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Matt Campbell
Reviewed & driven by
CarsGuide

2 Jun 2020

This comparison test is looking at two of the most practical compact SUVs on the market today – the stalwart Honda HR-V and the newly arrived Volkswagen T-Cross.

These two models bring big practicality to the light SUV market, with interior smarts that belie their pint-sized exterior dimensions. Both are very close in size, and the specs we have here – the Honda HR-V RS and the VW T-Cross 85TSI Style – they're close on price, too.

  • These are two of the most practical small SUVs on the market. (image: Matt Campbell) These are two of the most practical small SUVs on the market. (image: Matt Campbell)
  • They have interior smarts that belie their pint-sized exterior dimensions. (image: Matt Campbell) They have interior smarts that belie their pint-sized exterior dimensions. (image: Matt Campbell)
  • Both are very close in size, and the specs we have here – the Honda HR-V RS and the VW T-Cross 85TSI Style – they’re close on price, too. (image: Matt Campbell) Both are very close in size, and the specs we have here – the Honda HR-V RS and the VW T-Cross 85TSI Style – they’re close on price, too. (image: Matt Campbell)

This comparison test review will look at important things like value for money, fuel efficiency, practicality, safety, how they drive, ownership and more.

And in a twist to the usual format, I've been spending months with this particular Honda HR-V RS as a long-term loan car, so I've got to know it very well. I also did more than 600 kilometres in the T-Cross over my time with it, so this test is a particularly comprehensive look at the strengths and weaknesses of these two small SUVs.

Pricing and specs

These two models are very close on list price. There's just $1000 separating the two, but the VW can be up-specced to be considerably dearer. And our car was.

The T-Cross 85TSI Style has a list price of $30,990 plus on-road costs (MSRP/RRP), but our test car had a couple of packs fitted – the $2500 R-Line pack and the $1900 Sound & Vision pack – plus it had optional Makena Turquoise Metallic paint ($800). Total price as tested? That'll be $36,190.

The Honda HR-V RS model starts off a grand dearer than its rival, at $31,990 MSRP. No optional packs here, though, and the Phoenix Orange paint doesn't cost any extra, either.

So it looks like, at this point, the Honda has the advantage. But let's dive a little deeper on standard spec.

Let's take a look at the multimedia and touchscreen tech in these models. Note: this is the 2020 model year Honda HR-V, and there's an update coming for the 2021 version, due in June or so. Our honest advice is to hold out for that, because the screen in the current HR-V is underwhelming.

 

Honda HR-V RS

VW T-Cross 85TSI Style

Sat nav

Y

Optional

Apple CarPlay / Android Auto

N

Y

Touch screen size

7.0-inch

8.0-inch

USB ports

2

4

Radio

AM/FM

AM/FM

CD player

N

N

Sound system speakers

6

6

Wireless phone charging (Qi)

N

Y

When it comes to trim and interior finishes, both have a different look and feel.

 

Honda HR-V RS

VW T-Cross 85TSI Style

Interior trim

Leather

Cloth

Electric seat adjustment

N

N

Leather steering wheel

Y

Y

Heated seats (front) 

Y

N

Air conditioning

Single zone climate control

Dual zone climate control

Directional rear air vents

N

N

Keyless entry / smart key

Y

Y

Push button start

Y

Y

Cruise control

Standard

Adaptive

Digital speedometer

N

Y

Okay, so it's still looking great for the Honda. What about other spec differentiators? Note: this info is for the T-Cross without the optional extras fitted.

 

Honda HR-V RS

VW T-Cross 85TSI Style

Alloy wheels

18-inch

17-inch

Roof rails

Y

Y

LED headlights 

Y

Y

LED daytime running lights

Y

Y

Auto headlights

Y

Y

Auto high-beam lights

N

Y

Auto rain sensing wipers

Y

Y

Auto dimming rear view mirror

N

Y

So, you can see that the HR-V RS is a strong value offering, but there's a lot more to that story – especially if safety technology and equipment is high on your priority list. More on that in the safety section below.

