Volkswagen has mostly squandered the SUV/crossover boom as we've known it to date. It offers only the upscale Touareg, which despite claiming 2004 Motor Trend SUV of the Year honors has averaged just over 10,000 annual sales, and the Tiguan, which entered what is currently the hottest segment in the market in 2008 and has averaged just 25,000 units per year ever since. That's about a tenth of the annual tally Honda's CR-V (the current best-selling of all SUVs/CUVs) has rung up over the same period. Both VW offerings are built in Europe and marketed as boutiquey alternatives to the mainstreamers. VW will finally target the heart of the American market when it introduces the new Atlas, built in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the second-gen Tiguan, made in Puebla, Mexico, both of which will offer three rows of seats. Meanwhile, VW has been readying a new sub-Tiguan-sized boutiquey cute ute but has yet to decide whether to send it stateside.
Based on the T-Roc concept introduced at the 2014 Geneva show, the MQB-based production version, sadly, loses most of the romance of the original. The two-door pillarless hardtop configuration with a two-piece removable center roof section and the minimalist, angular, three-tone interior have all been sacrificed on the altar of production and market feasibility. It also looks taller and narrower, but most of the voluptuous body-side sculpting seems to have survived. Dimensionally, it is 7.9 inches shorter than the outgoing Tiguan on a wheelbase that's only 0.3 inch shorter; it's also wider and lower by 0.4 and 6.4 inches, respectively. Imagine a slightly stretched Mini Countryman or a chopped and channeled low-roof Buick Encore.
In Europe, Volkswagen is billing T-Roc as its first ever crossover-utility vehicle, owing largely to the rakishly sloped cargo-eating rear window, which gives it a coupe-ish carlike mien. Does the rear glass slope angle and low roofline make the T-Roc look so beautiful that your own emotions would likely shout down your practical left-brain sensibilities and compel you to buy a T-Roc? Everyone's answer will be different, but we're willing to bet the removable-roof and pillarless-coupe concepts would have hooked a lot more right-brain.
Volkswagen invited Motor Trend to the Kalahari Desert in South Africa to take a spin in the T-Roc, which had just completed its final sign-off shakedown drive before being green-lit for production in the second half of 2017. VW offers the T-Roc with three gas and two diesel engine options in Europe; we drove the smaller of the two gas engines that might have a prayer of coming to the U.S.———a 148-hp 1.5-liter turbo-four hooked to a six-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic and front-wheel drive. (4Motion AWD will be offered.) Credit goes to the DSG for making the most of the meager output of this 1.5, but overall it seemed to accelerate slower than a Mini Countryman All4, which is to say like a base Golf or Beetle 1.8T carpooling sumo wrestlers. VW brass needs to consider the 197-hp 2.0-liter TSI engine the bare-minimum acceptable powerplant for North America. Ride quality on the 215/50R18 Bridgestone Turanza T001 tires seemed appropriate for a Euro-tuned boutique player in a crowding segment, and the body structure seemed to deliver on the promise of German engineering. Handling-wise, it seemed to change direction with reasonable willingness on the few paved corners our route afforded for evaluation.
So should VW bring the T-Roc stateside? If a business case can be made for sales totaling somewhere between what Touareg and Tiguan have been averaging———that's our guess at the number of takers it'll draw———then I suppose the answer is "why not?" Unless, of course, removing the camo of both cars pictured here reveals bodywork that's just so drop-dead gorgeous that mere mortals are powerless to resist it.