By Justin Hyde
For a company still grappling with a scandal over diesel emissions, Volkswagen has chosen a strangely happy concept car to reveal at the Geneva Motor Show. Meet the T-Cross Breeze, a beach buggy that previews a new line of small SUVs, and perhaps, VW’s comeback.
Convertible SUVs haven’t been much of a hit in recent years, between the design crime that was the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet and the inherent contradiction in such a machine. SUVs sell in large part for their sense of safety and cold-weather performance; chopping off their roofs often creates the automotive equivalent of a houseboat—not a good house, not a good boat.
If the T-Cross Breeze avoids that trap, it does so because of its size. It’s the precursor to a subcompact line of SUVs that VW will launch around the world in coming years, and by making it a convertible, VW aims to call upon a long tradition of roofless small SUVs, from the Fiat Jolly to the Suzuki Samurai. The focus lies entirely on style; a high beltline, chunky angles and a roofline that wouldn’t decapitate rear-seat passengers. The concept’s power—a 1-liter, 3-cylinder turbo gas engine good for 108 hp—turns a 7-speed automatic that makes a 10-second run to 60 mph possible.
Inside, the T-Cross pulls the touchscreen-only interior from the Budd-E concept shown earlier this year; only the windows and turn signals use physical buttons or switches. VW has laid a bet that car buyers will warm to gesture-controlled dashboards, a wager that will take years to sort out.
That VW unveiled the T-Cross Breeze with a reference to it being a “people’s car” for the 21st century shows how much it wants to rekindle the warm feelings vehicles like the original Beetle once generated. I would be surprised to see the T-Cross Breeze ever reach production, if for no other reason than the general bias against the whimsical in today’s automotive business. From where VW stands today, it’s a long trip to having fun on the beach again.