(Pocket-lint) - We're going to reach a point where we have to stop referring to vehicles like the VW T-Cross as an SUV or crossover and just accept that they are now just cars. So meteoric has the rise of the high-rolling sporty softroader been that companies can't scrabble fast enough to slot in another model.
Welcome then to the VW T-Cross, fitting in under the T-Roc in VW's line-up of five SUV models. It's some 54mm longer than the VW Polo, so this is softroading done on the small scale. At the same time, this small SUV is dripping in appeal - and if you ever wondered how VW got so popular then you needn't look further than this.
Competing in the compact SUV stakes
Compact SUVs have come from all sides and with varying degrees of success. The likes of the Mini Countryman, Kia Stonic or Ford Kuga all give you that higher ride, offering greater visibility, a body that suggests you're too sporty to drive an MPV (multi-purpose vehicle, or, really, 'minivan' as they're becoming today), and plenty of charm.
The VW T-Cross seems to slot into a tight position alongside the existing T-Roc - it sits on the same MQB platform, but unlike the T-Roc there's not going to be any option for 4Motion. The T-Cross just isn't designed to be all-wheel drive, instead being more firmly targeted at urbanites.
The back of this small SUV is also squared slightly more than the T-Roc, so it's more utilitarian and less sporty, but VW pulls off the look nicely - we can see this being a popular option at this price point.
There's another interesting nugget about the T-Cross: it's also going to appear on the MEB platform as the ID Crozz. While that electric model - due for launch in 2020 - has been seen with a slightly more radical design in concept form, we suspect the production model will look a lot more like an electric version of what you're looking at on this very page.
Metal creases, surface depressions and hallmarks from other larger VW SUV models make up the T-Cross' design, but there are some funky options you can pick for customisation too, as seen on this Energetic Orange model, with orange highlights on the alloys and running into the interior. Pictured here is the SE trim, costing £22,720 as tested.
The trim you choose has some bearing on the looks, with the R line top trim - pictured further down in Makena Turquoise (priced at £26,735 as pictured) - getting body coloured sills over the SE line, among other details. There is plenty on the options list to give your T-Cross a unique look.
A practical look at compact SUVs
Slip into the driving seat and the T-Cross' interior space comes to the fore. This is a compact model, but it doesn't feel like it once you're behind the wheel.
The right height is appreciable and unlike the Polo where you'd be peering at the door handle of a Land Rover Discovery when you glance out of the window, here you get to look the well-heeled owner of that vast SUV in the eye. Well, not quite, but as the rooflines on our roads rises, the VW T-Cross gives you a chance of seeing what's going on around you, while conventional hatchbacks are slowly getting obscured.
Some of that loftiness transfers into the rear of the car too. The second row is larger enough to accommodate a fully grown adult, mostly because the seats aren't too bucketed and there's space for your legs and head. It's a sliding second row, meaning you can expand that boot space from the normal 385 litres to 455 litres.
Yes, it's not huge in the back for passengers; only slightly larger than the VW Polo. Due to the slope of the rear seats and the rear of the car, there's a small top parcel shelf, so while you could convince a dog to get into the back, you'd be better off with something larger if Fido is a priority.
But VW's focus here is urban lifestyle. It's about nipping around town, with space for the kids and the shopping, while not getting overwhelmed by the Chelsea tractors. In that sense, the T-Cross is very much fit for purpose, a shorter and narrower SUV that will be easier to park and navigate around multi-story car parks better than bloated rivals.
On the road it's a lot of fun
Long gone are the days of the wallowing 4x4 - the T-Cross drives with a little more verve. It's not as planted as VW's hatchback cars that sit a little lower, but in average town driving that won't matter where most corners end up with a set of traffic lights. Out on the open road it's an assured drive - and impressive given that underneath all that orange the T-Cross houses just a 1-litre petrol engine.
That's right, the T-Cross isn't going to be offered with a wide range of engine choices (initially, at least), just two versions of the turbocharged 1-litre three-cylinder engine. The lower-power model will give you 95PS (from £16,995) while the more powerful option squeezes out 115PS.
