Volkswagen T-Cross vs Seat Arona vs Suzuki Vitara

Volkswagen’s new T-Cross has its sights set firmly on being the best small SUV you can buy. That means beating the Seat Arona and Suzuki Vitara...

Volkswagen T-Cross vs Seat Arona vs Suzuki Vitara

The contenders

Seat Arona 1.0 TSI 95 SE Technology

  • List price - £18,075
  • Target Price - £16,629

The Arona is our current Small SUV of the Year in this very trim, so it’s here to defend its title.

Suzuki Vitara 1.0 Boosterjet SZ-T

  • List price - £18,999
  • Target Price - £18,180

A mid-life facelift for Suzuki’s practical small SUV brings a new entry-level 1.0-litre engine.

Volkswagen T-Cross 1.0 TSI 115 SE

  • List price - £19,555
  • Target Price - £19,134

Closely related to the Arona, so we’re expecting great things, although it’s pricier, like for like.

In a lot of cases, modern cars are like pizzas. At first glance, there seems to be a huge assortment of them, from your basic margherita to something luxurious and loaded with tasty toppings. However, while they might all look totally different at first glance, strip away the top and you’ll often find the same base underneath.

So if the VW Polo is your simple cheese and tomato, the VW T-Cross (here in SE trim) takes that and adds some rugged flavours, along with a thick crust to give it more height. This means your order will be a little pricier, but you’d happily pay extra for something less bland, right?

But to find out if the T-Cross is the new king of the small SUVs, we need a couple of challengers. The first is our reigning champion, the Seat Arona, tested here in our  favoured SE Technology trim. But although it comes from a different brand, you’ll find that the Arona and T-Cross share the same dough, just with slightly different seasoning from their respective manufacturers.

Of course, while it’s always tempting to go to a big name, some of the tastiest pizzas are actually from smaller restaurants. With that in mind, we’re also testing the recently refreshed Suzuki Vitara in SZ-T trim to see if one of our long-time favourite small SUVs still has what it takes.

Seat Arona driving

On the road

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

To keep things affordable, we’ve lined up all of these cars in 1.0-litre petrol form. Although they all come with turbochargers, there’s a bit of a disparity in power between the engines, with the 94bhp Arona being the weakest, the T-Cross the strongest (113bhp) and the Vitara not far behind with 109bhp.

Despite its power deficit, the Arona doesn’t feel sluggish. If you enter a slip road at 30mph and accelerate hard through the gears, you’ll be at 70mph in around 11 seconds, making joining a motorway a stress-free experience. The Vitara is noticeably swifter, though,  taking 10.2sec, while the T-Cross breezes there in 9.9sec.

Accelerate without changing down when you’re in third, fourth or fifth gear and the T-Cross is once again the quickest, with the Vitara close behind and the Arona bringing up the rear. Still, unless you regularly have a full car or like to travel everywhere in a rush, we suspect you’ll be satisfied enough with the Arona’s performance.

Besides, outright pace won’t be high on the list of priorities for most buyers, whereas ride comfort will be. You’re certainly aware of surface imperfections in all of them, but it’s the T-Cross that filters them out the most adroitly. It’s a little smoother than the Arona at motorway speeds, although it’s around town where you notice its more sophisticated ride the most. 

Suzuki Vitara driving

The T-Cross isn’t perfect, though; drive down a rippling B-road and you’ll feel your head rocking from side to side the most. The Vitara has by far the busiest ride at all speeds, but while you’re continually jostled around in your seat, it never crashes over potholes or becomes truly uncomfortable.

The upshot of the Vitara’s relatively firm suspension is that it resists leaning over in corners better than you’d expect from a tall car like this. But although it has decent grip and changes direction keenly enough, your fun is marred by the steering. It’s not only unnervingly vague during the first few degrees of lock but also feels overly light at all speeds.

The T-Cross has better steering; it’s more precise and has predictable weighting that makes the car far more pleasant to guide down any road, regardless of speed. It resists body lean well, too, although it doesn’t stay as flat as the Arona through turns and isn’t quite as keen to change direction. Just remember that while the Arona is one of the best-handling small SUVs, a conventional hatch such as the Seat Ibiza is better still.

Unlike the five-speed Arona and Vitara, the T-Cross has a six-speed manual gearbox with a light, relatively short shift action, although it’s slightly notchier than the Arona’s slick ’box. The Vitara’s is the least precise and has the longest throw, but finding the gear you’re after is still easy enough.

More frustrating is the Vitara’s sluggish start-stop system. If the engine shuts off just as traffic starts moving, it takes the longest to fire back up again. The Arona is far perkier when restarting, but the T-Cross is the least irritating around town, restarting nearly instantaneously the moment you press the clutch pedal.

Volkswagen T-Cross front cornering

The T-Cross’s good manners don’t end there; its engine is also the smoothest and quietest of our contenders. The Arona runs it close, but while the Vitara is normally smooth enough on the move, it has a grumbly patch from 1500-1750rpm, the rev range you often use when pulling away, sending a lot of vibrations through the steering wheel.

The Vitara isn’t the quietest of companions, either; its engine is always audible and it generates the most wind and road noise at all speeds. The Arona is a little better, with less engine drone at higher speeds and less overall ruckus. However, it’s the T-Cross that’s the most hushed, proving quieter in all areas than the other two. Part of the reason is that sixth gear, which allows its engine to spin more slowly at 70mph.

As for braking, the Vitara can pull up from 70mph in the shortest distance, but it feels the least stable when doing so, nosediving heavily. The T-Cross isn’t far adrift and feels a lot more stable under braking. The Arona requires the longest distance but inspires confidence and certainly doesn’t disgrace itself.

If you’re interested in a small SUV with a tiddly engine, fuel economy will no doubt be important to you. While none of our trio will bleed you dry,  it’s the Vitara that’s least efficient, averaging a still-respectable 43.2mpg in our tests, with the T-Cross bettering it with 45.1mpg. The Arona is the most economical, returning an impressive 46.8mpg.