Volkswagen’s T-Roc is late to the compact SUV market, but it is pretty and classy, writes Declan Colley
VOLKSWAGEN arrived at the compact SUV table late and a little out of breath, waving its corporate arms about a little too furiously, in a “hey-guys-don’t-forget-about-me” sort of way.
Given the appalling fact that one in every three vehicles now sold in the world is an SUV, it is hardly surprising that Wolfsburg wants — no, demands — a lucrative share of the action. But the German behemoth was a tad slothful in making this car.
It was also inevitable that — as has so long been the case with conventional saloons and hatchbacks, which generally come in three sizes — companies would start making small, medium, and large SUVs.
The theory is not as complicated as condensed matter physics, after all, so why it took Volkswagen so long to arrive at this conclusion is a mystery.
Having made the very successful Touareg and the Tiguan — the former 16 years ago and the latter 11 years ago — it’s strange that it took until 2017 before they revealed the T-Roc, which is now the smallest — and sexiest — of the company’s SUV troika.
And coming as late as it did, it was somewhat behind the eight-ball, as stablemates Audi (Q2), Skoda (Karoq), and Seat (Arona) have been enjoying a spell at the pool table without having the “Wolf” looking over their shoulder. Well, The Hustler is back and it’s as if Paul Newman himself — God rest him — has swaggered onto the forecourt.
Yes, the T-Roc is definitely Newman’s “Fast” Eddie Felson to Jackie Gleason’s Minnesota Fats, who is an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme by comparison. Even though Fats won — spoiler alert — Newman appealed to a youthful cinema audience back in 1961 and Volkswagen will ardently hope that this car will have the same effect on the younger car-buying audience.
With 16 more SUVs to come from Wolfsburg in the coming years, in what will be a real blitzkrieg of the segment, the T-Roc is going to play a big role in establishing a key-hole dominance for the brand among the most important demographic: the young.
Typically, VW produce solid, rather than eye-catching, cars and while some have an element of beauty — in a Bauhaus, German modernist sort of a way — most are unexceptional lookers. This one is as pretty an SUV as there is around right now. That single fact will play nicely into the Wolfsburg game plan.
But, you have to remember the youth factor here, as the T-Roc cross-fertilises with several other VW products, the Golf and the Golf Estate, to name but two. It may appeal to the family buyer, especially as a second car, but it is not as practical as other siblings.
That fact is a possible sales dampener, but Volkswagen hopes the T-Roc’s youthful appeal will compensate for any sales lost to more family-oriented options. On the evidence we have seen here at Examiner Motoring, there is every reason to suspect their gamble will pay off.
There are a couple of petrol options, including the three-pot, one-litre turbo version, which is probably a little weedy, but even that could be an environmental option, as I have often reflected, in my myopic refusal to accept electric or hybrid.
I tried the 1.5 TSI Evo turbocharged engine, which is a very nice thing to live with indeed. Endowed with some 148 bhp and a decent 250 Nm of torque, this is a smooth and pliant unit. It revs happily and yet is also equipped with cylinder deactivation technology, which helps with fuel consumption in the urban morass or when cruising on the highway.
The unit is capable of a top speed of 205km/h and a 0-100km/h time of 8.4 seconds, while also returning a consumption of 5.4 l/100km (51.8 mpg) over the combined cycle.
It emits 122g/km for an annual tax bill of €270. This engine is also allied to a six-speed manual gearbox and is front-wheel drive only, although all-wheel drive is available in other models.
As a turbo petrol car, it has quite a lot of grunt at low revs and you have to be careful with throttle inputs, or you’ll find yourself understeering into a lamppost. That said, once you get to grips with the zippy characteristics, this is a nice driving companion. And while it does not have any real off-road ability, it is still able to manage a bit of rough stuff (just not too rough).
Handling is fine and the ride comfort is impressively taut, without being rigidly unbearable, despite the tester having 17in alloys, rather than the standard 16-inchers.
Body roll is well-controlled and you can pitch the T-Roc into a corner with confidence that you’re not going to get into a spin.
The digital instrument cluster is entertaining and informative, although someone had everything calibrated in MPH, rather than KPH, and I could not find my way through the sub-menus to rectify the situation.
That said, the equipment levels were impressive and that is as it should be for a model variant that is nearly €9,000 dearer than the entry level model. Adaptive lights and adaptive cruise control are things you might find on larger cars, but I‘d specify them.
The T-Roc is quite small ( it is a ‘compact’ SUV, after all) and this is where family interest might dwindle. But it is certainly roomy enough for four adults. The seating, too, is supportive and comfortable and the upholstery choices could keep an interior designer at work for weeks.
Buyers will also have the ability to personalise the car to their own choice of interior and exterior colour schemes.
The T-Roc is very smart and good-looking.
It is a pretty car that will definitely appeal to its intended audience and possibly to a few empty-nesters, as well, and to some small families.
It may be late to the party, but the T-Roc is a worthy contender and will do very well for VW, in a crowded and competitive segment. It is pretty enough, and enjoyable enough to drive, to compete at the top of its class.
But why did it take so long to be made?
The Cost: from €24,750 - €33,981, as tested
The Engine: a very neat, 1.5 turbo petrol
The Specification: good standard kit
The Overall Verdict: near the top of the class, in looks and ability