Volkswagen T-Cross 2021 85tsi life

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross long-term review: Farewell

Rating: 8.0
$27,990 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
  • Engine Power
  • CO2 Emissions
  • ANCAP Rating
So long and thanks for all the T? We bid farewell to our long-term VW T-Cross and discover a surprise skill along the way.
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Our little, white 2021 Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life has been in the garage for three months now, and it’s time to say goodbye.

Over the past 12 weeks, we’ve found plenty to like about the chunky, compact SUV, and the most basic VW 'adventure hatch' on the market has served us pretty well.

Funky styling paired with generous equipment in a well-made, practical format has made sense for us, just as it has for 1712 buyers so far this year. That’s enough to keep the T-Cross on the bronze podium of light-category SUV sales (behind the Mazda CX-3 at 4467 and Toyota Yaris Cross at 2040), and on the silver dais for overall Volkswagen sales (behind the Amarok 4x4 at 1944).

But it hasn’t all been thrown flowers and acceptance speeches, as we found a few kinks in the T-Cross's armour that perhaps stop it from earning higher accolades as an urban-running multi-tool.

First, though, the basic stuff.

2021 Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life
Engine configurationThree-cylinder turbocharged petrol
Displacement1.0 litre (999cc)
Power85kW at 5500rpm
Torque200Nm at 2000–3500rpm
TransmissionSeven-speed dual-clutch automatic
Drive typeFront-wheel drive
Tare weight1240kg
Fuel claim (combined)5.4L/100km
Fuel use (combined)6.8L/100km
Turning circle10.6m
ANCAP safety ratingFive-star (tested 2019)
Main competitorsVolkswagen T-Roc, Skoda Kamiq, Kia Seltos, Ford Puma
MSRP$27,990 ($29,990 drive-away)
Options as tested-

We took delivery of the little ‘T’ in mid-November 2020 and returned it in late February, some three-and-a-half months later.

The car is a plain, vanilla, no-frills, optionless, base-spec ‘Pure White’ 85TSI Life, and runs out the door of your local VW dealer for the advertised ‘from’ price of $29,990 drive-away.

This is despite the fact that the car’s list price recently increased by $400 from $27,990 to $28,390, so nice job VW on maintaining the drive-away pricing.

Standard equipment is generous, with autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistant, front and rear parking sensors, and nifty LED cornering lamps all part of the included goodie bag.

The chonky 16-inch two-tone alloy wheels and black roof rails are included too.

Beyond that, we opted for the no-extra white paint, ticked zero boxes, and added a giant donut worth of floor mats or other accessories. Little ‘T’ is as basic as they come, and is almost the better for it.

We think it looks quite sharp with the contrasting trim elements balancing well without the distraction of fancy paint, though the Reef Blue ($600 metallic option) does look bright and ‘friendly’ too.

Since we ‘bought’ ours, Volkswagen has introduced a new variant that slots between the Life and more well equipped $31,990 ‘Style’, the $30,390 ‘City Life’. The $2000 jump gets you the dual-zone climate control and keyless entry and start that our car missed out on, as well as the $1200 Driver Assistance pack that adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and power-folding mirrors.

The City Life gets new seats and a unique all-black look, too, so in terms of value, especially considering we recommend ticking the box for the assistance pack, it makes good sense.

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

The other option on the table is the $1900 Sound and Vision pack, which adds a nicer sound system, integrated satellite navigation and a full-width digital instrument cluster.

As we found during our time with the T-Cross, if there is a standout part of the interior, the bright and sharp 8.0-inch LCD infotainment display is it. The menus are clear and the whole unit feels high-quality, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is fast and seamless, and everything works as you’d expect.

Plus, over the past few months, I didn’t miss more speakers or integrated navigation, and I found the instrument cluster fuss-free and easy to read, so spending more just to have the digital display feels like overkill.

It’s not the only part of the interior we liked either, with the 385L boot being adequate enough for our urban living duties, and the seats comfortable and supportive for riders in the front and back. In use as the ‘other’ family car, the T-Cross never felt tight and we never ran out of room.