Model Score
Honda HR-V RS 8
VW T-Cross 85TSI Style 7

Design

Styling is subjective, and it's likely one of these two models will appeal to you more based simply on how they look. I personally like both of these models in different ways: the Honda is a more substantial looking vehicle despite its curvaceous body, while the T-Cross is a chunky little thing, and it is quite small by SUV standards.

In fact, there's a bit to talk about here when it comes to dimensions and size, because these two models are brilliant examples of packaging a lot into a little space. In fact, both are pretty small – but the T-Cross is tiny!

 

Honda HR-V RS

VW T-Cross 85TSI Style

Length

4360mm

4108mm

Wheelbase

2610mm

2563mm

Height 

1605mm

1583mm

Width 

1790mm

1760mm

  • The T-Cross is a chunky little thing, and it is quite small by SUV standards. (image: Matt Campbell) The T-Cross is a chunky little thing, and it is quite small by SUV standards. (image: Matt Campbell)
  • In fact, both are pretty small – but the T-Cross is tiny! (image: Matt Campbell) In fact, both are pretty small – but the T-Cross is tiny! (image: Matt Campbell)
  • The Honda is a more substantial looking vehicle despite its curvaceous body. (image: Matt Campbell) The Honda is a more substantial looking vehicle despite its curvaceous body. (image: Matt Campbell)
  • The extra wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) does give the Honda a more powerful stance. (image: Matt Campbell) The extra wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) does give the Honda a more powerful stance. (image: Matt Campbell)

The extra wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels) does give the Honda a more powerful stance, but the square edges and more modern touches to the VW's exterior – particularly with the R-Line pack – give it a slight edge style-wise.

And these two small SUVs are very close for interior dimensions, too – and both models have a design trick up their sleeve as well, with their back seats offering additional smarts that you mightn't have expected. We'll discuss it more in the practicality section below.

ModelScore
Honda HR-V RS9
VW T-Cross 85TSI Style9

Interior and practicality

How many seats? Need third-row seating? You're going to need to shop up a few size brackets if you want a seven-seat SUV, as both of these models have five seats – but they're both surprisingly roomy inside.

Starting in the back row, it's the Honda that has a slight legroom advantage – even considering the VW's sliding second-row seat. But the Honda suffers slightly less headroom as a result of its swoopier roofline, where the VW is boxy and offers lots of headroom, plus it's a bit easier to get in and out of as a result.

If you've read anything about the Honda HR-V (or the Jazz hatchback upon which it is based) you will have seen the term 'Magic Seats'. These clever folding, flipping, flattening second-row seats allow you to adapt the rear area of the cabin to suit cargo-carrying capacity rather than passengers, if that's what you need. They operate in a 60:40 fashion, and you can fold up the seat bases for loading taller items, or flatten the seat backrests down for a massive amount of long-load room.

The VW has a second-row with a sliding seat base, which isn't quite as adaptable as the Honda, but offers its own benefit. For instance, if you don't need lots of rear-seat leg room – perhaps you've got a child in a booster or capsule – you can slide the seat forward to allow better boot space for all the stuff you need to take with you for the bub. Or, if you have taller kids or friends in the car, the back seat can be slid rearward to allow plenty of legroom – even if the driver is on the taller side. More on that below.

Both are great for the class in terms of space in the back row, though each could be better when it comes to amenities.

  • In usability terms, we couldn’t quite fit our three CarsGuide suitcases (124L, 95L, 36L) in together without removing the parcel shelf. (image: Matt Campbell) In usability terms, we couldn’t quite fit our three CarsGuide suitcases (124L, 95L, 36L) in together without removing the parcel shelf. (image: Matt Campbell)
  • The Honda's boot space – 437L (VDA) to window line – easily swallowed all three suitcases, and with room to spare. (image: Matt Campbell) The Honda's boot space – 437L (VDA) to window line – easily swallowed all three suitcases, and with room to spare. (image: Matt Campbell)
  • The VW offers between 385 litres and 455 litres, depending on where the second-row seat is positioned. (image: Matt Campbell) The VW offers between 385 litres and 455 litres, depending on where the second-row seat is positioned. (image: Matt Campbell)
  • With those aforementioned Magic Seats folded flat, there is a huge 1462L of cargo space to the ceiling. (image: Matt Campbell) With those aforementioned Magic Seats folded flat, there is a huge 1462L of cargo space to the ceiling. (image: Matt Campbell)

The pair miss out on a flip-down centre armrest, and there are no dedicated cup holders in the back, either. The HR-V does have a sort-of cup holder in the footwell, which also houses a 12-volt outlet. That's not quite as rear-passenger-friendly as the T-Cross, which has a pair of USB ports and a clever little storage box.

