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Motors

Hip to be square

Wednesday, 28th August, 2019 4:45pm

There’s a sense of ho-hum about the latest addition to the world of the compact crossover these days.

Absolutely everyone is making one, now, and the fact is that most of them are pretty depressing. They tend to be built-down to a price, surprisingly (and annoyingly) small inside, and yet people just seem to love them, to be unable to get enough of them. Takes all kinds, I suppose…

While that malaise may generally affect the crossover market, we found a surprising fillip to the mood when it comes to the Volkswagen T-Cross. Surprising, because we’ve essentially already driven it.

That’s because we’ve already driven the Seat Arona, and indeed the Skoda Scala, and not least the VW Polo. All of which share the same engine lineup and basic chassis construction as the T-Cross.

So, maybe I could make this easier for us all, and simply direct you towards my previous review of the Seat Arona, and let you do the find and replace bit for yourself.

Well, not so fast. In spite of the common lineage, the Seat and the VW are actually surprisingly different in feel and appeal, and that all starts with the styling. Just as we eat as much with our eyes as with our tastebuds, so too you take in a car visually long before you ever get near its steering wheel or pedals.

And while the Arona looks almost apologetic about its status as a crossover, or a mini SUV — it appears to be crouching down, trying to look more like a hatchback —the T-Cross is proudly upright and a little straight-edged.

It’s not so much trying to look like a tiny Tiguan, more that it’s actually more like the spiritual successor to the old Skoda Yeti (especially as Skoda seems set on ruining the styling of its actual Yeti successor, the Kamiq, by making it look too much like the slightly dreary Scala hatchback).

The T-Cross looks relatively tall and narrow, and while that may not be the fashionable thing, at least it’s trying, making an effort, to look like a ‘proper’ off-roader. Even if the furthest off-road most T-Crosses will be taken is probably going to be a multi-storey car park…

Inside, there’s good and bad news. The good news is that the T-Cross is hugely practical for a car of its size.

For a start, boot space is well-ahead of that of most rivals, with a maximum of 455 litres. Mind you, that’s if you have the sliding rear seats moved all the way forward, which is not the friendliest thing to do if you need people to sit in the back. Push those seats all the way rearwards, and you end up with a 385 litre boot — but that’s still ahead of what’s on offer from most rivals.

Shuffle things around a little and you end up with quite a good compromise between boot volume and rear seat space.

Whether there’s enough of either to justify the T-Cross’ price premium over a standard Polo hatchback is, perhaps, another question.

Up front, you do certainly get plenty of space, and a comfortable driving position. The dash design is simple and clean — basically that of a Polo but on stilts — and the optional digital instrument pack is crisp and clear.

However, you do notice that the quality of the plastics used is not quite as good as what you get in a Polo. VW (along with other car makers) knows that buyers are prepared to put up with less than the best quality in their compact crossovers as long as the exterior is right, and so budget accordingly. A Polo buyer would never be prepared to make that kind of compromise.

Make of that what you will.

At least the T-Cross is nice to drive. We’ve said before that the 115hp, 1.0 litre TSI petrol three cylinder engine is the best powerplant that VW currently makes, and we see no need to change that view.

It revs with a happy little thrum, has more than enough poke — the T-Cross in this specification actually feels quite brisk — and can easily return diesel-esque fuel economy figures. It’s delightful, and pairs well with the standard six-speed manual gearbox.

In terms of its steering and handling, the T-Cross — as does the Polo — is slightly more middle of the road than some rivals, but with perhaps a gentle lean in the direction of fun.

There’s not much real road-surface feel nor feedback as such, but the steering is nicely weighted, and the relatively light T-Cross feels agile and responsive. It also rides comfortably — not something we can say of all its rivals — and although it’s overall a small car, it never feels out of its depth mixing it with the big cars and trucks on the motorway. It even has a modicum of off-roading ability. Which is to say that we drove across some damp grass and a gravel track and didn’t get stuck. To be honest, a Polo would probably have done as well.

There’s only one major hurdle, and that’s the price tag. Our T-Cross test car, in R-Line specification, cost — deep breath — €39,956. Now, that did include more than €4,000 worth of optional extras, and the R-Line model is the range-topper for the whole T-Cross range. Plus you can get one for a lot less — basic ones start from €23,270 which is a lot more palatable. Then again, an Arona starts from just €18,415 and is basically the same underneath. The cheapest Polo is just €17,895.

Still, there’s no denying the appeal of the T-Cross. Sweet to drive, and thoroughly charming to look at, it’s probably our favourite compact crossover at the moment.

Previously, that wouldn’t have been much praise, but the T-Cross proves that this is a class that’s at last picking up the pace.

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