Volkswagen are on the offensive.
Not content with selling 202,050 vehicles in the UK in the past year – a figure that puts them second overall in sales – they want an even bigger slice of the pie. And, as with so many car makers, they see SUVs as the route to even better numbers.
They’ve already got two successful SUVs in the soon-to-be-replaced Touareg and the Tiguan, which got a grown-up makeover just over a year ago. But the experts predict that the big growth is to come at the smaller end of the market with compact SUVs/crossovers.
To that end they’ve got two models set to enter the market. Later in 2018 we’ll get the Polo-sized T-Cross but before that we have this – the T-Roc. Size-wise it’s tougher to pigeonhole. Like the bigger Tiguan it falls somewhere between two classes. It’s bigger than the likes of the Seat Arona, Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Kia Stonic but not quite as big as the Ateca, Qashqai, Kadjar and Sportage from those brands.
VW T-Roc Design
Price: £26,020 (as tested)
Engine: 1.0-litre, three-cylinder, turbocharged petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 116mph
0-62mph: 10.1 seconds
CO2 emissions: 117g/km
That it competes more directly on price with the bigger models tells you much about how VW position themselves. Despite various troubles over the last couple of years it’s still a badge that carries a lot of cachet and prestige and VW appear confident people will pay a premium for that.
In fairness, even at the £18,950 entry point you get a lot for your money. The T-Roc comes in S, SE, Design and SEL trims and even S packs in an eight-inch multimedia touchscreen, auto lights and wipers, two-zone climate control; DAB radio, 16-inch alloys and safety tech such as lane keep assist and autonomous emergency braking that have helped it make it into the final 10 for What Car?’s 2018 safety award.
VW expect SE trim to be the big seller and that adds kit that you more often only find as standard on larger, pricier vehicles such as adaptive cruise control, 17-inch wheels, Car-net smartphone connectivity plus decorative door inserts and leather trimmed steering wheel and a security and service pack with breakdown, accident and automatic emergency assistance calling.
Personalisation is an increasingly important buzzword for car makers and so as well as the usual variety of solid colours the T-Roc can be optioned in Design trim with a variety of two-tone finishes that affect the exterior and interior of the car.
The various iterations of body/roof/dashboard/wheel colours runs to four pages in the press pack but boil down to some fairly normal hues such as black, white and blue along with some ‘bolder’ shades including Energetic Orange, Flash Red and Turmeric Yellow.
Opt for one of those eye-catching hues and the interior will be transformed. In standard guise, the T-Roc’s cabin is a fairly drab place to sit. There’s not much to criticise in terms of what it’s made from or how it’s put together but without the contrasting colour dash panels and stitching it’s a big expanse of greys and blacks.
Whatever colour the interior, there’s good space inside. It would pass the hoary old four six-footers test but with a taller driver the rear starts to feel compromised. Behind the passenger cabin, the boot’s 455 litres is among the best in its class.
At the launch much was made about the engineers’ desire to ensure the T-Roc had an engaging chassis. In truth, the appalling weather conditions on the day of the test drive made it hard to fully judge their success but it felt well planted and agile, as far as conditions allowed. It also felt surprisingly smooth, dealing with a couple of huge potholes with impressive composure.
From the driver’s seat the controls are well judged. Everything from the pedals to the steering and gear shift has just the right weight. They’re light enough to be comfortable but not too light, making day-to-day motoring an effortless experience.
VW expect the 114bhp 1.0-litre petrol to big the biggest-selling engine. This three-cylinder turbo unit is smooth and quiet under all but the harshest treatment and packs enough torque to make quick and punchy progress.
That, though is with just one person on board. It would cope fine as regular transport for two but one suspects that fully laden with a family of four it might struggle a bit. There, the 148bhp 1.5 with its cylinder deactivation technology would be the smarter choice.
As well as the big seller, we tried the top-of-the-range SEL with the 187bhp 2.0-litre TSI, auto gearbox and 4Motion four-wheel-drive. It’s a powerful unit for this size of car and really gets it
The DSG box is seamless and the 4×4 might be useful for some buyers but in this trim it’s an expensive machine and it’s questionable how many buyers will want or need quite so much pace and power in a car this size.
Alongside the three petrols, at launch the T-Roc is available with 1.6 114bhp or 2.0 148bhp diesels and the option of six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG transmissions, offering plenty of choice whatever a buyer’s needs.
The T-Roc is entering a busy corner of the market but the quality of its rivals varies wildly. Its driver-friendliness combined with some advanced technology and a sense of quality mean it could succeed despite its relatively high price.