Both have map pockets on the backs of the front seats, and both have door pockets – the HR-V's are small enough to be considered useless, while the T-Cross's are huge, but not lined or contoured to suit bottles, so things may clunk around in there.

The experience in the back seat is better in the HR-V overall, as the space is just a touch more accommodating, but also because it has comfort elements the T-Cross can't match. Little things like soft elbow pads on the doors that are often overlooked, as it costs a little more to put padding in than it does to just slap a hard plastic trim piece in, as is the case in the VW.

If you have kids, both of these cars will cater to your needs: each has outboard ISOFIX child seat anchor points, as well as three top-tether attachments, but note that the Honda's middle-seat top-tether is ceiling-mounted over the boot space, not on the back of the rear seat.

Up front, it's a bit of a different story.

The VW is more technical looking, more modern feeling, and a nicer place to be overall. A lot of that comes down to the media system, which is better in every imaginable way – unless you're the sort of person who really needs sat nav as standard, because it's an option in the T-Cross.

  • The experience in the back seat is better in the HR-V overall, as the space is just a touch more accommodating. (image: Matt Campbell) The experience in the back seat is better in the HR-V overall, as the space is just a touch more accommodating. (image: Matt Campbell)
  • If you’ve read anything about the Honda HR-V (or the Jazz hatchback upon which it is based) you will have seen the term 'Magic Seats'. (image: Matt Campbell) If you’ve read anything about the Honda HR-V (or the Jazz hatchback upon which it is based) you will have seen the term 'Magic Seats'. (image: Matt Campbell)
  • The VW has a second-row with a sliding seat base, which isn’t quite as adaptable as the Honda, but offers its own benefit. (image: Matt Campbell) The VW has a second-row with a sliding seat base, which isn’t quite as adaptable as the Honda, but offers its own benefit. (image: Matt Campbell)

Our test vehicle had the Sound & Vision pack ($1900), which includes sat nav, a fully digital instrument display and a Beats audio system – all of which are nice additions, but even in T-Cross models without that pack, the experience is nicer than the Honda. You still get a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen (with tuning and volume knobs!), as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There's also two front USBs (total: four), and all T-Cross models come with Qi wireless phone charging.

Now, the HR-V is soon to be updated with a new media screen – still a 7.0-inch unit, but finally with the smartphone-mirroring tech that it so desperately needs. So, if that sort of thing matters to you – and trust me, it should, because the interface and menus of the current screen are terrible – you should make sure you're buying a HR-V with the updated tech.

It will still fall behind the VW on a few counts, though: the Honda doesn't have as many USB ports (two only); it has single-zone rather than dual-zone climate control; it doesn't come with wireless phone-charging at all, and – importantly, if you live in states where speed limits are strictly enforced – there is no digital speedometer.

And even though the Honda has leather seat trim, soft materials all over the doors and a pretty decent design layout, it is feeling its age. From the media screen to the dot-matrix-style digital trip meter, it isn't as contemporary inside.

The Honda has a slight storage advantage over the VW, with a huge centre cup holder section (with adjustable floor) that is handy for storing odds and ends as well as beverages. It has shaped bottle holders in the doors, and a secondary shelf under the bridge for the transmission.

