Different approaches to the same problem, or two compact hatches that grew into SUVs.

All business: VW T-Cross 1.0 TSI Highline

WHAT IS IT?

If the Volkswagen Polo were a little higher, a little beefier and aimed at people with a bit more money, it would be a VW T-Cross. Yip, the T-Cross is South Africa’s favourite supermini on steroids, and it is as brilliant as its early sales success suggests.

WHY THIS?

In South Africa it is very hard to look past the big two: Volkswagen and Toyota. Their vehicles are popular for so many reasons, but the crux of the matter is that they are good buys. The T-Cross is a prime example of why VWs sell well – it’s a quality product that has been well thought out and beautifully engineered, and it meets people’s wants to a T (cross). The resale value will be excellent, and while you own it, it will be enjoyable to drive and inexpensive to maintain.

OUTSIDE

Handsome rather than striking, conservative rather than revolutionary, the T-Cross takes design cues from the bigger SUVs in the VW range – Tiguan and Touareg – as well as the Polo - but manages to make them its own. As a result, it looks a bit different to its rivals, and standing out from the crowd isn’t easy in the jam-packed SUV market these days! The nine interesting colours help further, especially the bright Makena Turquoise and Energetic Orange (which even has orange-trimmed alloy rims!).

INSIDE

Classy but understated, the interior of the T-Cross feels far more mature than that of its peers and even the Polo on which it is based. The Highline model is the one to go with, situated as it is in the middle of the range, and it features auto climate control, a spectacular 12-inch touchscreen display that is fitted across the range, wireless phone charging, cruise control (adaptive is optional), leather multi-function steering wheel and more. The list of options is extensive, too.

We love how adjustable the seat and steering wheel are, making it easy to find the perfect position for your unique shape. Also good to know is that the T-cross achieved a five-star rating in the EuroNCAP safety tests.

THE DRIVE

The one thing that most T-Cross drivers want and will enjoy is the elevated drive height that the vehicle offers. Despite being just 182mm longer than the Polo it shares DNA with, the T-Cross feels like a far bigger, more substantial vehicle, perhaps because you are 100mm higher up in it.

The engine, a 1-litre petrol with three cylinders and a turbocharger to make up for the diminutive capacity, is typical of the modern trend of downsizing for economy. It produces max power of 85kW and max torque of 200Nm, fed to the wheels via a seven-speed DSG transmission. It is claimed to use just 4.9l/100km, but this figure disappears quickly when you drive enthusiastically. And enthusiastic you will be, because the T-Cross is more fun to drive than you’d expect, in part to the brilliant gearbox and in part to the ride, which is well balanced between comfort and dynamic prowess.

FINAL WORD

You have to give credit where it’s due, and VW have nailed the brief with the T-Cross. It capitalises on the public's insatiable thirst for SUVs as well as the irrepressible popularity of the Polo, managing to be many things at once. Agile, comfortable, spacious, classy and handsome, if not particularly cheap.

GO GET IT

The Volkswagen T-Cross Highline is priced at R385 500, a tad more than the C3 Aircross, including a 3-year/45 000km service plan and a 3-year/120 000km warranty. Visit www.vw.co.za for more information.

Fun at heart: Citroen C3 Aircross 1.2 PureTech Shine

WHAT IS IT?

As you’d expect, Citroen took a different approach when they converted their supermini, the C3, into a compact SUV. Where the T-Cross is all business and sombre tones, the C3 Aircross is fun, funky and whimsical. But they do the same job, like a financial planner sitting at his Mac at home in his board shorts and flip flops in 2020, or at his desk in a grey suit and tie in 2019.

WHY THIS?

If you feel as though life is serious enough (and who doesn’t at the moment?), and your car should offer some respite from the dreary monotony of your day-to-day existence, then the C3 Aircross could be the answer. It’s more than just mood uplifting though, and presents a well-rounded offering with no obvious weaknesses.

OUTSIDE

We love the fact that the C3 Aircross is not aggressively styled, as many of its rivals are, and yet it is definitely still striking. It’s unique from the tip of its curved front bumper with its large rounded airdam and square foglights with rounded corners to the rear where there is not an angle to be spotted. The ovoid, rounded taillights carry the lack of angles to the rear, while the splashes of colour all around the car make it joyful to behold. Instead of body colour, black or silver mirrors, light trim and roofrails, the C3 Aircross uses bright orange (although this is an option, replacing the standard black trim). It dares to be different, and we love it for that.

INSIDE

The gentle curves and serene nature of the exterior are pulled through to the interior, creating a place of harmony and peace. The surfaces are soft, the effect that of a little mobile lounge in a trendy hotel. Hotel interiors don’t have the extensive list of standard features that the C3Aircross does, though, particularly the Shine model that we tested. The audio system on both the Shine and the cheaper Feel model is based on a 7-inch touchscreen display with Bluetooth and all the rest, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the Shine models. We can’t list every feature here, but rest assured that there are many, all include in the price.

THE DRIVE

Cars made by Citroen tend to feel as unique as they look, and the C3 Aircross manages to feel like a true Citroen. The softly sprung ride is comfortable and soaks up road imperfections, and there is very little body roll in corners. It does get choppy on rough roads, though, which is something an SUV should be able to cope with.

A 1.2-litre petrol engine is the only choice for the C3 Aircross, and while a turbocharger brings power and torque outputs up to 81kW and 205Nm respectively, there is little to no turbo-lag to be felt. It is comfortable to drive and does everything asked of it willingly, and the six-speed auto gearbox is pleasing one. Fuel consumption is claimed to be 6.4l/100km.

FINAL WORD

In a word, the C3 Aircross is likeable, and likeable is as good a reason as any to buy a car, especially when the car in question is also practical, good value and spacious.

GO GET IT

R380 900 is a fair bit of money per square foot, but you have to take into consideration the equipment that is included as standard in the price. Don’t forget that this includes a 5-year/100 000km warranty, roadside assist and service plan. Visit www.citroen.co.za for more information.

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