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What’s a Volkswagen T-Roc and why has it got a silly name?

The Volkswagen T-Roc is the Tiguan’s smaller, sharper-looking cousin and VW’s smallest SUV to date. The VW blurb says its rivals include the Vauxhall Mokka, Nissan Juke, Mini Countryman and Audi Q2… plus the Nissan Qashqai and Renault Kadjar. In short, it launches into a segment so rammed full of competitors it had better be good.

The one obvious rival that doesn’t get a mention is the Golf itself. Given the T-Roc is built on the same MQB platform and the market’s shift from regular hatches to crossovers sees no sign of slowing down, it’s hard to see it not stealing some of the Golf’s thunder.

As for the name, well ‘T’ because it’s VW law that all SUVs (in Europe, at least) start with a T and Roc because, to quote VW, “it combines the dominance of an SUV with the agility of a compact hatchback model and the dynamism of the compact class and really rocks the segment”… cue many signs on the launch asking if I was “Ready To Roc?”. Oh Lord.

Looks good in pictures. What’s it like in the real world?

The T-Roc is a striking-looking car, our first impressions probably helped by the fact that our early drive was in the top-of-the-range T-Roc SEL 4 Motion 2.0 TSI model on 18in wheels. Personalisation is a major part of the T-Roc’s pitch, with 11 exterior colours, three options for roof colour (white, red, black), additional options for body-coloured interior trim panels (including ‘Energetic Orange’, best avoided IMHO) and myriad options for wheel specification including black, orange or blue variants.

There are innumerable different exterior and interior colour combinations and options, so it will be perfectly possible for people to destroy the aesthetics of a very solid piece of automotive design in the name of creating something “unique”. You have been warned.

So you drove the top of the range one. Guess it comes with all the familiar VW engine/gearbox options?

Yep. There’ll be six engines at launch, three petrol (1.0 TSI, 113bhp; 1.5 TSI, 148bhp and a 2.0 TSI, 187bhp) and three diesel (1.6 TDI, 113bhp; 2.0 TDI, 148bhp and 187bhp) combined with either six-speed manual gearboxes and front-wheel drive, or the seven-speed DSG combined with front-wheel drive, or 4Motion in the case of the more powerful derivatives.

All of these we’ll be driving and reporting back on next week. UK prices will start at £20,425, with the top of the range T-Roc we tested coming in at £34,700.

So what’s it like on the inside?

Inside, you’re surrounded by the usual VW build quality for the most part. But there’s some evidence of cheaper plastics on the top dash fascia and top of the door rails. The reality is, it doesn’t overly detract from what is otherwise a well-appointed interior and I guess something had to give to allow the accountants to sign off the personalisation options.

The T-Roc dashboard features a 10.3in TFT screen configurable in the myriad options we’ve become used to across the VW range. Combine this with the central 8in infotainment touchscreen, wireless charging and optional Beats stereo upgrade and the T-Roc has enough tech to keep the majority of families from ever having to communicate on a long journey.

Interior passenger space is marginally up on the Golf but we’re talking 20mm here, 10mm there. The boot delivers 445 litres of load space in the T-Roc compared to the 380 in the Golf, so think of it as a more stylish Golf with a bigger boot and slightly higher driving position (50mm higher to be precise) and you’ll be in the right ballpark.

So usual VW quality and tech, but can it drive itself yet?

While autonomy isn’t on the T-Roc’s list of capabilities at launch, our test car came armed with a suite of driver assistance systems. Including (deep breath): adaptive cruise control (optional), front Assist (standard), park assist (optional), lane assist (standard), city emergency parking (standard), predictive pedestrian protection (standard), and precrash preventative occupant protection (optional)… Pub fact, VW’s driver Assistance Systems have had such a profound effect on reducing the number of fender benders in the new products, that the reduced need for replacement panels has fundamentally shifted the economics of the company and its consumption of sheet metal.

So how does the T-Roc drive?

With 187bhp, the top of the range T-Roc will happily propel you from 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds, so it’s plenty swift enough and covers ground with all the usual refinement we’ve come to expect from VW. The higher driving position helps you to read and navigate the chaos of a Lisbon (or your local) rush hour slightly more easily, but it’s the optional adaptive chassis control (DCC) fitted to our test car that allows you to change pretty much every dynamic parameter.

While the standard settings - Eco, Comfort, Normal and Sport - offer some interesting and varied characteristics, the Individual mode allows you to create your own bespoke set of driving parameters for steering feel, drivetrain response and chassis control. So if, like me, you felt the Sport setting held the gears too long and made the suspension too stiff for the broken road surfaces of the test route, but you wanted that level of weight in the steering, you can create your perfect set up and store it.

And what’s it like off-road? Can you take it rock crawling?

No actually, but I did take it on a gravel road and it handled it just fine. The reality is that 90 per cent of crossovers will spend 99.9 per cent of their time with nothing more than the local supermarket car park to battle with. For owners who opt for it, the 4Motion spec delivers a sense of added security knowing that on the two days it might snow this year, they’ll stand a half a chance of getting the kids to school.

The rest of the time it’s there to add a sense of potential capability, something that is backed up by the rotary knob below the gearstick, which can be used to activate the four profiles: Street, Snow, Off-road and Off-road Individual (mostly fiddled with in car parks as owners dream about the adventures they might one day embark on when the kids have left home and the PCP bubble payment is due).


VW has been in the news for the last few years for all the wrong reasons. The T-Roc feels like a car designed, created and delivered by a group of engineers keen to prove that while the headlines have been terrible, they still know how to make compelling cars.

The T-Roc launches into one of the most competitive sectors in the market, but on first acquaintance it feels like a very competitive addition and with the migration from saloons to SUVs, and hatches to crossovers showing no sign of slowing down, the T-Roc could well be a much needed success story when it arrives in the UK in December.

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