The camo gives little away this time but beneath is a less dramatic design than the T-Roc. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN
The camo gives little away this time but beneath is a less dramatic design than the T-Roc. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN

The last major piece of Volkswagen’s SUV puzzle will not be as small or as cynical as first thought when it arrives in SA in 2019.

Instead of a high-rise Polo, the T-Cross promises to be a solid, conservative, smooth-riding and versatile compact crossover. A drive in a pilot-build prototype hinted at a composed, solid machine that feels more like a baby Tiguan.

Volkswagen may have missed the early years of the SUV/crossover revolution, but it’s making up for it now. The third generation of the big Touareg launches in SA at the end of July, the Tiguan’s second generation has split into two lengths, the T-Roc (not for SA) brings a bunch of funky, the Teramont/Atlas (also not for SA) brings the sheer size and now it’s plugging the hole at the bottom end with the T-Cross.

The T-Cross, due on sale in about a year, is marginally shorter than the T-Roc and has more of a grown-up demeanour than its Golf-based sibling.

Beneath the camouflage are LED lights and sharp creases but it will not be as sporty -looking as the T-Roc. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN
Beneath the camouflage are LED lights and sharp creases but it will not be as sporty -looking as the T-Roc. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN

It’s more like a junior Tiguan than either a taller Polo or a T-Roc lite. Viewed in that light, it looks to be pretty darn good, if a little bit sensible and lacking the T-Roc’s visual and dynamic fizz.

It brings some good, everyday tricks with it, not least of which is a rear seat with 100mm of sliding adjustment, which helps boost the luggage area from 385l to 455l.

The luggage area can be increased again, to 1,281l, with the 60:40 rear seat folded down. The front passenger seat can also double over to help people carry longer stuff. The attention to the rear extends to air vents of their very own and a pair of USB connectors.

It’s a calming drive, rather than a scintillating one, with its 1.0l, three-cylinder petrol engine delivering enough performance from its 85kW power and 200Nm torque, but only just.

ALL T-CROSSES WILL DRIVE ONLY THE FRONT WHEELS, WITH THE BASE CAR USING A FIVE-SPEED MANUAL.

It’s more enthusiastic than the paperwork suggests, but it would never be confused for fast (neither would anything else in the class, like the Juke or the Hyundai Kona), with a 0-100km/h time of quite a lot, really. VW isn’t yet saying how many seconds this sort of thing might take, or how heavy the T-Cross is, but it’s safe to suggest it will be somewhere around nine or 10sec and about 1,250kg-1,350kg.

There’s an entry-level T-Cross with a turbocharged, 70kW/160Nm three-cylinder engine, but we only spent time in the 85kW/200Nm turbo version and the 70kW/250Nm 1.6 turbodiesel.

With the same 70kW motor fitted up front, the Polo meanders to 100km/h in 10.8sec, so the added mass of the T-Cross should add at least a second to that.

The interior appears to be similar to that in the latest Polo. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN
The interior appears to be similar to that in the latest Polo. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN

A 1.5l, in-line petrol four will also sit across the engine bay at some point, with 110kW power and 250Nm torque. It will comfortably slide beneath the 10-second barrier for 100km/h, and the diesel certainly will.

All T-Crosses will drive only the front wheels, with the base car using a five-speed manual, the 1.5l car using just a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and the other two will be available with both (six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch) cog swappers.

Another key step is the addition of particulate filters for all four engines, not just the diesel.

The downside is that the T-Cross’s more budget status means it isn’t in line for electrification of any kind.

No mild-hybrid, no plug-in hybrid, nothing.

There’s enough torque in the lower gears, and it flits around urban environments without ever feeling too slow.

The designer sketch of the rear of the T-Cross. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN
The designer sketch of the rear of the T-Cross. Picture: VOLKSWAGEN

The diesel was a better drive than the petrol. Its torque is healthy enough to change the workload of the DSG transmission by maintaining gear a lot longer before it kicks down, and that strength shows up early and its noise and vibration levels are low and well isolated. In particular, it had far less bump-thump noise over road imperfections that had square edges.

There’s never really a feeling that the T-Cross is missing out on anything by ignoring all-wheel drive, because the grip from the MQB-based chassis and suspension systems easily bests the engines’ ability to exceed it.

It runs most of the Polo’s suspension hardware, tuned for the higher and heavier T-Cross use, which means its wheel sizes range from 16 inches to 18inches, rather than the larger offerings on the T-Roc.

It carries over the Polo (and Golf) feeling of being happiest to deliver in the day-to-day driving window, yet being utterly capable and competent for everything else you might want to do. It can corner with surprising curiosity, change direction with clarity of purpose and stop hard and straight.

It’s helped by a raft of driver-assistance systems, plucked directly from the Polo, which includes things such as lane-departure systems, blind spot detection, active cruise control, cross traffic alerts and autonomous braking.

It’s a pretty good-looking thing for the class and a higher price point might have seen a full-width rear LED instead of the full-width reflector. It also has LED head and tail lights and plenty of the usual Volkswagen sharp creasing.

It uses a softer-feeling dash plastic than the cheap-feeling crud on the T-Roc, and while the standard dash is an analogue dual-dial setup, there is an optional digital active info display and an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment unit at the same eye level.

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