3 litres at its widest before final figures settled at 6.1L/100km and 7.3L/100km in the T-Cross’s favour.
There’s potential for that gap to shrink further with longer freeway drives as, with both SUVs in top (seventh) gear, the T-Cross’s engine is the busier of the two at 110km/h, using 2500 revs compared with just 1800rpm for the T-Roc.
Both engines need to run 95RON premium fuel at a minimum.
On the road
There are two body-style camps in the small-SUV segment. The T-Cross embodies the more upright, traditional-SUV approach, while the T-Roc adopts the more hatchback-like crossover design.
This is reflected in the respective driving positions, where the T-Cross has more in common with the ‘command’ seating of a classic SUV/off-roader and the T-Roc is more akin to sitting in a Golf – just at a slightly higher elevation.
This also makes the T-Roc feel the sportier vehicle, though there’s no doubt the T-Cross also has the best all-round visibility – including slightly better rear vision, whereas the T-Roc’s is narrower (especially if child seats are fitted in the rear seats).
The T-Cross rides at its absorbent best as the base-model Life variant using chubbier tyres and smaller, 16-inch wheels, though the 85TSI with the R-Line package’s 18-inch wheels provides more than sufficient comfort.
It’s also better than the T-Roc at rounding off the edges of sharper bumps, yet the sportier T-Roc – also on 18-inch wheels but slightly taller-profile rubber – has the slightly more consistent suspension compliance across varying road-surface quality.
The T-Cross provides comfortable progress along country roads, with plenty of composure through curves despite noticeable body roll. The smaller SUV’s very light steering makes direction changes as effortless as they are around town.
There’s no doubt the T-Roc is the sportier vehicle, beyond its obvious advantage of an all-wheel-drive system that is highly effective at spitting the crossover out of corners with negligible wheel spin.
The T-Roc 140TSI Sport, equipped with a Sports suspension as standard, has an enthusiasm for corners that’s reminiscent of the original Tiguan, with keen steering response, good grip and well-sorted body control.
Buyers can get bigger, 19-inch wheels and adaptive dampers as part of the $2000 Sound and Style Package, though our separate review of a T-Roc with these options points to the standard set-up as the better judged ride/handling balance.
The T-Cross and T-Roc are covered by Volkswagen’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, while the difference in annual servicing costs is unlikely to be an influential factor for anyone choosing between the duo.
Over three years of scheduled dealership maintenance, the T-Cross 85TSI will cost $1214 compared with $1466 for the T-Roc 140TSI. The figures increase to $2438 and $2796, respectively, over five years.
In the case of both models, the servicing costs are on the higher side of the segment average. Some money can be saved, however, with three- or five-year plans bought upfront or integrated into a finance package.
Roadside assistance is thrown in for the first year, before becoming a rolling benefit for owners sticking to servicing within the VW network.
Before we establish the pick of this pair, it’s worth noting that neither model offers exceptional value for money. Just within the VW Group stable, for example, the newly arrived Skoda Kamiq trumps both when comparing its 85TSI variant against the T-Cross or its 110TSI version against the T-Roc.
But if a buyer is determined to choose a compact Volkswagen SUV, should they opt for a fully loaded T-Cross or find an extra $4300 (before on-roads) for the more willing performance on offer from the T-Roc?
In simple terms, the head says T-Cross and the heart says T-Roc.
The T-Cross is the sensible choice with its more practical interior and more fuel-efficient drivetrain, while it matches its pricier sibling for cabin technology and beats it overall for more contemporary cabin presentation.
The T-Roc’s interior already looks like it’s in need of a mid-life revamp, including an infotainment set-up that is lacking wireless charging and should feature the larger 9.2-inch touchscreen available in the Golf 7.5 range. The T-Roc’s ageing problem will only be compounded by the 2021 arrival of the eighth-generation Golf.
This 140TSI Sport is arguably getting a bit pricey, too, though the only direct rival that can get close to its performance is the twin Skoda Karoq Sportline that is close in price, not much ahead in equipment, and uses the same drivetrain. And Audi’s relative, the Q2 40TFSI, costs almost another $10,000.
For buyers who can’t afford a brand-new Golf GTI, this T-Roc doesn’t make for a bad substitute with its enjoyable handling and lively turn of speed.
Two different propositions, then, which is just what’s needed when a manufacturer is serving up two vehicles in what is ostensibly the same (small SUV) segment.
We could easily understand someone opting for the sporty crossover, but our choice here is the SUV that delivers more consistently across the scoring spectrum.