Guess what, up until recently (with the launch of T-Roc internationally) Volkswagen hasn’t had a compact SUV in its line-up. It’s amazing that the VW Group has held on to the world’s largest automaker tag (or second largest depending on which way the wind blows in China) despite their largest brand not having what has fast become the world’s most popular body style. And now that the company is finally rolling out dime-a-dozen compact SUVs from dime-a-dozen factories all around the world, it stands to reason that Toyota will have a hard time when the numbers are added up next year. Or will they?
To find out, I spent the morning of the T-Cross’ European launch, driving around Amsterdam in the new T-Roc. Confused? Let me explain. T stands for SUV in Volkswagen-speak, linking it to its big brothers the Touareg and Tiguan. The T-Cross that had me jumping on to a plane for Amsterdam is coming to India in two years, albeit sitting on a heavily re-jigged version of the MQB-A0-IN platform, stretched out, blinged-up and cost-optimised to our Indian tastes.
The T-Roc you see here sits above the T-Cross in price but below it in size — a compact SUV on the MQB platform that shares rather a lot with the Audi Q2 including its wheelbase. (The Q2 was supposed to come to India but a sensible enough price could not be arrived at for it, scrapping its business case). What we have here then is a stylish, premium, compact SUV that shows the way forward for what we can expect in the India-bound T-Cross, and if the T-Roc is anything to go by, the likes of the Creta et al will not have an easy task come 2020.
“The T-Cross that had me jumping on to a plane for Amsterdam is coming to India in two years, albeit sitting on a heavily re-jigged version of the MQB-A0-IN platform”
The T-Roc is the start of the more ‘emotional’ Volkswagens, crisp and timeless designs now making way for more expressive front ends, more lines and flair on the sides and two-tone body colours and more body-coloured panels on the inside. It definitely makes for a funky, good looking car — crucially a car that looks young. More than the styling though, what’s more important to us is what is under the skin, the MQB platform, that is finally getting into production in India. So what is MQB?
It was former VW overlord Ferdinand Piech’s big, big engineering gamble, a platform so flexible it can underpin everything from a car of the Polo’s size all the way up to a Passat, and including all kinds of body styles (hatchback, sedan, SUV) of all the Group’s brands. It’s not just a flexible architecture (length, width, wheelbase, track widths, all are variable but the key engine mounting points are same across the platform) but a new production system that can build any kind of car (or SUV), of any brand, on the same line, leading to huge flexibility and ultimately cost savings. It’s this production system that VW’s Pune plant will be re-tooled for, ultimately making it a multi-brand production facility capable of shuffling products and thus allowing it to run at much higher capacity.
“MQB-equipped cars are also lighter than their preceding avatars, leading to better performance and efficiency along with that sense of lightness that aids dynamics”
We’re no stranger to MQB — the new Passat runs on the MQB, so does the Octavia, Tiguan, Kodiaq, A3, et al. The underlying sense that all these MQB cars deliver is a very Germanic stability that lets you max it out on motorways without a shake or wiggle while also being very accomplished round corners. MQB-equipped cars are also lighter than their preceding avatars, leading to better performance and efficiency along with that sense of lightness that aids dynamics.
All of this holds true for the T-Roc as well, the more compact dimensions making it very agile through Amsterdam’s tiny lanes. It uses MacPherson struts up front with a torsion beam at the rear though bigger engined variants do get the more sophisticated multi-link set-up. Our test car was fitted with the optional adaptive damper system and keeping with its intended audience, the T-Roc’s setup is more sporty than what you would associate with a traditional SUV, a shift that VW points out is part of its move towards more emotional cars.
On the inside is the new infotainment with the 10.3-inch wide-screen digital panel for the instrumentation (same as the Audi Virtual Cockpit), a more detailed 8-inch infotainment and a reduced button count — all of which makes the T-Roc feel more modern. The chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel adds sportiness while you can also spec body-coloured interior panels to add youthfulness. It’s a happy place, that’s for sure. Not very spacious for rear seat passengers, but then again there’s the T-Cross for it.
Not only does the T-Roc give a good indication of what we can expect from the India-bound T-Cross (great ride and handling, very sophisticated cabin, more expressive and emotional in all aspects) but the 1-litre TSI unit mated to the DSG transmission (both confirmed for India) really does make the T-Roc a fun little SUV with more than enough poke to dart into gaps while also hassling enthusiastically driven big cars on the motorway. With 114bhp of power, it is quick without feeling too buzzy and overworked, and it is allied to steering that is quick and responsive, chassis grip that is plentiful and an all-pervading sense that this is a fun car to drive. It marks the start of the new Volkswagen, and bodes very well for the Group’s India 2.0 gameplan.