What is it?
The Volkswagen T-Roc is a Golf-sized crossover and the most style-focused SUV yet from the brand.
Stylish design, personalisation options, 4WD available
The Volkswagen T-Roc is not the cheapest compact SUV for its overall size and specification, and it has some dodgy interior plastics, but these do not detract from what is overall a highly impressive package.
The car is stylish to look at both outside and in, has enough practicality to match its rivals and then, once on the road, leaves them in its wake. The powertrains are enthusiastic yet refined, the handling to a standard way above the norm in this market. As a result, those in the market for a compact SUV should definitely consider the T-Roc.
Fans of SUVs, who we are led to believe are increasingly becoming the majority of today’s car buyers, have never had it so good. The choice is bewildering, and being added to virtually every month.
Clearly indicative of this is the launch by Volkswagen of a new compact SUV, despite the fact it already has a model competing in the same market. However the Volkswagen T-Roc, arriving on UK roads early in 2018, is pitched as a very different car to its established sibling the Tiguan.
At 4.2m long, the T-Roc is some 25cm shorter than the Tiguan, but the differences run far deeper than that. This is the most style-focused SUV Volkswagen has yet made – it’s a proper example of the new breed of crossovers, expected to appeal to three times more private buyers than fleet ones. They will be drawn in by sharp styling and personalisation options such as two-tone exterior finishes with contrasting roofs.
Certainly viewed from the outside the T-Roc is one of the more attractive compact SUVs on the market, looking lower and more purposeful than many of its rivals, with a hint of coupé about it. In fact, in both size and style the car is much closer to the Volkswagen Golf hatch chassis it shares, and it is also effectively a VW version of the Audi Q2.
As such this new model effectively bridges the gap between traditional compact SUVs such as the Tiguan and the new breed of supermini crossovers such as the Kia Stonic, the Hyundai Kona and such like. But just to further muddy the waters, Volkswagen will in 2018 launch a smaller sister to the T-Roc and a proper supermini SUV, in the T-Cross – confused yet?
Buying and owning the Volkswagen T-Roc
Volkswagen is phasing in the T-Roc, with initially only petrol versions available. There are three such engines on offer, a 1.0-litre with 115hp, a 1.5-litre 150hp and the range-topping 2.0-litre with 190hp.
The 1.0-litre comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, the 150 with either the manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch auto, and the 190 only with the auto. And one major plus that the T-Roc offers compared to many rivals is the feature one used to specifically buy SUVs to take advantage of – four-wheel-drive. It’s an option on 150 models, standard on the 190.
In the Spring of 2018, the diesels will join the range. There are two, a 1.6-litre with 115hp and the manual gearbox, and a 2.0-litre putting out 150hp. It can be specified in manual or auto form, and if desired with the 4WD on the manual variant.
While many don’t realise that 4WD is a safety feature, only around 10% of T-Roc buyers are expected to choose their car with it – this compares to a 50/50 split on the Tiguan and reflects the fact that as many as three quarters of T-Roc buyers will likely be private motorists buying the car firstly for its visual appearance.
Equally eight out of 10 sales are expected to be of petrol-powered cars, and the most popular trim level predicted to be SE, the second of currently four options (a fifth is due in 2018). However the specification of even entry-level S models is impressive, including electronic climate control; an infotainment system controlled by an eight-inch colour touch-screen, Bluetooth telephone and audio connection, DAB radio and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The T-Roc also scores well on safety. Euro NCAP has given it a top five-star rating, courtesy of such standard-fit features as autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping systems and pedestrian alerts.
Inside the Volkswagen T-Roc
Volkswagen claims that the T-Roc is compact on the outside and spacious on the inside, with the best boot space than all its direct rivals – 445 litres extending to 1290 with the rear seats dropped. It’s a nice flat boot too, partly due to the fact that T-Rocs come with a choice of a space-saver or a proper spare wheel.
Certainly when one settles inside it feels comfortable, with adequate room up front, though those attempting to carry three adults in the rear will likely find their passengers feeling rather more cosy – especially in the middle seat. Except above their head, where space should be adequate for all but the tallest occupants, despite the high seating positions which give an elevated view outside and provide one of the major advantages the T-Roc offers over the Golf.
The dash layout is generally standard Volkswagen fare, but it is well laid out with the instrument display and the centre console touchscreen on the same axis. Depending on model choices on the options list can extend up to the digital Active Info Display version of the instrument panel, which for example includes the option to flick a button and have a navigation map stretching right across the panel instead of the speed and rev dials.
Personalisation options include four different finishes on the interior panels – the plastic on the door cards, dash panel and the edges of the gear console can be supplied trimmed in yellow, brown, orange or blue.
However, the general quality of the interior plastics on the T-Roc is slightly disappointing, hard, scratchy and a bit low rent compared to what we are used to from VW.
Driving the Volkswagen T-Roc
At the UK launch event, The Car Expert was able to try both the expected best-selling 1.0 petrol unit and its larger 1.5 stablemate. Of course, these are both proven units, though the 1.5 is also the most recently developed engine in the range. This is both plentiful with its performance and boasts the ability to shut down two of its four cylinders when not under load to improve efficiency.
However on the evidence of our test it’s only worth going for the more powerful option if you really feel you need the pace. The three-cylinder turbocharged 1.0 is a very efficient little unit, no less refined than its bigger sibling. And while 10.1 seconds to 62mph is not exactly rapid, it is not that slow either, and in the T-Roc feels swifter than a stopwatch might suggest.
The real revelation of the T-Roc, however, is in its chassis. We’ve tested a whole host of new SUVs over the past year as the market has exploded, and we have got used to describing dull, lifeless handling and indifferent ride quality – “no worse than rivals in the market” has almost become a catchphrase.
Not so the T-Roc – the driver enjoys a good view all round, with no significant blind spots, and their passengers a comfortable ride as the car smothers the bumps and potholes of a typical UK road surface. Note, however, that the 17-inch wheels on our 1.0-litre test car were more efficient in this respect than the 18-inch equivalents with their lower-profile tyres on the 1.5 version.
Ride comfort does not come at the expense of handling prowess, and it is here where the T-Roc excels. It turns in precisely, stays upright under cornering load, and displays impressive levels of grip. This is the best-handling SUV in its market, a much more enjoyable driving proposition than all its rivals.
The Volkswagen T-Roc is not the cheapest compact SUV for its overall size and specification, though it compares well with some of its rivals and it comes with some not VW-like elements such as the dodgy interior plastics.
However, the car also offers another not very VW-like trait in that style and on-the-road dynamics are given as much importance as practicality. The car looks good without sacrificing interior space, and on the road it proves a revelation – the powertrains are enthusiastic yet refined, the handling to a standard way above the norm in this market.
On that basis, it’s easy to agree with Volkswagen’s prediction that the T-Roc will become one of the brand’s best-selling models. Overall, it’s an impressive package.