Volkswagen T-Cross

TESTED 5.7.18, GERMANY ON SALE SPRING 2019 PRICE £17,000 (EST)

Supermini-sized crossover is tipped to be a big-selling model. Early drive hints at why

T-Cross Breeze concept previewed production car in 2016

We’re still almost a year away from the market launch of the Volkswagen T-Cross, but this being Autocar, we’ve already had access to a prototype to deliver you an early impression. The T-Cross you see here is far from production ready, as is evident from the camouflage that makes it look like it crashed into the Starburst factory. But what lies beneath, according to the car’s engineers, is “95% complete”. So this is a very real early glimpse of what’s to come.

Due on sale in spring 2019 priced from about £17,000, the T-Cross follows the all-new T-Roc to further bolster VW’s SUV line-up, which is set to grow to 12 models by 2020. But as the cheapest of the lot, the T-Cross, a rival to the Hyundai Kona and Nissan Juke, could fast become the volume seller and, given the skyrocketing demand for SUVs, it’s not particularly mad to suggest it could outsell the Polo one day.

The T-Cross is built on the ubiquitous MQB platform and in this application it’s technically linked to the Polo, so it shares many features with that car, including a very similar footprint that’s only larger thanks to extended overhangs. Although the car pictured above wears camo, we’ve seen an undisguised design prototype and it’s clear VW has gone for a similarly youthful look to the one it introduced with the T-Roc, particularly at the rear, where there’s LED lighting and a reflector bar across the middle.

The T-Cross feels only marginally larger than a Polo so is easy to thread along narrow roads

VW’s engineers have packed as much safety and practicality as possible into the T-Cross, so it gets a full suite of driver assist technology, plus it can devour a class-leading 455 litres of luggage when the 60/40-split rear bench is slid forward by 20mm (a feature that’s unique in the segment) and the two-level boot floor is set to its lowest. It swallows 1281 litres with the rear seats down.

This provides the T-Cross with “unrivalled flexibility”, according to VW small cars boss Andreas Krüger, although the prototypes we tried featured a strengthening bar that stretched across the front of the boot floor (just behind the seats), which created an inconvenient raised lip about an inch high. This could be “engineered out” before production starts, we’re told, but it might not be, which would hinder the usability of the boot floor’s space.

Tick a few option boxes and VW will add its slick and functional 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system and the active info display instrument cluster as well, carried directly over from the Polo. There are also vibrant trim finishes available with an optional 3D print design on the dashboard to spruce things up.

Beneath the test car’s camouflage, the T-Cross shares much mechanically with the Polo supermini

We spent most of our time in a car equipped with a 1.0 TSI triple producing up to 113bhp, which is predicted to be the top-seller and comes with a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (which we tried). But the range will start with a 94bhp version of the triple mated exclusively to a five-speed ’box. A 1.5 TSI four-pot with 148bhp is due as the quickest option. There’ll be just one diesel, a 1.6 TDI with 94bhp and 184lb ft of torque.

On the road, the T-Cross, which is available in front-wheel drive only, feels only marginally larger than a Polo so remains easy to thread along the narrow sections of Bavarian country lane on our test route. The 1.0 TSI, familiar from the Polo and Golf, remains impressive in this application, offering strong low-down torque with a pleasing three-cylinder rumble. It feels eager and free revving in the T-Cross, even if not particularly potent, and the DSG dual-clutch gearbox is quick to shift. We noted a slight hesitation to kick down under heavy loads on a few occasions, but engineers say there is still some calibration work to do.

The diesel is expected to remain a low-volume option because oil-burners are not in particularly heavy demand at this end of the market. But the 1.6-litre unit feels effortless in the T-Cross, with its healthy peak torque seemingly available from under 2000rpm. (Specifications aren’t confirmed yet.) It allows the seven-speed auto to hang onto higher gears for longer to make the whole driving experience feel more effortless.

Design follows T-Roc. Disguise here hides the LED lights and a reflector bar

Interestingly, our diesel test car rode slightly better than the petrol one – both were on 17in wheels, although 16s and 18s will also be offered – soaking up ridges and cracks without the thuds and vibrations we’d felt in the 1.0-litre car. This could be linked to the slightly firmer front springs used in the heavier diesel doing a better job of keeping the body composed, but we suspect it’s evidence of an undecided final set-up and variations between these very well-used development cars.

Let’s make no mistake, here. It’s impossible to come to conclusions about a car so far from it being signed off, so we won’t. But it’s clear the T-Cross has a lot going for it, particularly in terms of practicality. If VW’s engineers can iron out the remaining creases and be confident enough to give the brand’s most compact SUV the interior it deserves, you’d be hard pressed to doubt the glint of confidence in their eyes.

SAM SHEEHAN

 

TRICK TECH TO BOOST SAFETY
Volkswagen will equip the T-Cross with a whole host of safety-boosting driver assist functions with the intention of securing a five-star NCAP rating.

Thanks to its MQB architecture, the T-Cross can feature VW’s latest front assist area monitoring system, which can prevent impacts with vehicles ahead or approaching from the side. Lane keep assist, blindspot monitoring and rear traffic alert are also offered, as is pedestrian-sensing tech. It gets systems normally reserved for the class above as well, such as an occupant protection system that closes the windows and sunroof, tenses belts and builds up brake pressure before an accident.


TESTER’S NOTE

 

There are no active dampers available on the T-Cross, so it’s likely that the final model’s ride will be wheel sensitive. We only got to try 17in wheels, but we expect the sportiest R-line model to use 18in, leaving engineers with their work cut out to ensure a mix of comfort and sportier handling. SS

 

VOLKSWAGEN T-CROSS 1.0 TSI 115PS
Too early for a verdict but shows signs that it may challenge at the sharp end of the compact crossover segment

Price  £17,000 (est)
Engine  3 cyls, 999cc, turbo, petrol
Power  113bhp
Torque 148lb ft (est)
Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic
Kerb weight tbc
0-62mph 10sec (est)
Top speed 120mph (est)
Economy tbc
CO2, tax band tbc
Rivals Hyundai Kona, Seat Arona, Nissan Juke