Final Report: The verdict is in...
After an unusually long nine months in our care - albeit three of those within Covid-19 lockdown - we've witnessed numerous highs but also a few lows with the VW T-Cross. Arriving in early October 2019, initial impressions of the supermini-sized crossover were favourable, from its orange Tonka Toy appearance to its surprising practicality in carrying people and stuff. We noted the potential usefulness of the car's variable 385-455 litres of boot space 'seats up' due to a slidable rear bench, but in reality we've only used the car with seats slid back the whole time. When we needed more space it tended to be a lot, so rear passengers were jettisoned and their seats folded flat to create 1,281 litres of very usable and accessible loading room. Garden rubbish to recycle, a few bicycles and large furniture all went in.
Fully loaded, the T-Cross's 115hp 1.0 TSI petrol engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox coped well enough but did run out of puff sometimes, especially on cold early morning runs and tackling certain inclines. During our tenure with the engine, VW also launched a 150hp 1.5-litre version, which could be worth considering as both fall into a 27% BIK tax band and emissions and economy are close (44.0mpg and 118g/km CO2 for the 1.5 versus 45.6mpg and 116g/km for the 1.0). Real-world city economy has been OK too, from a 36.1mpg high and 32.4mpg low, resulting in a 34.1mpg overall average - not bad compared to the now more realistic WLTP official 'low' figure of 37.3mpg.
Inside the T-Cross, while there was no panoramic roof, the car still felt spacious and open, bar the wide C-pillar, which slightly obstructs rearward driver vision but provides a little more cabin privacy and contributes to the crossover's pleasingly chunky exterior too. We were happy with the compromise. Up front the T-Cross in R-Line trim offers high-tech features including a 10.25in digital driver display and 8in centre touchscreen with crisply rendered mapping and graphics swappable between the two. Occasionally, some of the touchscreen elements were too sensitive though, like when we reached to turn the physical volume knob embedded into the touchscreen and set off the media button just above it, inadvertently switching off the radio station in the process. The central digital display had a full-on, but mercifully temporary, meltdown into pixelated abstraction on another occasion too, but by and large the T-Cross's screens represent big tech for a small car.
Over-sensitive exterior sensors were a more regular problem, going off and staying on with (false) alarm too often, and the remote key-open failed with little warning (a new battery sorted that). But by far the biggest blemish on the T-Cross's time with us was the passenger door that failed to shut properly - and indeed swung open while on the move two or three times. Nobody got hurt, and to be fair it was swiftly fixed - a sticky exterior door handle was deemed the culprit - but VW's UK workshop couldn't ascertain what caused that stickiness to happen in the first place. Either way, it didn't happen again.
To conclude, in the main we enjoyed our time with the T-Cross. It's easy to live with, comfortable and spacious to spend time in, and its 4,235mm-long frame is a dream to park in small spaces. Despite that compact exterior dimension there's plenty of flexible space on the inside for people and things, and in natty Energetic Orange (a worthwhile £575 option) it felt special enough, without veering into oddball territory. My only question mark is the number of (mainly small) things that went wrong or irked during our time with the car. You don't really expect such quality or technical issues from a Volkswagen.
7th Report: Off-key fobs and gears
Remote control key fobs that open and close cars from a distance have long been as familiar to our daily lives as remote control devices for television sets, so when something you take for granted stops dead - with little advance notice - it can be discombobulating.
Smaller warning signs were there, now we look back on it. Before this major fob fail took place, the keyless entry function gave up the ghost, which is only a minor annoyance, but still irritating when you have the key in your pocket, both hands full, and are hovering by a shut door that used to open more easily.
More recently - to be fair to the car - a message did come up on the driver display to say that the key fob batteries were running low. But instead of the similar scenario with a low-fuel warning light alert, which typically gives the driver 30-50 miles of grace to find a filling station, the key's batteries died completely not long afterwards and left the user in a busy London car park with valuables in the boot and worrying how to lock the car manually.
Yes, there is an obvious pop-out key on the side of the fob, but there isn't an obvious keyhole on the car's driver door handle in which to insert it. Due to a desire for smarter-looking exteriors the keyhole is now extremely well-hidden under a body-coloured cover that can be flipped up by inserting the key end into a small notch on the underside of the handle (but you have to be low down and close to spot it).
