First UK customer deliveries commence in January

First UK customer deliveries commence in January

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Volkswagen has at long last entered Europe's C-crossover segment, with a rival for the Qashqai. The T-Roc is strong on driving dynamics and, from certain angles, looks. One major surprise however, is an interior with plastics which will disappoint anyone who owns a Golf or Polo. Is this the first new vehicle to suffer from the company's post-emissions scandal cost cutting?

What's this, a VW interior devoid of squishy plastics?

None of the criticism which can be levelled at the T-Roc's hard, grey plastics will likely be enough to put off a significant number of potential buyers. It's still a shock though to open the door of any new VW and see such sensible, hard-wearing materials in place of softer, lighter-toned ones. That felt lining which stops things rattling around in a Golf's glovebox and door bins? Missing. Nor are there gas struts to ease up the bonnet and hold it aloft. Instead, a metal stick has to be used to prop it.

Could it be that Volkswagen has decided that it will take the lead back towards fitting its cars with full-sized spare tyres?

A big boot and a proper spare tyre

Far happier news awaits after the tailgate is opened. Could it be that Volkswagen has decided that it will take the lead back towards fitting its cars with full-sized spare tyres? I found one of these below the boot floor on each of the many cars which the British importer made available for the press to test this week. Another plus is the standard of carpet, which is plush, as it is in the rest of the interior.

The boot might be big - 445/1,290l for FWD cars and 392/1,237 for AWD - but if buyers are looking for the roomiest vehicle in the C segment then disappointment awaits. Up front, all is well. In the back, anyone over six feet will get to know what the headliner feels like, and their knees will be pressing into the seat ahead. Overall, not claustrophobic, just cosy. And too tight for three people on the back seat.

The back windows fully lower, so extra marks to Volkswagen for that - getting heat out of the car as the A/C is pressed to Auto won't take quite so long. It might be chilly in Britain right now, but those of us who grew up in Scorchio climates know how every second counts when you have a sauna-hot car and tired, punchy kids.

Not Lexus-quiet at higher speeds

A few other small points before moving on to the best thing about the T-Roc. At speeds over 60mph, the flipped sun visor vibrated enough to be distracting. Pressed back in place, all was well. This happened in all three petrol-powered vehicles: 1.0-, 1.5- and 2.0-litre variants. Hopefully, as VW adds diesel production (soon), it might make some tweaks to NVH as a rolling change. More work is needed in the area of wind noise too. There was buffeting going on around the A pillars although this wasn't an issue until speed began approaching 70mph. Outside, no trees were bent, no leaves were fluttering, so it wasn't due to a windy day.

That's the room-for-improvement stuff over with, now for what's great about the T-Roc. In short, this new vehicle is a novelty in the segment as keen drivers finally have an obvious choice. Volkswagen UK's PR team cleverly pointed out the name of a chassis engineer in the press presentations. Certain car magazines and national papers can almost always be relied upon to repeat this sort of information, which is how Ford of Europe and JLR models so often end up with gushing praise and Nordschleife times lap times being enthused about. That does matter when it comes to something like the Focus RS or Range Rover Sport. For a family crossover? Perhaps not as much.

On melting-snow-covered A roads, it was a delight to drive, even at higher speeds.

Best-in-class handling and roadholding?

What is more relevant to know about the T-Roc is that on melting-snow-covered A roads, it was a delight to drive at speed. That applies equally to front-drive cars, not solely ones with 4MOTION.

I cannot think of another MQB A/B platform Volkswagen with steering as good as this new model's, nor does the average Golf handle or grip the road as well. It's now an exciting thought that the UK press preview of the Polo, which I am booked to attend in January, might also reveal that the brand's B segment hatchback has had a sprinkle of dynamics magic.

Taking VW to task over the perception that costs have been cut inside the T-Roc should be seen in the context of this being an otherwise clear segment leader. Anyone who thinks "I guess the Qashqai is my best option" now has reason to instead ask "why settle for that, when there is proper fun to be had behind the wheel of one crossover?".

Max torque is 320Nm: diesels come later

Low weight, perfectly balanced steering and carefully tuned suspension make the 1.0 TSI the best T-Roc petrol engine.

None of the diesels was available to try, so for anyone wanting their T-Roc to be packed full of torque, best wait until later in the first quarter and try one of the TDIs before ordering. I started with the 2.0 TSI, which has 190PS and 320Nm but it also weighs a not insubstantial 1,495kg. Yes, it will reach 62mph in 7.2 seconds and yet somehow it doesn't feel that brisk. Nor is there any pleasure in revving the engine to the 6,500rpm redline. The seven-speed DSG was faultless, it should be said - I have been a critic of the Volkswagen Group's dual clutch gearboxes in previous reviews but the company now seems to be nailing it. No pauses, no shunts, just beautiful shifts every time.

The 1.5 TSI was more fun to drive than the 2.0-litre. Less weight - 1,330kg unladen - helps. Suddenly, you see how good the steering is. Plus, the variant I tried, which had 150PS and 250Nm, was front-wheel drive, whereas the bigger-engined one had 4MOTION. Reaching 62mph takes 8.3 seconds, top speed drops to 127mph (versus 134mph) and CO2 is 121g/km, a handy improvement over 155g/km.