  • Note: this is the 2020 model year Honda HR-V, and there’s an update coming for the 2021 version, due in June or so. (image: Matt Campbell) Note: this is the 2020 model year Honda HR-V, and there’s an update coming for the 2021 version, due in June or so. (image: Matt Campbell)
  • The VW is more technical looking, more modern feeling, and a nicer place to be overall. (image: Matt Campbell) The VW is more technical looking, more modern feeling, and a nicer place to be overall. (image: Matt Campbell)

The VW is a little less copious in terms of between-the-seats stowage, but still has a pair of cup holders and that section in front of the gear selector (with the phone-charging pad) is a good size. Also good are the door pockets, which are indeed massive – but again, they're not moulded to suit a bottle or anything in particular, and unlike more expensive VW products, they aren't lined, either.

I'm assuming that if you're considering either of these models then boot space is important to you – as both offer exceptional levels of cargo capacity for their size.

The VW offers between 385 litres and 455 litres, depending on where the second-row seat is positioned. Those are VDA figures calculated to the parcel shelf, and the capacity jumps to 1281L with the rear seat folded down flat. In usability terms, we couldn't quite fit our three CarsGuide suitcases (124L, 95L, 36L) in together without removing the parcel shelf, and we had to slide the seat forward a touch, too. Still, this is an impressive feat for such a compact car.

The Honda had no such issue, with its boot space – 437L (VDA) to window line – easily swallowing all three suitcases, and with room to spare. It doesn't have a traditional parcel shelf (instead it has a flexible mesh screen which can be folded up), and with those aforementioned Magic Seats folded flat, there is a huge 1462L of cargo space to the ceiling.

Overall, there are positive attributes for both of these models, but it's the slightly smarter – if less appealing – cabin of the Honda that wins this section.

ModelScore
Honda HR-V RS9
VW T-Cross 85TSI Style8

Drivetrain

If you're after a diesel, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric version of either of these models, you're going to be disappointed. Same story if you want a four-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) take on either of these two.

Nope, they're both petrol-powered front-wheel drive (2WD / FWD) city-focused models. And, in Australia, both are currently available with one engine only (at the time of writing). Here are the details:

 

Honda HR-V RS

VW T-Cross 85TSI Style

Petrol engine

1.8-litre four-cylinder

1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo

Engine outputs

105kW/172Nm

85kW/200Nm

Transmission

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) auto

Seven-speed dual-clutch (DCT) auto

Drivetrain

Front-wheel drive (2WD)

Front-wheel drive (2WD)

The Honda has only ever been available with this one powertrain choice, despite other markets offering more compelling options.

The Honda has only ever been available with this one powertrain choice, despite other markets offering more compelling options. (image: Matt Campbell) The Honda has only ever been available with this one powertrain choice, despite other markets offering more compelling options. (image: Matt Campbell)

Despite already offering pulling power that is among the best in its class, the T-Cross 85TSI powertrain is just the first powertrain to be offered. It will be joined by a 110TSI turbo four-cylinder petrol auto model soon, which will tick the box if you're after more grunt, with 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque. That's a plus for VW intenders.

While you're hardly going to set off on the great Aussie road trip with a 16-foot Jayco in tow, each of these models does have some towing capacity – and the VW has the advantage there, too:

 

Honda HR-V RS

VW T-Cross 85TSI Style

Towing capacity - unbraked

500kg

630kg

Towing capacity - braked

800kg

1100kg

 

ModelScore
Honda HR-V RS7
VW T-Cross 85TSI Style8

Fuel consumption

Fuel economy is important to almost all new car buyers – some will target lower fuel consumption to help their hip pocket, while others will look at the eco advantages offered by cars that are said to have lower CO2 emissions. While we're not quite at the point of seeing different registration costs applied to lower-emissions cars, if you want to do your bit, there's a chance one of these cars will appeal to you more.

 

Honda HR-V RS

VW T-Cross 85TSI Style

Official combined cycle fuel consumption

6.7L/100km

5.4L/100km

Fuel use on test

7.2L/100km

6.5L/100km

Difference between claim and actual

0.5L/100km / 7.5 per cent

1.1L/100km / 20 per cent

Fuel tank size

50 litres

40 litres

Yes, the VW is more efficient in actual terms, but during our test – which involved a lot of country driving, B-road testing and a slab of urban testing, too – it was not as close to its claim as we thought it might be.