Anyway, kerfuffle over and back home, we happened to have the right-sized, disc-shaped battery in our domestic spare battery bag and the fob is working perfectly again. But the incident does suggest more repeated and/or audible warnings from the car's computer would be beneficial to users' stress levels (and allow them more time to wade through the manual to find the solution).
Aside from that 'blip' - or indeed lack of 'blip' - in most other areas the T-Cross continues to quietly do its job. In accordance with the government rules during the Covid-19 lockdown it's not been driven far, but when the council dump reopened, that was one of the first fully loaded missions on the list.
Multiple bags of garden waste were easily slotted through the car's spacious hatch with the rear seats folded flat. And with the front passenger seat pushed and angled forward as far as it could go, even seven foot-plus long bamboo poles could be accommodated - as would a longish stepladder - no mean feat for a supermini-sized SUV.
Given the tiny lockdown distances travelled we don't have a new fuel figure to publish but can report a small grievance with the gearing of the 1.0 TSI 115hp petrol unit.
In second gear in particular - a gear we spend more time in than we'd like across the increasingly speed-bumped and 20mph-restricted inner London main roads - the car can sometimes lose its revs and has even stalled a couple of times while negotiating slow 90-degree left turns at a safety-appropriate speed.
Because selecting first gear would be jerky and ludicrous for such a manoeuvre, we can't help feeling the 1.0 TSI's second gear should be one that the VW engineers take a look at tweaking for the facelift of this car. It also makes us a little envious of - and keen to try - the bigger 150hp 1.5-litre TSI engine option introduced in the UK in January 2020.
Maybe that extra petrol punch would be just the thing and, with an official combined 44.0mpg and 118g/km of CO2 from £24,910 in SEL spec, not so far removed from our 115hp 1.0's 45.6mpg and 116g/km CO2.
6th Report: Speaking too soon (and other stories)
Keen readers may have noticed that, of late, I have been impressed by the high-end multiple screen options on our long-term, pocket-sized Volkswagen T-Cross. The TFT digital screen within the driver display cowl has a definite 'wow' factor - especially in 'full-width colour map only' mode - but even though I tend to revert to using the centre screen for my mapping needs most of the time, that central location's digital display still decided to have minor meltdown the other day, and for no discernible reason.
A small delay between switching on the car's electrics and the centre screen switching from blank to full colour is normal for most cars - and our T-Cross usually - but on one recent essential journey to drop off fresh food to my 70-something, self-isolating father-in-law, the screen decided to go into video screen malfunction mode from the get-go. Indeed, its display of an unhappily abstract array of mainly yellow, pink and green pixels, reminded me - in a bad and unhappy way - of a few early 1990s football goalkeeper tops. Kevin Blackwell's jersey from Huddersfield Town FC's 1993-94 season is pretty close to the digital aberration I witnessed, with hints of Norwich City's 1992-94 home kit, although the latter obviously has more green.
Anyway, I digress. The T-Cross's screen was far from its usual slick self. Requiring reverse gear to turn the car around anyway, luckily the rear-view, real-time camera screen swiftly replaced the oddly pixelated one and by the time the car was back in forward gear mode, full colour mapping (and in focus) had returned. This is the only time our T-Cross has done us such a visual disservice, so it is not enough to warrant a dealer visit (when they re-open) and while disconcerting when on the move, it is not really safety-critical.
As I write, it's 'Week Four' of the UK's full new coronavirus lockdown strangeness, and real-world test-driving opportunities are as limited as far-flung journeys are non-essential. Longer missions that might have improved the current urban-biased economy figures have not been possible, but our latest 35.7mpg from the relatively perky 1.0 TSI 115hp petrol unit still compares favourably with the now more realistic WLTP official 'low' figure of 37.3mpg. And on the few short and essential trips that have been made, we've noted a few recurring plus points.
