Volkswagen T-Roc: VW shakes up the SUV party
Volkswagen should have a winner on its hands with its new Golf-sized T-Roc SUV, says William Scholes
THE party which has seen SUVs and crossovers collectively claim a third of Europe's new car market was already in full-swing when the Volkswagen Group decided to turn up, writes William Scholes.
But being fashionably late can have its advantages. Between them, Volkswagen, Skoda, Seat and Audi now have a daunting range of very fine SUVs.
From the super-rationality of the Skoda Karoq to the premium plushness of the Audi Q5, there is, as they say something for everyone.
Volkswagen's latest Tiguan - up in size, price and poshness from the original version of that car - was Europe's favourite SUV in January.
It finished the month narrowly ahead of the Nissan Qashqai, arguably the vehicle which lit the touchpaper under the SUV explosion, but Volkswagen isn't resting on its laurels.
A new version of the large Touareg is imminent, but the big news for now is VW's first sub-Tiguan SUV, called the T-Roc.
In this case, 'sub-Tiguan' means 'Golf-sized'. The T-Roc is just a whisker shorter than Volkswagen's best-seller but also a little wider and, as per the SUV vibe, conspicuously taller.
That means you get, for example, a bigger boot than you'll find in a Golf - a volume of 445 litres instead of 380 litres - though it doesn't feel decisively more spacious for passengers. By virtue of the raised ride height, the T-Roc does, however, offer a better view out of the cabin than the Golf.
To help place it size-wise against other VW Group SUVs, the T-Roc is 25cm shorter than a Tiguan and 13cm shorter than a Seat Ateca.
You only have to look at the T-Roc's striking silhouette, with its steeply raked tailgate and distinctive thick pillar between it and the back door, to realise that this is an SUV that is less concerned about ultimate utility than some rivals.
The chunkier, like-a-Golf-but-taller, dimensions lend the T-Roc a sportier character than we have tended to see in this class of car.
Details such as lovely LED lights and indicators in the front bumper, large wheels and the option of a contrasting colour of roof help add to the impression that Volkswagen is broadening its reach.
The chunkier, like-a-Golf-but-taller, dimensions lend the T-Roc a sportier character than we have tended to see in this class of car
Customers can further 'personalise' - an industry trend at present - the interior with, to this writer's eyes, some pretty lurid and juvenile coloured plastic trim and seat designs. How would you like a yellow dashboard on your VW?
Whether this style statement is bold enough to allow the T-Roc to be considered as a partial replacement for the recently defunct Scirocco coupe is debatable; but there is no doubt that the new SUV marks a change in design direction for VW's family cars, which tend to be highly conservative.
The T-Roc isn't different-looking enough to scare away Volkswagen loyalists - it might be bold for a VW, but it isn't as futuristic as Toyota's rival C-HR, for example - but does offer enough touches of flair to interest the sorts of buyers for whom a Golf is just too staid.
The small SUV market is almost impossibly diverse, and as well as the Toyota and Qashqai, the prospective T-Roc buyer might also have a Seat Ateca, Audi Q2, Mini Countryman, Vauxhall Mokka X, and Honda HR-V on their 'possibles' list.
To those, and others, I might add the Golf itself; one can make the argument that because the T-Roc is essentially a zeitgeisty, SUV-ified Golf, it is Volkswagen's definitive hatchback which has most to fear.
Something rivals have to fear is Volkswagen's wide range of engines and trim levels.
For now, you can have your T-Roc with a choice of three petrols and one diesel.
Petrols start with VW's lively 113bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder, which is a fine match for the car, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder with 148bhp and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 187bhp.
The diesel currently offered is a 148bhp 2.0-litre. A 1.6-litre with 113bhp is due to join the range soon, however.
The 2.0-litre come only with four-wheel-drive, with everything else front-wheel-drive.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, apart from the 2.0-litre petrol which comes only with a seven-speed double-clutch automatic gearbox. The double-clutcher can also be ordered on the 1.5-litre car.
The T-Roc is just a whisker shorter than Volkswagen's best-selling Golf but also a little wider and, as per the SUV vibe, conspicuously taller. That means you get, for example, a bigger boot
Trim levels start at S, rising to SE, Design and SE-L; a sporty looking R-Line trim is expected before too long.
Prices start at £18,950 for a 1.0-litre S, which is a fairly spartan place to be, with SE models priced from £20,424 to £23,700, and Design trim from £21,125 to £24,400.
The cheapest SE-L is a 1.5-litre petrol manual at £24,520. If you want either of the 2.0-litre engines, for now you must order an SE-L - at which point the T-Roc starts to look rather too expensive, at £28,345 for the diesel and £31,485 for the petrol.
For comparison, a Golf 1.5-litre SE manual costs £21,505; the equivalent T-Roc is £22,200. A Seat Ateca 1.0-litre S is £18,670, or £280 less than the VW.
The T-Roc might be more expensive than a Golf but it is hard to argue that it feels of better quality.
In fact, some of the plastics in the cabin feel on the cheapish side. The top of the dashboard is a hard, plain affair. So too are the door tops, and some of the mouldings have a hollow feel.
This is worthy of mention because Volkswagen, more than anyone else, has raised our expectations about how a family car can feel upmarket. In this context, the T-Roc is a little disappointing.
And though it is generally a quiet car - the 1.0-litre is a gem - the T-Roc suffers more from wind- and road-noise than the Golf.
The T-Roc is, however, decent fun to drive, with VW setting it up to be at least mildly sporty in a way we don't usually see in this sector. Ultimately, it's not as composed or smooth-riding as a Golf...
But fewer people want cars like the Golf - or the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and Seat Leon, for that matter - these days.
What they do want is cars like the T-Roc. The funky, sporty VW is a fine addition to the ever-swelling ranks of SUVs. It's a convincing twist on the familiar Golf recipe, so expect to see lots and lots of them on Northern Ireland's roads.
AT A GLANCE
Volkswagen T-Roc Design
Engine and transmission: 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 113bhp, 148lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 116mph, 0-62mph in 10.1 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 55.4mpg (EU combined), 117g/km
Car tax: £160 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 22 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (96/87/79/71), 2017