Take into account that the VW also needs 95RON premium unleaded at a minimum, where the Honda can run on cheaper 91RON regular or E10, and that the Honda has a bigger fuel tank and therefore, theoretically, a longer driving range, and it's a pretty close call depending on what your personal preferences are.

 

ModelScore
Honda HR-V RS7
VW T-Cross 85TSI Style7

Driving

My time in these two cars was spread across a mix of scenarios, and I will say this – your circumstances might dictate which of these two you prefer.

If you happen to do a lot of stop-start driving, for instance, you might be annoyed by the VW's engine start-stop system combined with its dual-clutch auto and downsized turbo engine. That combination can make for some less-than-excellent moments in traffic, as it can be lurchy and/or sluggish to get a move on.

That's not so much the case in the Honda, which has a simpler powertrain, no engine start-stop, and its CVT auto actually allows it to get away from a standstill with less fuss.

  • The ride quality is better in the VW, too. Admittedly our test car had optional 18-inch wheels (though that matches what you get standard on the HR-V RS). (image: Matt Campbell) The ride quality is better in the VW, too. Admittedly our test car had optional 18-inch wheels (though that matches what you get standard on the HR-V RS). (image: Matt Campbell)
  • The HR-V’s ride by comparison is a little clumsy, particularly at the front axle, which can clunk a little over bumpy stretches. (image: Matt Campbell) The HR-V’s ride by comparison is a little clumsy, particularly at the front axle, which can clunk a little over bumpy stretches. (image: Matt Campbell)

As speeds increase though, it's the VW that offers better enjoyment and responsiveness, with its turbocharged engine and snappy dual-clutch auto punching harder than the Honda. It feels more urgent in its response, and while some people mightn't be a fan of the three-cylinder rumble, it's never too intrusive. I really like it.

The Honda's powertrain can be a little sluggish to sudden throttle inputs, and there is some trademark CVT drone when you are hard on the throttle. Progress is decent, but hardly what you'd call sprightly.

But the HR-V RS has a bit of a neat trick up its sleeve when it comes to steering. This model gets a variable-ratio steering rack, which is more direct and quick to react than the standard HR-Vs, and makes for a bit more engagement for the driver as a result. Yep, it's a bit more darty and fun than the VW, though the latter has a nicely weighted and very predictable steering feel that actually has a more natural progression to it.

  • This model gets a variable-ratio steering rack, which is more direct and quick to react than the standard HR-Vs, and makes for a bit more engagement for the driver as a result. (image: Matt Campbell) This model gets a variable-ratio steering rack, which is more direct and quick to react than the standard HR-Vs, and makes for a bit more engagement for the driver as a result. (image: Matt Campbell)
  • If you happen to do a lot of stop-start driving, for instance, you might be annoyed by the VW’s engine start-stop system combined with its dual-clutch auto and downsized turbo engine. (image: Matt Campbell) If you happen to do a lot of stop-start driving, for instance, you might be annoyed by the VW’s engine start-stop system combined with its dual-clutch auto and downsized turbo engine. (image: Matt Campbell)

The ride quality is better in the VW, too. Admittedly our test car had optional 18-inch wheels (though that matches what you get standard on the HR-V RS), which are a little more terse than if you don't option the R-Line pack and roll on 17s. The ride is never harsh, but it can be a little lumpy over sharp edges, despite offering a more substantial comfort overall than the Honda.

The HR-V's ride by comparison is a little clumsy, particularly at the front axle, which can clunk a little over bumpy stretches. At higher speeds it's more composed, but never quite as well sorted as the VW overall.

All told, the VW is just a marginally more polished drive experience – provided you can live with the dual-clutch auto.

 

ModelScore
Honda HR-V RS7
VW T-Cross 85TSI Style8

Safety

Safety features could be enough to push you one way or the other when it comes to choosing your new car. I mean, you're spending more than thirty grand, so you should get a decent array of safety technology fitted, right?

Well, in one of these SUVs that's the case, but the other is falling well behind the times in terms of advanced safety tech. There's a lot more to it than just a good ANCAP score – especially when they're years apart in testing, and the goalposts are constantly moving.

