Volkswagen T-Cross 2020 85tsi life

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross long-term review: Introduction

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The littlest 'T' joins the CarAdvice long term fleet – so what is in store for the 2021 Volkswagen T-Cross Life while it is in our care?
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If would be pretty fair to say that we tend to talk a lot about features and technology in cars, and generally approach the inclusion of which with a ‘more is better’ type of appraisal.

From entertainment to convenience through to arguably more serious safety and driver assistance system, it can sometimes take a few hundred words of a review (250 in this one, just in case you're counting) just to reel off the goodies and gadgets that are included as part of the machine that is still fundamentally there to be used as a mode of transportation.

But what if we dial it down a bit, and err on the side of simplicity? Can a car with a limited feature set still work as an appealing option for buyers?

Obviously, it can.

It wasn’t that long ago that most cars didn’t even have power windows or central locking, let alone interactive virtual assistants, but given the magnitude of technology on offer today, just how much of it can you do without?

The latest addition to our long-term test fleet is the 2021 Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life. At $27,990 before options and on-road costs, or $29,990 drive-away, the Life is the most affordable T-Cross variant and marks the entry-point to the entire Volkswagen SUV range.

It’s the newest in the VW line up too.

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life
Engine configuration1.0-litre 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Displacement1.0 litres (999cc)
Power85kW at 5500rpm
Torque200Nm at 2000-3500rpm
TransmissionSeven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Drive typeFront-wheel-drive
Tare weight1240kg
Fuel claim, combined5.4L/100km
Turning circle10.6m
ANCAP safety rating5 star (tested 2019)
Warranty5 years / unlimited km
Main competitorsVolkswagen T-Roc, Skoda Kamiq, Kia Seltos, Ford Puma
MSRP$27,990 ($29,990 drive away)
Options as tested-

Volkswagen’s T-named showroom now extends through four models, the T-Cross ($27,990 -$30,990), T-Roc ($33,990 - $42,990 ), Tiguan ($34,990 - $54,690) and Touareg ($80,790 - $139,990), and like many other brands the range allows for some pricing overlap between models (well, except for the Touareg…) to give buyers a way of choosing the size they need or the specification they want within a certain budget window.

In this instance though, our window is quite small and we’ve opted for the most lowercase ‘t’ available.

Our car, finished in Pure White (one of eight choices), has no additional options or accessories added, meaning that it is in fact the ‘from’ car that is referenced in all T-Cross pricing discussion.

Despite its basic positioning though, the Life actually presents pretty well.

The 16-inch alloy wheels, integrated roof rails and plastic body cladding suit the contrasting no-cost white paint, and the compact Polo-based Vee-dub comes off as a chunky and well-proportioned urban runner.

I’m a particular fan of the full-width reflector strip at the back, that makes the T-Cross look like a pint-sized Porsche Cayenne. Note too, that there is some contention around the office about this, but I stand by my thinking and will endeavour to provide clear photographic evidence of my case...

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life
Ground clearance185mm
Weight (Tare)1240kg
Wheels/tyres205/60 R16 - Bridgestone

And while ‘from’ might not net you temperature-controlled cup holders or multi-function massage seats (and who doesn’t love those), the little T is reasonably well equipped for an SUV starter.

Lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking, heated power mirrors, and an 8-inch touch screen with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto get things moving pretty well.

Add LED running and tail-lights, front cornering lamps, parking sensors at both ends, a rear camera and wireless phone charging into the mix, and you start to wonder what doesn’t come included ‘from’ $29,990.

I’m glad you asked.

Halogen headlights are standard, which not only look a bit dull but also feel a bit 1990 for a 2020 car. You need to use the key to start the car (I know, right!) and cloth seats and hard-wearing plastic trim elements are your only choice to support the functional mix on the inside.

That said though, in true Volkswagen form, the car feels well-built and is comfortable and roomy enough, regardless of its more honest material selection.

You can add more gadgets too.

A $1200 Driver Assistance package adds Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Adaptive Cruise Control, automated parking and powered-folding door mirrors. A further $1900 Sound and Vision pack sees an upgrade to a 300W Beats Audio sound system, integrated satellite navigation and the full-width digital instrument cluster.

You can venture up the range to the T-Cross ‘Style’ model ($30,990 MSRP) and add dual-zone climate control, LED headlamps, 17-inch alloy wheels and push-button start to the list too.

On top of that, you can even throw in an R-Line styling pack ($2500) which ups the wheels again to 18-inch and changes the look of the T-Cross to include a colour-coded front valance and rear bumper, as well as a more ‘sporty’ but still cloth interior trim.

That means you can spec yourself a $38,200 (drive away in Victoria) version of the ‘TC’, that while no doubt resplendent in its metallic paint, is exactly the same car underneath.

But should you?

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life
ColourPure White
Price (MSRP)$27,990
Options as tested$0
Servicing 3yr$990 (pre-paid VW Care Plan)
Servicing 5yr$1800 (pre-paid VW Care Plan)
ANCAP safety rating5-star (2019)
Warranty5 years / unlimited km

All T-Cross models are powered by an 85kW, 200Nm 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine, which is paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, driving the front wheels only, no matter what diameter they are.

It's ah, no powerhouse, with the top end of the powerband a near-endless 5500rpm away, and the DSG tends to choose the highest possible gear for the sake of fuel consumption, thus limiting any in-gear response to the more leisurely side of action. It's far more at home in the Coles carpark than it would be on your favourite winding C-Road, which isn't really a surprise.

Which leads to the crux of the theme of our low-fat long-termer.

As a compact urban runabout, do we really need any of the extras to not only get the job done but also enjoy the T-Cross?

As this car will spend the vast majority of its time with us running about Melbourne’s leafy inner east, shopping, school-dropping and otherwise 314x postcode hopping.

The 2021 Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life is a great size for parking, is nimble enough to swiftly conduct a u-turn while shopping, and with CarPlay and AEB, can cover the two-most useful advances in current technology right out of the box.

So, while in our care, we will be looking at what works and what we feel is missing with the technology and gadgetry inclusions on the T-Cross.

As an urban-dweller, we’ll be looking at how useful and flexible the 385-litre boot is, plus we will be paying close attention to the claimed 5.4L/100km combined fuel consumption.

Finally, and probably most crucially, we’ll look beyond all of this and see how the T-Cross size and format works as the ‘second’ family car, and assess if you really do need any more car than this.

As with all our long-term reports, please don’t hesitate to ask us questions about the car, particularly if you are in the market for a little-T, or perhaps are considering one of its larger alliterative VW-badged brethren.

For my part too, I’ll continue to find the perfect photo of it parked next to a Cayenne to prove my point, once and for all!

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