Things stay good on the hop, too, with decent vision and head room making the car feel bright and easy to get about in. The tight turning circle (10.6m) made the car nimble enough for regular ‘there’s one!’ car spot U-turns in the Hawksburn shopping village, and the chubby 60-profile tyres provided more than enough ride comfort for the varying surfaces of Melbourne’s inner east.

But note I said ‘on the hop’, as the first of the two big grumbles we had with the T-Cross really only starts when you stop. Or when the stop-start system starts… Or stops…

The 85kW 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine is no firecracker, but we’ve all done more with less. No, it’s the engine in concert with the seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) transmission that feels like a frustrating weak point of the little Veedub, especially in urban confines.

The wake-up time from being off, to save fuel at rest, and actually moving again is simply too long. Sure, it re-fires as soon as your foot pressure eases off the brake, but by the time the elasticity of the DSG has put things in motion, seconds have passed.

This isn’t a big deal when moving away from a set of traffic lights, but it is if you are turning right across traffic or looking to merge during peak times. At times I would drive with the start-stop system off, just to minimise any response delay.

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 ratingFive-star (tested 2019)
WarrantyFive years/unlimited km

Compound these things if you are trying the usual DSG-kryptonite move of a reverse, uphill parallel park. All the cheeky U-turns in history can’t save you if the car has a frustratingly slow and elastic change from drive to reverse and back again. Not ideal if a tram is breathing down your neck!

As I’ve said before, though, you do get used to it, and you do learn to anticipate the car’s behaviour. But in order to get things moving as well as the T-Cross keeps things moving, you have to be a bit heavier on the throttle.

And that leads to our second gripe, fuel consumption.

The claim for the T-Cross is in the mid-5L/100km range, and I assure you, if your majority of use is urban, then you’ll never achieve that.

To run the car in a miserly fashion, you need to be very light on the throttle, which means you don’t get anywhere quickly. Again, this is fine in crawling stop-start traffic, but as soon as you need to move faster than a walking pace, the little three-pot builds up a thirst and consumption is regularly seen in low double digits.

Our three-month average was 6.8L/100km – not bad in the overall scheme of things, but still 25 per cent higher than VW’s claim. As noted in previous updates, the single-trip usage got as high as 11.0L/100km when using the air-conditioner on full blast and with the start-stop system off in summer.

But all this is largely related to keeping the T-Cross confined within a single postcode. As while we thought it would be a great little urban runner, it turns out the car’s strengths lie a little further afield.

On a few occasions, I needed to run somewhere between 30 and 100km away from the usual geo-boundary of 3142, and it was here the T-Cross really shone.

Fuel consumption dropped to under 5.0L/100km on a relaxed highway cycle, the transmission worked seamlessly on the move, and even when the cruise control came off and I needed to actually drive at 80km/h on some of the winding roads of the Macedon Ranges or Mornington Peninsula, nothing much changed except that the little VW actually became fun!

The practical interior still worked, the infotainment and assistance tech did their job, and even those chunky tyres and higher stance continued to offer decent comfort and body control.

As such, despite going into our time with the T-Cross feeling that the little SUV would be an urban winner, it has actually emerged as more of an extra-urban hero, managing the short-to-medium touring hop with surprising character and ability.

And so, as we bid farewell to the baby-T, full of praise for its design, packaging and basic value, we can offer a clear recommendation based on your intended use.

Simply put, if you are looking for a car to confine to your hyper-local shopping and commuting tasks, learn to understand the transmission and expect a higher-than-claimed fuel consumption from your T-Cross.

If you live this life but want a little more poke, perhaps look across the Volkswagen-group brands and investigate the Skoda Kamiq 110TSI instead.

However, if you regularly venture a little further afield, and like the idea of a higher hatchback that’s easy to get into, then the 2021 Volkswagen T-Cross 85TSI Life (with the optional safety pack) is a surprising charmer in the regional road-trip stakes.