What are you driving?
This is the Volkswagen T-Cross and it finds itself in the midst of a bit of a revolution. For some time now, we've all been going nuts for small wannabe 4x4s with upright styling, tall(ish) roofs and none of the actual off-road gumption of a proper, actual, real SUV. The same blight that has taken over larger vehicle sectors - where the old staple family saloons have been displaced, almost to the point of extinction, by SUVs - is now happening farther down the height chart, and the traditional family hatchback has found a crossover cuckoo in its nest.
Hitherto, this has been news of the worst sort. Small crossovers have, until recently, been cheap and generally nasty - built down to a price because car makers know (thanks to extensive research) that the only reason we buy cars such as these is because we like the look of them. Crayons being cheaper than spanners, it then stands to reason that such cars are very much at the back of the queue when it comes to handing out dynamic excellence.
Well, it stood to reason because suddenly the small crossover class is finally finding some talent. Ford's new Puma is one of the most fun new cars you can buy; Renault's new Captur is handsome and roomy; Peugeot's new 2008 has striking styling inside and out; and this VW T-Cross is very good indeed.
Underneath, it's a Polo, or at least basically so. It uses the same 'MQB-A0' platform as the Polo, the same 1.0-litre TSI turbo petrol engine, the same basic structure and much of the same dashboard and interior layout. It's far roomier than some older small crossover models, with a decent 385-litre boot and good space in the back seats. You can have a 1.6-litre TDI diesel model, and a DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox is available on all models. Standard kit includes a multi-function steering wheel, 6.5-inch touchscreen, all-round electric windows, air conditioning, lane keeping assistant, forward collision alert with automated braking, stop-start, a blind spot monitor and LED daytime running lights.
Our R-Line spec test car came with a bundle of extras, including an eight-inch touchscreen, a reversing camera, adaptive cruise control, 18-inch alloys, a sporty body kit, keyless access, digital instruments and a Beats stereo system (for bangin' choons, obvs).
Name its best bits
First off, it's a great-looking car, and one that thankfully acknowledges its 4x4 inspiration by being upright and just a touch square. I like square cars (as anyone who's ever come across my Volvo 850 estate fetish can confirm) so this pleases me. The 'Makena Turquoise' metallic paint sets off the T-Cross' uprightness rather nicely, as does the inherent chunkiness of the R-Line body kit. There's a faint hint of the old Skoda Yeti about its rectilinear shape, and that's no bad thing at all.
Inside, most of the fixtures and fittings come from the Polo, so you get some excellent front seats and lots of familiar switchgear. Basically, it looks and feels like a Polo inside, but one with some of those Simon Cowell-style height-enhancing insoles in its shoes. The ten-inch digital instrument screen looks classy and works well, and the eight-inch touchscreen is, generally, a model of simple and explicable menu layouts. It has rather handsome graphics, too.
The T-Cross is also really rather delightful to drive. No, it's not a hot hatch wearing an SUV disguise, and to be honest it's not a patch on Ford's new Puma when it comes to discussing true driver entertainment and chassis balance, but in general it's really good from behind the wheel. The steering is nicely weighted and there's enough front-end grip to allow you to chuck the T-Cross around with confidence. The optional 18-inch alloys thankfully don't wreck the ride, and there's even a modicum of off-road ability - you won't go climbing up mountains, but the T-Cross copes just fine with grassy fields and gravel tracks.
The 1.0-litre TSI turbo petrol option remains the absolute best engine that the Volkswagen Group makes. Why would you bother with the more expensive diesel when this one easily cracks the 50mpg barrier, and does so with a lilting three-cylinder warble, sharp throttle responses and excellent refinement?
Anything that bugs you?
OK, so there's one hangover from the bad old small crossover days, and that's in cabin quality. I've no doubt that the T-Cross' interior is well-bolted together, but some of the plastics used are a bit sub-par in terms of tactility.
And then there's the price. The price? Well. It's... er... um... it's €35k in this form. That's a lot of money. That's proper car money. That's just daft. At its basic €23k level, the T-Cross is fine - lovely, even - but this is silly.
And why have you given it this rating?
We will probably always be a bit grudging when it comes to small crossovers - conventional hatchbacks, saloons and estates almost always make better all-round cars for the same price - and this particular T-Cross isn't doing itself any favours with its price tag, but even with that in mind, the small VW crossover acquits itself well with an enjoyable driving experience, pleasingly square styling and useful practicality.
What do the rest of the team think?
I'd prefer to spend my money on a Golf, to be honest, which feels of higher quality and is much nicer to drive, but I have to admit that the Volkswagen T-Cross looks great and it actually feels more spacious than the Golf. Definitely stick with the 1.0-litre petrol engine, as Neil said.
Shane O'Donoghue - Editor
The Volkswagen T-Cross is something of a pleasant surprise in the company's SUV lineup, and is easily more entertaining to drive than the larger T-Roc. Its design is better suited to the segment and should have more widespread appeal. The only blot in its copy book being the ease at which it can become expensive as equipment gets loaded on.
Dave Humphreys - Road Test Editor