Good looking and dynamically capable, the new Volkswagen T-Roc crossover pushes all the right small SUV buttons, but it's not what you'd call an exciting car, in spite of the GTI's 2.0-litre turbo engine.
In the metal
Whatever else you can fault the T-Roc for, it's not going to be style. Volkswagen has clearly worked out that which all other car makers have, and that's that buyers in the SUV segment go for style and sex appeal above all else. Thusly, the T-Roc (which perches on the same MQB chassis as both the Golf and the larger, roomier, more expensive Tiguan) gets a chunky, blocky, almost Lego-like body with lots of dramatic styling details. There's the option of two-tone paint thanks to the contrast-colour roof, the rear of the car is almost absurdly over-burdened with lines, big lights and a slightly retro-look T-Roc script badge, while the front gets a big, wide (but shallow) grille and optional LED daytime running lights set at the bottom of the bumper. These do have an odd effect whereby if you turn them on, but not the headlights, it does look a little as if the nose of the car has melted and slipped down about 12 inches.
Inside, there's (unsurprisingly) a lot of familiar bits from the Golf, Tiguan, Touran etc. That's not a bad thing, of course - everything feels well-hewn and the overall build quality fits neatly into VW's unimpeachable portfolio in that regard (even if there are some cheap plastics if you go looking for them). The contrast colour panels up the sides of the centre console and across the fascia are a nice touch, while the big (optional) eight-inch screen and (also optional, and new) 11.8-inch Active Info Display digital instrument panel both look good. That Active Info Display is essentially a chopped-down version of what you get in an Audi (or a Tiguan or Golf), and while it looks good, it's not as nice as that in either of those, or the display that comes as standard in a Peugeot 3008 for that matter.
The T-Roc's front seats are very supportive and comfy, and the driving position good. There's not a huge amount of space in the back, though. VW clearly wants to take on the mighty Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Tucson from two angles - the pricier, roomier Tiguan above, and the T-Roc from below, but the smaller car does lose out in the space race. You can fit a six-foot adult behind another, but there's not much space to spare when you do. Speaking of spare, you'll have to do without one (wheel, we mean) if you want to maximise the T-Roc's decent 445-litre boot.
Thanks to the MQB platform, you can have all manner of high-end options on the T-Roc, from adaptive cruise control, to a traffic jam self-driving assistant, to automated parking, adaptive suspension and more.
Engines range from the entry-level 1.0-litre TSI petrol three-cylinder with 115hp to a range-topping 2.0-litre TSI turbo petrol, effectively a de-tuned Golf GTI engine. In between, there are a 1.5 TSI petrol and a 2.0-litre TDI diesel, both producing 150hp. Other engines will come on stream next year.
At first, in this high-end 2.0 TSI spec, the T-Roc drives pretty well. Very well, in fact. The engine develops a healthy 190hp and 320Nm of torque, so while it's (obviously) not as quick as a Golf GTI, it's hardly slow. The benchmark 100km/h comes up in just 7.2 seconds and, even climbing up and down the mountainous coast roads outside Lisbon, there was never any shortage of puff, helped by the seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox. The 2.0-litre TSI has a good mix of gruff bark when revved and slick silence when not, so aside from fuel consumption that gets fairly rampant when pressing on (good luck seeing that 42mpg official figure on a regular basis), it's a pretty lovely powerplant.
And the T-Roc around it feels good too, at first. The steering is nicely weighted and quite quick and accurate, the chassis is well-tied down, but flexible enough to deal with bumps and poor surfaces. Flick over to Sport mode on the 'driving experience control' and everything tenses up nicely, the steering adds a touch of extra weight (if not feel) and you could actually just about start to kid yourself that you're driving a Golf GTI on stilts.
Ah, but the corners of those mountain roads tell a different story. As Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott so wisely said, you cannae beat the laws of physics, and if it can't be done on the USS Enterprise, it certainly can't be done in a T-Roc. Enter a series of corners at brisk pace and you'll soon feel the extra weight and inertia in the T-Roc (this one weighs a not-inconsiderable 1,400kg). It does control its motions well enough, but there is more lean and more obvious weight transfer than you'd find in a Golf, and that does limit your dynamic fun. There's also a slight, but noticeable, corkscrew motion from the rear end over certain bumps and the brakes need careful attention, not because they're not up to the task, but because the T-Roc's porky weight means you have to brake a little earlier for tighter corners.
Basically, it's actually pretty well sorted, dynamically, but only if you add the caveat 'for an SUV.' Ask serious cornering questions of it and you'll soon realise you're better off in a Golf, but by the standards of its class, it's very good indeed.
What you get for your money
This specific version doesn't appear on Irish price lists as yet, but we do know that T-Roc prices start from €24,750. That's not cheap, but it does include such things as forward collision alert, dual-zone climate control and a 6.5-inch touchscreen. An extra €2,250 gets you a 'Design' model, which comes with 16-inch 'Chester' alloy wheels, a larger Composition Media radio system featuring an eight-inch glass touchscreen, a chrome package, Voice Control and App Connect amongst other items. Basically, you're spending less than you would on a Tiguan and getting more standard toys, but much less space. It's also worth remembering that the SEAT Ateca may be less fashionable, but is much larger and more practical, and kicks off at a similar price, and that Euro-for-Euro a Golf or Golf Estate annihilates the T-Roc both practically and dynamically.
Does anyone suspect that Volkswagen will do anything other than sell lots and lots of T-Rocs? No, us neither - this is a car that has success writ all over it, especially in the SUV-mad car market of the moment. It's a decent car, with good dynamics, an excellent 2.0 TSI engine and a smart cabin. Essentially VW's version of the Audi Q2, it's hard to recommend with the head, but the heart will certainly be pulled towards it.