When three cylinders are better than four

The best of the lot was the 1.0-litre TSI. In common with all other T-Roc engines, this one too is turbocharged, but it has three, versus four cylinders. Outputs are 115PS and 200Nm. The rev counter has a higher redline, which goes to show that this is the engine for anyone wanting a bit of zing. Combined with mass of just 1,270kg, it delivers. Top speed is 116mph and the 0-62mph dash might take 10.1 seconds but the feedback through perfectly balanced steering and carefully tuned suspension calibrations makes this the best T-Roc. That is, until the diesels appear.

The engine range will, by the Spring, be as follows:

Petrol:
1.0 TSI, 115 PS, 200 Nm, six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
1.5 TSI, 150 PS, 250 Nm, six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
1.5 TSI, 150 PS, 250 Nm, seven-speed DSG, front-wheel drive
1.5 TSI, 150 PS, 250 Nm, seven-speed DSG, 4MOTION
2.0 TSI, 190 PS, 320 Nm, seven-speed DSG, 4MOTION

Diesel:
1.6 TDI, 115 PS, 250 Nm, six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
2.0 TDI, 150 PS, 340 Nm, six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
2.0 TDI, 150 PS, 340 Nm, six-speed manual, 4MOTION
2.0 TDI, 150 PS, 340 Nm, seven-speed DSG, front-wheel drive

Forget about the flip-up VW badge with a lens underneath, in this Volkswagen, it's not available.

This being a Volkswagen, don't expect generous standard equipment or low pricing. Although, on the latter front, it isn't as dear as might be assumed. Prices range from GBP18,950 and can go as high as GBP31,485. The 2.0-litre TSI which I drove was almost at the top end of those extremes and would you believe, even at that level, there is no sunroof, head-up display, heated steering wheel or reversing camera? Yes, forget about the flip-up VW badge with a lens underneath, in this Volkswagen, it's not available. An electric tailgate? That is, but it's an option.

Your T-Roc's been Tango'd

Another feature which VW hopes will make the T-Roc stand out for the right reasons, is a new trim level called Design. One of the cars featured 'Energetic Orange' for its so-called dashpad - there are four colour choices. This package consists of coloured plastic trim across the dashboard, around the centre console and on the tops of the doors. There are matching stripes in the upholstery. It won't be to everyone's taste and neither might the choice of various shades for the roof be either. If you're moving up from the Mini, then VW thinks it might have the look you could be seeking in a 4,234mm long crossover. Yes, that's right, the T-Roc is shorter than a Golf but of course, it's much taller.

C segment, or B/C?

In some ways, Volkswagen is a bit cheeky to accuse this newcomer of being a rival for the hugely popular Nissan, which is 4,394mm long. The Toyota C-HR, which measures 4,350mm end to end, could be seen as the T-Roc's more natural rival. Anyone who labels the new VeeDub as a B/C segment entrant should therefore be listened to.

Will there be another VW crossover to come between this new one and the 4,486mm long Tiguan? No, the T-Roc's length is what it is so as to be in the just-right space below the Tiguan and above the T-Cross, which will be with us this time next year. Complicating matters, Volkswagen of America, however, will have its own model which should be around 4.5m long - no name is yet known. The T-Roc will not be sold in the United States or Canada.

Production: Portugal and China

Will the Volkswagen Group's AutoEuropa plant be saved by this model? That seems a fair assumption to make. The last Eos was built there in 2015 and the final Scirocco in September. Furthermore, the low-volume Sharan and SEAT Alhambra twins are close to the end of their lifecycles and replacements are by no means certain. So the T-Roc is vital for this factory, which is in the city of Setúbal, part of the Portuguese municipality of Palmela. Build will also take place in China: FAW Volkswagen's wish that it build any VW SUV shall at last be granted (SAIC Volkswagen makes all others).

Vauxhall has fallen to second place and although a long way behind Ford, Volkswagen is getting closer.

No-one at Volkswagen wanted to talk production targets during the media launch. Nor, due to the uncertainty of what could be ahead for the UK economy, would the British importer's Sales & Marketing staff reveal any media guidance on what would be considered a level of success for CY2018. Remember though, this is the only one of the top three brands in the UK to be lifting its sales of late.

Vauxhall has fallen to second place and although a long way behind Ford, Volkswagen the brand is now getting closer. Remember too, that the Volkswagen Group has for a long time been the number one manufacturer in the UK market. The addition of the T-Roc can only help VW in 2018, a year in which a fresh Polo will be going after the Fiesta. Ford won't be surrendering its number one status without a fight though, and the UK's best seller is an excellent little car.

When it comes to model mix, "expect 90 per cent of T-Roc sales to be front-wheel drive [in Britain]". The only slight shock with that announcement for some might be that VW is even bothering with AWD variants. However, Tiguan registrations are claimed to be 50/50, which gives Volkswagen quite a different result to its competitors in the D-SUV and D/E segments - don't forget how much larger the latest Tiggy is, plus the size of the imminent Tiguan Allspace. Perhaps then, more than a tenth of T-Roc customers might choose a car equipped with 4MOTION. Especially if the south of Britain has more snow storms this winter.

Sum-up

In summary, as superb as the T-Roc is in some areas, it isn't an overall class leader. That hardly matters. The allure of the brand, the breadth of the sales network and the car's appeal to anyone who loves driving could conspire to give VW the strongest entrant in the segment. Stronger even than this little guy.

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