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Tested: VW’s new Mazda CX-3 rival

Forgive me for stating the bleedin’ obvious, but one of the main reasons people buy a small SUV instead of a hatchback is extra space — in all directions, including up.All that additional headroom under the high SUV roof is great, but unless you’re 200cm tall you can’t do anything useful with it.Down at floor…

Forgive me for stating the bleedin’ obvious, but one of the main reasons people buy a small SUV instead of a hatchback is extra space — in all directions, including up.

All that additional headroom under the high SUV roof is great, but unless you’re 200cm tall you can’t do anything useful with it.

Down at floor level, where it counts, some SUV interiors actually give you less room — for more money — than the hatchbacks on which they are based. Hyundai’s Kona, for example, is less spacious in just about any direction you run the tape than the i30 hatch. Mazda’s CX30 is tighter in the back seat than its hatch sibling.

Volkswagen’s Polo hatch isn’t exactly Texas inside, so I expected its spinoff, the new T-Cross, to be another case of too much money for too little SUV. I was wrong. Sort of …

VALUE

T-Cross is powered by the Polo’s 85kW 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine driving the front wheels via a seven-speed twin-clutch auto.

The 85TSi Life, at $29,990 drive away, has an 8-inch screen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, wireless phone charging, four USBs, 16-inch alloys, cruise control and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Style specification, at $32,990, adds 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, dual-zone aircon, gearshift paddles, semi-automatic parking and more supportive seats.

You can buy a comparably-equipped Polo for a lot less. Polo 85TSi prices (with the twin-clutch auto) start at $24,990 drive away. Polo Style is $27,490. It’s got everything the T-Cross has got (except the 17-inch wheels) plus superior infotainment, including navigation and Beats audio. VW is also including three years/45,000km servicing until September 30.

COMFORT

You’re getting a lot more metal for your money in the T-Cross, though. Clever, space-efficient cabin design in a body that’s 55mm longer overall (on a 15mm longer wheelbase) yields much greater rear seat legroom and almost 30 per cent greater boot volume.

Up front, tall drivers enjoy plenty of legroom and adjustability. You sit on, rather than in, the firm, supportive seat, with great vision around the car and lots of space and light, thanks to the high roof and large windows.

While hard grey plastics betray T-Cross’s low-cost brief, the interior is no-nonsense German pragmatism, executed with elegance and restraint. Controls, including the touchscreen, are well placed and easy to use. Our test car included the Sound and Vision package, which adds digital instruments, navigation and Beats audio for $1900.

T-Cross is an excellent kid carrier with a firm, elevated rear bench that slides fore/aft for easy access and two USB connectors. Two Isofix and Australian Standard restraint anchors are provided. Adults enjoy more legroom than in most small hatchbacks, too

As mentioned previously, boot space — even with the back seat positioned for maximum legroom — is expansive by class standards.

SAFETY

Autonomous emergency braking (with pedestrian and cyclist detection) in the Life works at speeds up to 30km/h; adaptive cruise in the Style adds higher speed AEB functionality. A $1200 option pack for the Life includes this, plus blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, also standard on Style.

DRIVING

An all-torque device, VW’s 1.0-litre turbo triple offers outstanding responsiveness and tractability off idle and through the mid-range. Top end power? That’s not the objective. Easy driveability and fuel efficiency are priorities.

A pulsating idle and gruff note under acceleration are typical three-cylinder traits; once up to cruising speed both fade away.

The seven-speed DSG gearbox, as usual, hesitates momentarily when moving off from rest. It’s well calibrated to exploit the triple’s accessible torque. You’re already in fifth gear, for example, at just 40km/h.

Wherever you drive, you’ll get 5-7L/100km, on premium unleaded. Apart from Toyota’s CH-R hybrid, this is as frugal as it gets in the class, especially in town. Most naturally-aspirated rivals run on regular unleaded, though.

Open road dynamics aren’t quite up with class front runners such as Toyota’s C-HR, the Kia Seltos and Subaru XV, and T-Cross doesn’t feel as planted or confident at speed as the Polo. It can become a touch loose on rough surfaces, it feels more precarious in corners and has overassisted, numb steering.

The ride is firm, in part due to low profile tyres, becoming more compliant at speed, where big hits are effectively absorbed. Subaru’s XV still has the best ride/handling compromise in this class.

HEART SAYS

Little VWs are so cute, but hatchbacks are so yesterday. I’m a post-Millennial. This is my Beetle.

HEAD SAYS

I prefer European. The VW is small outside and big inside, with much more interesting tech than the usual compact SUV.

VERDICT 3.5/5

The little engine that could in a beautifully designed, space efficient body, T-Cross is a class front runner and a must drive if you’re after a compact, kid friendly suburban SUV.

ALTERNATIVES

Subaru XV from $29,490

The 2.0-litre boxer four/CVT is a bit anaemic, but otherwise XV is a winner, with all-wheel drive, secure handling, a comfortable ride, premium quality and off-bitumen ability.

Toyota C-HR from $30,290

Smaller inside than T-Cross, with a claustrophobic back seat and tiny boot. A 1.2 turbo four/CVT delivers similar performance; better safety spec and cheap servicing, too.

VOLKSWAGEN T-CROSS VITALS

Price: From $29,990 drive away

Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unl’td km; $1900 for 5 years/75,000km

Engine: 1.0-litre 3-cyl turbo, 85kW/200Nm

Safety: Five stars, 6 airbags, low-speed AEB, lane-keep assist. Pay more for adaptive cruise, full AEB, blind-spot and rear cross traffic alert

Thirst: 5.4L/100km

Spare: Space saver

Boot: 385-455L

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