The T-Cross's compact 4,235mm-long frame is still a dream to park in small spaces between tightly packed cars on city streets, and inside it is still a very roomy cabin and luggage area. My two
5ft 9in teenage daughters can sit in the rear seats without headroom complaints, and the rear bench, usefully slidable by 14cm, also ensures adequate knee-room for them. The variable 385-455 litres of boot space available 'seats up' - due to that same slidable rear bench - can be boosted to 1,281 litres in total with those rear seats folded flat. Teamed up with the car's quite upright rear C-pillars, a sensibly square and large hole is created through which can be slotted bulky dump-bound items, before the recycling centre too itself recently shut. Ho hum.
We still like the 'distinctive' not 'stare at me' orange metallic exterior colourway, and also the pleasingly easy to connect and live with Apple Carplay mirror link, even with various different generations of that brand's smartphone within the family. At this weird moment in time then - apart from its recent screen pixel wobble - the T-Cross is comfortingly getting on with its job without major fuss.
5th Report: Double nav good
I remember when mapping displayed across the whole digital driver display area was a properly exciting thing. One of the first cars I drove to feature such tech was the Audi TT mk3 in 2015, but now models at much lower-price points and prestige - including our VW T-Cross in R-Line specification - have the kit in similar forms.
Yes, R-Line is the top trim available on the T-Cross, but that's still a sub-£25k vehicle before options. The tech itself works reassuringly well, with steering wheel-mounted up/down arrows and OK confirmation buttons allowing you to access all the various layouts on the 10.25in driver display, including as a full-width map with digital rev counter and mph removed, or with the map tucked between those two features. A positive aspect of the overall system - that I took longer to grasp - is that you can still display the map in the more traditional 8in centre touchscreen area instead. It's something I often prefer, perhaps out of habit, but it's quite hard to find. Indeed, when selecting mapping as the priority within the driver dials the screen in the centre defaults to black unless you choose another non-nav feature like Radio.
There is no Map touch button among the permanent options around the centre screen but if you touch the top right 'Nav' button and then move your finger close to the bottom part of the centre screen another sub-menu magically appears with a Map button option. Now I know this, I use the centre screen option more of the time - except when I want the Apple Car Play display there for music and text replies via Siri - but I can't help wondering if the map shortcut button should take greater prominence over one of the existing ones like App or Car - which are perhaps used less often (and could logically be accessed within the broader Menu)? Either way, I'm still impressed by the double nav options which still seem very high-end.
4th Report: Call me oversensitive
The perception that 21st-century cars have too many safety alarms is a common gripe among drivers. Most of the VW T-Cross's various 'chimes', 'bleeps' and 'tings' are fair enough. I am all for the one that tells me when my rear passengers aren't buckled up properly, but there is another that really gets my goat.
Do a three-point turn, parallel-park between tightly spaced cars, or just sit in traffic when other cars drive up alongside you and the "Look! Safe To Move?" Park Pilot warning - complete with plan-view car graphic - instantly takes over the whole of the centre screen. In conjunction with loud beeping and turning down the radio, it certainly gets your attention, but often it won't go away until you press the 'X' in the top right-hand corner of the touchscreen. This is annoying when you would quite like to see the map again, hear the travel report, or just not suffer all that beeping when the danger - if there was indeed any in the first place - has long passed.
Lane-keep assist is another physical safety device that is probably great on wide US freeways, or long and boring straight, single-lane, each-way roads where you could drift across the centre line through inattention or fatigue with potentially terrible consequences. However, on small and winding roads, or in city streets with wobbly cyclists, parked cars and other obstacles, crossing the central dotted line is a regular necessity and one that often doesn't include time to switch the indicator on beforehand. So when you have to react like that and
lane-keep assist starts its steering interventions to pull you back across to your side of the road, it can be unsettling at best and dangerous at worse. It is another safety device I would like switched off for 90% of my journeys, but every time you start the car you have to wade through layers of touchscreen menus in order to do so.
What's the solution? More intelligent sensors, perhaps more easily desensitised when appropriate? And an easy-to-find physical or digital button to turn off lane-keep assist - just like there already is for the parking beeper. Otherwise, arguably, both cause more distraction than good.