The 95PS is mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox and if you're looking for economy around town, this is likely to be the model you'll be after. VW gives an official combined 48mpg figure and on the test drives we clocked an average of 43mpg without even trying to be economical. It'll take you over 11 seconds to hit 62mph, though, but who's counting?
The downside of less power is that when you the motorway or those hills it needs to work a lot harder - especially if loaded up for a weekend away. As it is, the 95PS will struggle a little in such conditions and heading uphill will leave you feeling like it's lacking power somewhat.
If that matters, then the 115PS model is more satisfying. It's nearly as economical with fuel - we clocked just under 40mpg from the DSG automatic version - again, without trying to be economical. This model is slightly faster, clocking a 10.2 second time to 62mph. Neither sets the world alight, but that's not important for a compact SUV.
The DSG option only comes with the 115PS engine, making it a more costly proposition, but there's also a smooth 6-speed manual option for the 115PS engine, which may will be the natural choice - especially if you live out of town where gear changes may be less frequent, and you're looking to keep the price down.
But the T-Cross doesn't feel sluggish overall. It maintains that nippy hatchback feel because it's so compact and it's a lot of fun to drive; it feels connected, balanced and appropriate. It reflects the quality that VW lends to its smaller cars and that makes for a very pleasant experience.
Impressive tech options
Consumer-facing tech is a leveller in cars. Once the preserve of the high-end, manufacturers soon realised that it was younger buyers who were saying that convenience features like USB ports and smartphone compatibility was a deal-breaker. VW knows this and is well positioned to support the modern gadget user.
At the standard level on the S trim you get Bluetooth. That will support audio on some devices, but to get App Connect - which allows Android Auto and Apple CarPlay via cable connection to your smartphone - you'd have to have the Discover Navigation system, which is a £750 option. Step up to SE and you get App Connect as standard on the Composition Media system, meaning you can connect your phone and rely on its apps and services.
The mainstay of the infotainment is the 8-inch display in the centre, which is intuitive and easy to use, with crossover into steering wheel controls. Most of the physical buttons have been in favour of capacitive, but the central positioning and the size of the controls makes them easy to use on the move.
In each section you'll find that many of the controls aren't on the screen, only appearing as you reach out to the display. A bottom row will pop-up with relevant options and it's slickly done.
For those wanting a little more tech there's the Active Info Display, standard on the R-Line trim, giving you a 10.25-inch digital driver display that's customisable. Opt for the SE trim and it's only a £375 option and it does add a lot of techy fun.
Outside of entertainment, there's a full range of driver assistance features as standard, like pedestrian detection, lane assistance and blind-spot detection, along with a whole lot more.
What it all amounts to is a feeling of sophistication. You might be sitting in an SUV in the lower echelons of VW's offerings, but there's still plenty of appeal. Sure, you're comparing fabric seats rather than the grain of leather - and much of the finish inside is harder plastics too - but VW executes all this without looking and feeling cheap. That's the real beauty here.
The VW T-Cross launches into one of the most competitive segments of the SUV market. It's a softroader at heart, pitched at those living in towns who want the look of an SUV and the ride height, but without the pretence that it's going to spend its life green laning.
There's masses of appeal in the T-Cross. Efficient engine choices keep emissions and fuel costs down - even if those wanting zero emissions will have to wait for the ID Crozz - while the affordable price makes it an easy choice for someone who was considering a hatchback instead.
There's lot that the T-Cross doesn't do, but that's part of its appeal: it hits a sweet spot and therefore should have wide appeal.
Alternatives to consider
While VW tends to offer you lots of options that will see the price of your car rising, Kia has a simpler approach giving you a lot in each different trim level. Like the T-Cross, the Stonic doesn't offer a wide range of engines, but it does have those sporty softroader looks.
The Qashqai is a little larger than the T-Cross, but for many it's the defacto choice when it comes to a family SUV. It comes with that friendly SUV personality, lots of practicality and some increasingly sophisticated tech. It's a little more costly though owning to the larger size.