For instance, the Honda HR-V was tested in 2015, when it wasn't compulsory to have lane-keeping assistance, high- and low-speed auto emergency braking with vulnerable road user (pedestrian and cyclist) detection. And while Honda has fitted the HR-V with a low-speed AEB system, you'll notice the VW – which is much newer in its life cycle and has been built to meet more modern safety standards – has a lot more 'Y' than 'N' in the table below:

 

Honda HR-V RS

VW T-Cross 85TSI Style

Parking camera

Reverse

Reverse

Park assist sensors

Rear

Front and rear

Airbags

6 (dual front, front side airbags and full-length curtain airbags)

6 (dual front, front side airbags and full-length curtain airbags)

Auto emergency braking (AEB)

Y - city only (from 5-32km/h)

Y - city and inter-urban (from 5-250km/h)

Pedestrian detection

N

Y

Cyclist detection

N

Y

Rear AEB

N

Y

Auto high-beam lights

N

Y

Adaptive cruise control

N

Y

Lane departure warning

N

Y

Lane keep assist

N

Y - from 60-200km/h

Blind spot monitoring

N - but it has Honda LaneWatch, a camera-based left-lane monitor

Y

Rear cross traffic

N

Y

ANCAP safety rating (year tested)

5 stars (2015)

5 stars (2019)

It's a big win to the VW here.

 

ModelScore
Honda HR-V RS6
VW T-Cross 85TSI Style9

Ownership

You might be surprised to see the breakdown of ownership details in the table below:

 

Honda HR-V RS

VW T-Cross 85TSI Style

Service interval

12 month/10,000km

12 month/15,000km

Annual service cost (avg over three years)

$310

$415

Capped price servicing plan

10 years/100,000km

5 years/75,000km

Pre-purchase servicing cover available?

N/A

3 years/45,000km - $990, 5 years/75,000km - $1800

Roadside assist included?

Additional cost, only available as part of Honda Premium Roadside Assist and 7-year warranty plan

12 months initial cover, but up to 10 years if you service with VW

To explain, the VW is more expensive to service on the whole, but it allows you more distance between maintenance visits than the Honda (15,000km in the T-Cross vs 10,000km in the HR-V).

It should also be noted that VW offers a pre-purchase service plan, which can be rolled into your car finance package. That trims off $256 from the first three years of maintenance, or $645 if you opt for five-year cover. Honda doesn't offer that peace of mind.

It should also be noted that VW offers a pre-purchase service plan, which can be rolled into your car finance package. (image: Matt Campbell) It should also be noted that VW offers a pre-purchase service plan, which can be rolled into your car finance package. (image: Matt Campbell)

The Honda does, however, give you the option of a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan with the same cover of roadside assist. That is a dealer-based service, and pricing is dependent on where you're shopping.

You might be concerned about potential reliability issues, other common faults, complaints, durability issues and ownership ratings. If so, head to our Honda HR-V problems page or our Volkswagen T-Cross problems page which should highlight any common issues as they crop up.

Interested in resale value? Check out used and demo versions of these cars on Autotrader.

The Honda gives you the option of a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan with the same cover of roadside assist. (image: Matt Campbell) The Honda gives you the option of a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan with the same cover of roadside assist. (image: Matt Campbell)

 

ModelScore
Honda HR-V RS7
VW T-Cross 85TSI Style8

Verdict

These two small SUVs should both be commended for offering Size 12 levels of practicality in a Size 5 footprint. Both are tremendously thoughtful little cars, and if you need to downsize to a smaller SUV, but still want the inherent practicality you expect of such a vehicle, you won't lose out buying either of these.

But in this test, there is one car that is simply more appealing on other fronts, and it's the VW T-Cross 85TSI Style. It is comprehensively better equipped with safety technology, and that – for us – is a vital consideration when you're spending this much money.

The Honda is still the practicality leader in the segment, but it's starting to trail its rivals when it comes to technology.

ModelScore
Honda HR-V RS7.5
VW T-Cross 85TSI Style8.0


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