Volkswagen T-Roc vs Ford Puma vs Toyota Yaris Cross
We see if a mid-life refresh has turned the T-Roc small SUV into a better buy than the award-winning Ford Puma or the super-frugal Toyota Yaris Cross...
New Volkswagen T-Roc 1.0 TSI 110 Life
List price £25,810
Target price £25,312
Freshly updated with a new interior and a technology boost, the VW T-Roc takes a successful formula and runs with it
Ford Puma 1.0 Ecoboost 155 mHEV ST-Line
List price £25,845
Target price £24,448
Our Small SUV of the Year is back to fend off another set of new rivals. With its solid blend of driving fun and practicality, can the Ford Puma hold on to the top spot?
Toyota Yaris Cross 1.5 Hybrid Design
List price £26,040
Target price £25,475
Honey, they blew up the Yaris… with its hybrid tech, the Toyota Yaris Cross promises serious efficiency in a practical small SUV shape
Trying to pick from the current crop of small SUVs is like picking the best member of a pop group. Each has their own look, their own cheeky personality and an army of devoted fans. The group wouldn’t be the same without them.
And what would the small SUV scene be without the VW T-Roc? It’s very popular, with more than a million copies sold since launch, and it was recently treated to a facelift to help it retain a strong foothold in the charts. After style tweaks inside and out, and with a nicer interior and upgraded tech, the T-Roc is our favourite small SUV from Volkswagen. But what about the competition?
Well, the Ford Puma is arguably the T-Roc’s biggest threat. It’s a former Small SUV of the Year and deserves the huge fanbase it has amassed. It’s a tough act to follow, too, with its balance of superb driving manners, practicality and low running costs.
The Toyota Yaris Cross is our third contender. It’s a dark horse, with relatively low-key looks that conceal clever fuel-saving hybrid technology. It sounds a bit left-field compared with the other two, but there’s a place for the slightly alternative, isn’t there?
We’re testing all three with engines and trim levels that represent the best value, and each has a list price of around £26,000. So, which is best? It’s over to the jukebox jury to find out.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Each of our contenders is powered by a three-cylinder petrol engine, but the Puma’s 1.0-litre unit packs the most power (153bhp). The 1.0-litre T-Roc and 1.5-litre Yaris Cross produce 109bhp and 114bhp respectively, so it’s no surprise that the Puma sprints ahead in the 0-60mph dash; its 8.9sec time thrashes the 10.0sec of the Yaris Cross and 11.0sec of the T-Roc.
Quicker acceleration isn’t the only advantage of that extra power. The Puma is also the most effortless to drive; it pulls harder from low revs, bolstered by mild-hybrid electrical assistance. By comparison, the T-Roc’s engine needs working harder to keep up with traffic, but it rarely feels out of its depth. In fact, it does an admirable job of maintaining momentum on hilly roads.
The Yaris Cross, meanwhile, is the best at dealing with low-speed traffic. It leaps away from a standstill, thanks to the instant electric power of its hybrid system, and it can cover short distances using the battery alone. The petrol engine soon kicks in if you start pressing on, though, and acceleration tails off markedly as you approach motorway speeds.
The Yaris Cross is the only car here with a CVT automatic gearbox and its hesitance to kick down dulls progress. The Puma and T-Roc, meanwhile, have six-speed manual gearboxes, and while the latter car’s light gearchange isn’t as satisfying as the Puma’s meatier action, it does make changing gear easier.
The T-Roc is the quietest of our trio by a noticeable margin. Its engine is the most muted and it suffers from the least road and wind noise at motorway speeds. The latter is most noticeable in the Yaris Cross, especially around the windscreen and door mirrors. There’s slightly more road noise in the Puma and Yaris Cross, but neither car is too rowdy by class standards and you won’t find them too tiring on longer journeys. You can feel some engine vibration through their seats, especially when accelerating hard, but things settle down once you’re up to cruising speed.
With its soft suspension, the Yaris Cross does a good job of isolating occupants from bumps in the road, but it suffers from more nausea-inducing vertical body movement than the other two when driving along undulating roads.
In sporty ST-Line trim, the Puma comes with firm suspension that means you’re aware of bumps as they pass beneath the car. But it’s far from uncomfortable, and the ride settles down as your speed rises. The upside of this firmness is that the Puma’s body control is the best here, preventing occupants from bobbing in their seats.
The T-Roc has the comfiest ride overall, though, with a ‘just right’ balance that Goldilocks would approve of. Its suspension contains vertical movement better than the Yaris Cross’s, yet it cushions bumps more effectively than the Puma’s. Having the smallest wheels of the three helps.
However, if you’re looking for fun on a twisting country road, the Puma is the one to go for. It’s the most agile of our contenders, with the least body lean, the most cornering grip and sharp, meaty steering that gives the best connection with the front wheels.
While the VW T-Roc isn’t quite as rewarding to drive as the Ford Puma it still handles well enough to be reassuring. Sure, it leans a bit more in bends and its steering response is less immediate, but it’s accurate enough to help you place the car on the road confidently, and there’s more grip than the Toyota Yaris Cross serves up.
The latter car, meanwhile, leans over the most through bends and its steering is the lightest and slowest here. It’s not much fun, but it handles in a perfectly safe, composed manner.
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