Cross­over fills en­try-level gap

FIRST DRIVE/ Volk­swa­gen’s ju­nior T-Cross SUV is a year away – and it seems pretty con­vinc­ing, says Michael Tay­lor

Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS -

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 pi­lot­build 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.

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.

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 10.8 sec, so the added mass of the T-Cross should add at least a sec­ond to that.

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 sev­en­speed dual-clutch trans­mis­sion and the other two will be avail­able with both (six-speed man­ual or seven-speed du­al­clutch) 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 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 all­wheel 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 18 inches, 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 driveras­sis­tance sys­tems, plucked di­rectly from the Polo, which in­cludes things such as lanede­par­ture 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.

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

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

Left: The de­signer sketch of the rear of the TCross. Be­low: Be­neath the cam­ou­flage are LED lights and sharp creases but it will not be as sporty­look­ing as the T-Roc.

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