Looks, personalisation, interface technology. Lots of safety tech. Decent fun to drive. Four-wheel drive is available
Top ones expensive. Noise from engines, tyres and wind. Cabin plastics short of VW standards. Poor cabin versatility
What is it?
The Volkswagen T-Roc launches in the same month as the Scirocco dies. Says it all really. Crossovers have replaced coupes as the default style option.
Crossovers come with benefits: more space and doors than coupes, which makes them a tenable family option. Which is why they're a ridiculously easy sell. Now imagine adding the image power of a crossover with the image power of a VW. Image squared.
Few cars have an elevator pitch as simple as the T-Roc's. Four words pretty much do it: 'Beefy looking tall Golf'.
Some crossovers try to do the job of proper SUVs or of MPVs. Not this one. The T-Roc is pitched only as an alternative to an actual car. People who want a true 4x4 will find its off-road and towing capability pretty lame. Families who've had an MPV will be struck by the T-Roc's lack of cabin versatility.
OK, the extra ground clearance gives a mite more off-road ability than a Golf Alltrack, but basically people will be buying the T-Roc for its looks and higher seats. Higher seats that don't just improve visibility (a little) but also getting in and out.
A whole clothes-rail of different two-tone exteriors, painted wheels and coloured cabin strips is carefully pitched at the crowd to whom the T-Roc will be as much capsule wardrobe as it is car. Not sure what happens when 'Energetic Orange' goes out of season, mind.
Volkswagen has been here before, actually. The 1980s Golf Country was a jacked up Mk2 with Syncro drive and plastic arches. Then came two generations of Cross Golf, which were the ugly Golf Plus with taller ride height and plastic cladding but only FWD. They all flopped.
This time is different. The market is gagging for crossovers. And VW's level of commitment has grown to match, by changing the panels of the entire exterior and much of the cabin.
The outside has arresting short, wide proportions, emphasised by chromework and beautiful LED lights. The sharpness of the crease lines in the rear doors is a small work of panel-pressing art. A neat chrome strip runs right up the A-pillar, over the doors and down the D-pillar. This is the boundary for the paint in the two-tine versions.
But on the inside, as we'll see, VW has scrimped and saved in costs, and hoped to distract buyers by adding splashes of bright colour in customisable trim sets.
Because the taller more upright seat position naturally makes it seem roomier inside, and because there's already the bigger Tiguan if space is a priority, VW took the opportunity to shave a little out of the Golf's wheelbase. Overall length is also very slightly shorter. If that reminds you of the relationship between the Audi Q2 and Q3, well spotted. The T-Roc is VW's version of the Q2.
That puts it up against the Mini Countryman, Vauxhall Mokka X, Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V and Fiat 500X. Not to mention in-house rivals the Seat Ateca, Skoda Karoq (both of which are a bit bigger) and the Q2.
Interestingly, VW expects the best-selling T-Roc will be at the cheap end of the range, the 1.0-litre petrol with FWD. That's right up against an endless list of crossovers based on superminis: the 2008, Captur, Arona, C3 Aircross and new Korean-branded entrants Kona and Stonic. That said, next year VW will have a properly compact front-drive crossover along thelines of the Seat Arona. It'll be called the T-Cross.
Once the full T-Roc range is on stream in stream 2018, there will be six engines. Opening the bidding is the popular 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol at 115bhp, but with FWD and manual transmission the T-Roc isn't too heavy so that engine ought to do a half-decent job. But it isn't available for test as we write this.
Next up, the 150bhp 1.5-litre with cylinder deactiviation. Top petrol is a 190bhp 2.0-litre, sold only with 4WD and the 7-speed DSG. Diesels also come in 115, 150 and 190bhp outputs, and again the top one mandates DSG and 4Motion.
Read a long-term review of the Volkswagen T-Roc by clicking these blue words.
What's the verdict?
For people who like cars as objects, the T-Roc is great. It'll sell on its handsome looks and striking personalisation options. And because it's a handy-sized crossover.
The dynamics aren't bad, though that depends if you're comparing some of the lumpen mass-brand stuff such as the Vauxhall Mokka X, or the good premium stuff including the new Mini Countryman. It has a good range of powertrains and strong connectivity options.
Its real problem is that VW makes the best 'ordinary' hatch in the business. Scratch beneath the surface of the T-Roc and you get a car that's just slightly the poor relation of the Golf in far too many areas. Some of those you might expect – dynamics, performance – because it's a crossover. But for others – refinement, perceived quality – there's no such excuse. The T-Roc relies too much on style.