Currently reading: Volkswagen T-Cross prototype 2018: first drive of crossover supermini
Practicality coupled with a funky design and strong engines suggest this compact crossover could challenge at the sharp end of its segment

The market launch of the Volkswagen T-Cross is still almost a year away, 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 credible 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 Volkswagen 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 sky-rocketing demand for SUVs, it’s not particularly mad to suggest it could outsell the Volkswagen 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 here wears camouflage, 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.

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, including VW’s latest front assist area monitoring system that can prevent impacts with vehicles ahead or approaching from the side. Plus the T-Cross 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 completely 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.

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We spent most of our time in a car equipped with a 1.0 TSI triple producing up to 113bhp. It is predicted to be the top-seller and comes with a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox (we tried the latter). 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.

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 Volkswagen Polo and Volkswagen Golf, remains impressive in this application, offering strong lowdown 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 throttle loads on a few occasions, but VW's engineers say there is still some calibration work to do.

The diesel is expected to remain a low-volume option because oilburners 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.

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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 difficult to come to conclusions about a production 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.

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Volkswagen T-Cross specification

Where Munich, Germany Price £17,000 (est) On sale Spring 2019 Engine 3-cylinder, 999cc, turbo, petrol Power 113bhp Torque 148lb ft (est) Gearbox 7-speed dual-clutch automatic Kerb weight tbc Top speed 120mph (est) 0-62mph 10sec (est) Fuel economy tbc CO2 tbc Rivals Hyundai Kona, Seat Arona, Nissan Juke

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catnip 11 July 2018

"... the interior it deserves

"... the interior it deserves..." ?  They're not hinting that it should have soft touch plastics are they? Surely VW have given up on that sort of thing at the lower end of the market nowadays?

erly5 11 July 2018

Looks Dull

Despite the camouflage, this looks extremely dowdy.

si73 11 July 2018


Practicality coupled with a funky design? The only thing funky appears to be the camouflage.

Mikey C 11 July 2018

Yes, the Nissan Juke is funky

Yes, the Nissan Juke is funky. It has marmite styling, but is distinctive, whereas this just looks like a slightly taller Polo

robhardyuk 11 July 2018


Mikey C wrote:

Yes, the Nissan Juke is funky. It has marmite styling, but is distinctive, whereas this just looks like a slightly taller Polo


Ugly does not mean funky. Its not known as the Nissan Puke for no reason.