3rd Report: Proportional praise
In contrast to a segment defined by a car that went wild with its design - the mk1 Nissan Juke in case you wondered - and which spawned many followers created with similarly 'busy' aesthetics (Hyundai Kona, DS3 Crossback), the designers of the late-coming T-Cross opted for pleasingly chunky proportions and uncomplicated details.
How so? Well, compared to its own bigger VW SUV siblings the T-Cross has a shorter nose, less glass in relation to its body and a more upright (although still forward-angled) thick rear pillar, all of which contribute to the Tonka Toy 4x4 vibes (despite the T-Cross's front-wheel drive reality).
The few horizontal lines that break up that large body side visually pull the car together from the chrome arrow detail behind the front wheel right back to the rear light. 18" alloy wheels fill their arches suitably and the whole ensemble coheres.
In simple terms it doesn't look weird or jar from any angle. It's a restrained design - as VW's best cars historically have been - but far from dull or humdrum, as arguably its bigger SUVs in their later generations have become (Tiguan and Touareg we're looking at you).
The only practical design downside of this chunky exterior is a restricted rear three-quarter view from the inside caused by the wide rear pillar, which can make some reversing manoeuvres trickier, or joining bigger roads from diagonally-attached smaller ones slightly harder. But overall it's no safety deal-breaker, just something to be aware of and adjust to.
The 'Energetic Orange' paint job on our car - a £575 option we'd be happy to pay - complements the T-Cross's bodywork well and is a left-field and much less obvious choice than silver, navy or black. So far, we've only seen one other T-Cross so attired on the road, but even when alongside each other in dual-lane static traffic, the other driver steadfastly refused to make eye contact.
Like two people at a ball ending up shoulder to shoulder in the same outfit, maybe that's understandable. No worries, I still feel special driving it.
2nd Report: An open and (won't) shut case
The massive waft of fresh air and roar of road noise as our T-Cross traversed a section of adverse camber told me something serious was up a split-second before the sight of the front passenger side door swinging open on the move confirmed as much.
On several occasions - and something I've experienced as both driver and passenger - the front door on the passenger side has appeared to shut and hold in the shut position long enough to falsely reassure, only to fly open rather unsettlingly on the move, usually when the angle of the road was working with the natural gravity of the door's hinge mechanism.
All the passengers involved have managed to grab the door handle before it opened fully and threatened to hit anything else we were passing, but it's fair to say the situation was not ideal.
Having established that their was a knack to closing the knacked door, we then asked future passengers to make sure the exterior door handle was fully pushed back into the door before pulling the door itself shut from the inside.
Ringing up VW's press fleet to resolve we quickly gained a similarly orange and 1.0-litre petrol-powered T-Cross while our main car was fixed.
The replacement car was a slightly lower-spec SEL but its pricier seven-speed 'DSG' direct-shift gearbox brought it to within £30 of our manual in plusher R Line, so was interesting to compare. Although the auto takes the chore of manually changing gears away and registers a slightly lower CO2 and BIK band rating (112 and 25% vs 116g/km and 27%) its mpg range is lower (36.1-44.7 vs. 37.3-45.6) and it didn't appear so much smoother as to warrant a trim downgrade to absorb its extra cost over the manual.
A week later the old manual car is back, and handle fixed. The problem? "Caused by movement in the outer handle, which in turn was causing it to catch on the stop and therefore preventing it from returning fully," said the workshop via the official spokesperson, although they couldn't ascertain what caused it to happen in the first place. Either way, the door now shuts like a dream. Case (and door) hopefully closed.
1st Report: Small crossover, big potential
In the world of pint-pot sized supermini SUVs, the VW T-Cross is one of the most pleasingly rational and uncomplicated.
Well-proportioned, and chunky in stance, it looks and feels like a Tonka toy truck ready for action and 50% of its sales will likely find business-related homes, thus its inclusion on our fleet for the next half a year or so.
Joining the segment started by the Nissan Juke - but which in its latest iteration is nearer to the market occupied by the VW T-Roc one SUV size up - closer rivals for the 4108mm long, 1756mm wide and 1559mm high T-Cross now include the DS3 Crossback, Kia Stonic and Citroen C3 Aircross.