In top-spec R-Line trim and with a few options, T-Roc can easily become a £35,000 car

In top-spec R-Line trim and with a few options, T-Roc can easily become a £35,000 car

View 1 related image

Once an also-ran when it comes to sales of SUVs, Volkswagen could be on its way to becoming the world's number one. The Tiguan is strong in China and Europe and gaining popularity in the USA while its smaller brother, the Golf-sized T-Roc, is rapidly becoming a major force in multiple markets too. 

Beetle, Golf, ID.3 - but don't forget SUVs

Having pushed one main model in Europe over more than four decades, what Volkswagen is up to right now is nothing short of revolutionary. The PR spin which accompanies its drip-drip feed of information about the ID.3 talks of the number three being apt for this model's importance: first the Type 1 or Käfer (Beetle), then the Golf and soon, the brand's first electric five-door hatchback.

As I write, Volkswagen says 15,000 people have placed orders for an ID.3. Expect that number to have risen considerably by year-end with a spike following the public unveiling at the Frankfurt motor show in September. Will this electric car threaten the Golf? To a certain extent, of course it will, but Volkswagen has a genius for adding models just above or below the Golf's size and somehow none of them seem to savage sales of what remains Europe's best selling vehicle.

Tiguan overtakes Qashqai, now T-Roc dominates in C-SUVs

It took many years and two generations of the Tiguan to convince a large number German buyers that what they really wanted was a D segment SUV. Month by month though, that model's sales have steadily risen to the point where it is now Europe's best seller in the segment. What is happening in the size class below it is just as important, especially as the surge in T-Roc sales could see the Golf seriously assailed within the next 12 months. For now, VW's best seller remains way out in front of the Polo, Tiguan, T-Roc and Passat (in that order) but can it stay that way?

One T-Roc, two sizes

As is its habit, Volkswagen has been quietly working away, adding variants to the line-up of what we can think of as the Golf crossover or SUV. The T-Roc has been available in Europe since the end of 2017, all regional production taking place at the Palmela (Setúbal) plant in Portugal. It isn't available in the Americas but this model is especially successful in China too, FAW Volkswagen building a special version, the Tange, at a plant in Foshan since July 2018.

China's model is 4,318mm long, 1,819mm wide and 1,582mm high, which is 84mm longer and 9mm taller than the T-Roc sold in Europe, while the wheelbase is 77mm lengthier. The latest data show sales in the PRC hitting 7,235 units in March, whereas in Germany, the number two market, deliveries for the same month numbered 5,971 (+86%). According to JATO, Europe-wide deliveries shot up by 73% to 23,423 units.

R coming soon, then a T-Roc Cabrio in 2020

What's making this model so well liked? In Europe, much of the surge is to do with Volkswagen's Worldwide Harmonized Light Duty Vehicles Test Procedure testing delay issues finally being solved. In short, all model variants are becoming available once more and order backlogs being worked through. Along with 1.6- and 2.0-litre diesels, several three- and four-cylinder petrol engines are available, with more being added, such as the one which will power the T-Roc R. This, the most expensive and fastest variant yet, was a world debut at the Geneva motor show.

Pricing is yet to be announced but the very existence of the 221kW (300PS) and 400Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre R shows that Volkswagen believes there is even more profit potential in what is now the T-Roc segment. Don't expect next year's Cabrio to be inexpensive either.

In Britain, we don't seem to mind spending the extra that is typically commanded by most VW models and that definitely applies to this crossover. You can easily pay in excess of GBP30,000 for a T-Roc with a car I recently tried weighing in at GBP32,725 before options. This one was powered by a 190PS and 320Nm 2.0-litre petrol turbo and came with all-wheel drive and a seven-speed DSG. The Combined WLTP consumption is 34.4mpg which was about what the car delivered in some 500 miles of day to day driving.

Minimalist design

The appeal of this model over competitors is plain to see in so many areas. That starts with the usual Volkswagen less-is-more approach to interior design. The understated and clutter-free dashboard is not dissimilar to what Golf owners are used to but there's more headroom in the T-Roc and the higher seating position will be a major draw for many potential buyers.

Volkswagen is linking the front end of most of its SUVs so anyone who likes the look of the Tiguan, Tiguan Allspace, Touareg and T-Cross will also find the T-Roc pleasing, although at the back end, this model has its own unique style.

As with the Golf, and depending on model grade, the VW badge flips up when reversing, something which is especially handy in the months when roads are mucky - why haven't more manufacturers had their suppliers copy this feature? The tailgate itself is light yet solid-feeling, and opens to reveal 392 litres of capacity with seats up and 1,237 when folded (the test car had 4MOTION).

A C-SUV for those who love driving

You could argue that with the addition of the R, people who want this type of vehicle do have an interest in driving being fun rather than just sensible. The T-Roc has certainly been engineered with that in mind as through long bends it surprises with steering that has very little slack. And for a car which sits that much higher than the equivalent Golf, its composure in terms of body roll is really very good. The test vehicle looked great on 19-inch wheels and 225/40 series tyres and even better, I sensed no trade-off in comfort.

Another best in class VW SUV?

I tried hard to find the T-Roc's weak spots and really, there aren't any. Certainly you can find vehicles with perhaps 80 per cent of this model's all-round ability for less money and some might even be turned off by the sheer number of Volkswagens on our roads. It's a pity that TDI engines have fallen so dramatically from favour as for me, their combination of oomph and economy give them more appeal than the Volkswagen Group's petrol equivalents, as competitive as the latter are. A T-Roc with the 150PS 2.0-litre diesel and six-speed manual transmission or DSG - that's the one I'd have.