2019 VW T-Cross Review: Testing Tiny, Taboo Transport

The smallest crossover VW sells globally, the T-Cross, is a whopping 23 inches shorter than the US-spec Tiguan. And yet, somehow, the T-Cross uses the same MQB platform as so the Tiguan and even the Atlas. A recent trip to Ireland, though, has us thinking that maybe MQB works best on smaller cars. 

As a subcompact, the T-Cross would fare against the likes of the Nissan Kicks, Toyota CH-R, or the Honda HR-V. Although the VW product lacks all-wheel-drive, that’s not at all unusual for this style of tiny crossover.

The powertrain of the T-Cross would have to be changed significantly if VW wanted to sell it in the US. Under the hood is a 1.0-liter three-cylinder turbocharged engine, good for about 115 horsepower and 147 lb-ft of torque. Our model used a six-speed manual transmission. 

The motor feels comfortable at low city speeds, but things were less enjoyable at higher speeds. Reach a corner, and at least one downshift is needed–but more likely two–to get some speed out of it. Go up a hill and you’ll need a downshift or two again.

On the highway, making a pass in sixth or fifth is nearly impossible. You’ll need fourth or even third to get going and out of the way quickly. And while the engine is rated for 44.8 mpg, our experience varied depending on the road conditions. On a sleepy highway, it can reach that 40 mpg mark. But if it’s in a hurry downtown it sees significantly more fuel usage.

Of course, I’m speaking from the experience of a North American driver, who may be used to lazier gear ratios that can provide more thrust in high gears, but it seemed like the drivetrain in the T-Cross was at odds with the driver in many situations. Even the clutch lacked feedback, meaning through all those gear changes very few were engaging at all.

However, the rest of the vehicle is surprisingly good. The R-Line package looked pretty stellar, with nice large alloy-wheels, blacked-out details, and the usual R-Line badges around the body. The suspension was firm without feeling flimsy or harsh. Steering response was very nice, allowing the small crossover to feel agile in the country’s winding roads. It’s said that many of these small crossovers are just subcompact hatchbacks on stilts, meaning they have a compromise in ride quality, but the transition from Polo to T-Cross feels successful, with the T-Cross riding as nicely as a Hyundai Kona.

The interior is where VW makes its strongest impressions. While the cargo capacity is a bit slim, with just 385 liters (5.7 sq ft) of volume behind the rear seats. Fold those rear seats and there are a helpful 1,281 liters (12.7 sq ft). We found the rear seats to be quite spacious for the class too, even for adults, so kudos to VW for that. There are even USB ports in the rear to help passengers recharge their devices. 

That tech showcase continues up by the front seats as well, with additional USB ports, a wireless phone charger, and a nice big touch screen infotainment system. The infotainment system was pretty flawless, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Mirrorlink. The layout is also pretty good, and no control is left up to your imagination. Everything is where you’d expect it. 

Materials in the T-Cross aren’t cut from the silkiest cloth. Hard plastics are found everywhere, which is a bit of a common criticism with modern VWs. There are a few uniquely designed panels around the vents and door handles, which is always nice in this segment. Sometimes small cars are underappreciated by designers, and there’s no flair or personality, but VW seems to be trying to address that.

Finally, the VW T-Cross offers an incredible amount of driver assistance and safety equipment. From parking sensors and cameras to lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control, the small crossover is extremely well equipped to help you tackle any commuting duties, be it the busy streets of Dublin or the long, lonely haul to Cork. It’s not something you’d expect in the world of small cars.

While I’m generally impressed by the T-Cross, I have one final issue to address: pricing. European car buyers face a tough go when it comes to buying new cars, and the T-Cross is a perfect example of this. Fully loaded subcompacts like our T-Cross tester could go for as much as €30,000, a figure that doesn’t translate neatly to North American currencies. Then again, European markets don’t have as much competition as North America does. There is no cheap Nissan Kicks for under $20,000, nor is there an enormous VW Atlas for $30,000. The scaling is all different than we’re used to, and if the T-Cross was to make it to North America, we’d need a completely different pricing structure to come with it. 

It should be a no-brainer for VW to bring a small crossover to North America, and the T-Cross shows that the company excels with its small vehicles. We’ve heard criticisms of the Atlas and Tiguan feeling a bit less refined than the competition, but that same sentiment isn’t shared with its smaller vehicles. Could the T-Cross succeed here? At the right price, and with a drivetrain we’re used to, it certainly could rival the likes of the Hyundai Kona. It might take a significant investment getting it to meet American standards, but it’d complete the automaker’s crossover lineup with something for everyone and every budget.