This is our Hands-On-Tech (HOT) reporting series. Here, we take a look at the top-spec connectivity features offered by manufacturers in detail, looking to benchmark the connectivity functionality based on various test criteria. Volkswagen‘s compact crossover T-Roc takes on the best-selling Nissan Qashqai in a very busy and fiercely competitive segment. So how does the technology, Car-Net, now available across the range, fare as a value proposition? 

Volkswagen has now done away with the plastic buttons that traditionally surround the digital display. Now, touch-sensitive pads surround the T-Roc’s display screen, seamlessly integrated behind the glossy finish of the screen itself. The touch sensitivity is very high though, so when you reach to adjust the volume, more often than not, another option is knocked and selected inadvertently. This can be frustrating if the driver is using the middle screen for navigation (though there is the option to toggle the cluster display to show the navigation here instead).

The physical climate control switchgear sits under the infotainment display and is well laid out. Parking sensors and Park assist are easily toggled on and off from here, as are the seat warming features and other climate control. It looks really smart too. In the digital menu, ‘Aircon’ offers the option of controlling the climate digitally. This has been well-configured and for a global product, offers multiple market choice of control during this digitisation period. 

The T-Roc’s system allows up to three driver profiles and a guest for infotainment purposes. The seat adjustment is manual so this has not been integrated. However, this is a neat feature for families with younger drivers (Dad’s radio presets will no longer be messed with!). The car alarm can be disabled with the key fob. 

The display is 8″ with swipe and pinch/zoom functionality. It’s incredibly responsive (though not with leather gloves) and one of the particular highlights is the way the system “senses” a finger is heading towards the screen, prompting the menu bar to appear in the lower third.

The display in front of the driver is a smaller screen between the speedo and rev counter. Buttons on the steering wheel offer options to customise this display from navigation to vehicle health or journey information.  

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Auto, CarPlay and Mirrorlink are available and, where necessary, have been configured for right hand drive vehicles. A data cable from either of the two USB ports in the front console connects the phone to the system. If one phone is connected after another, the first will connect and the system will ask, when the second one is connected, which handset the driver would prefer to be tethered. 

Voice Control
As has become routine with these reports, we deliver another average verdict on the voice control functionality. Recalling the nuanced accuracy of the Volvo V90 with its wealth of commands, covering climate, audio and telephony, we find no other vehicle in our test has quite reached the same accuracy, with the exception of the BMW 5-series—despite many manufacturers using Nuance Communications as the natural language processing (NPL) supplier. This suggests manufacturers are reducing the capability of the voice recognition software when they are customising the system, or the software heavily relies on a data connection to process commands more accurately in the cloud and not every car comes with one. 

In the Volkswagen T-Roc, the voice control is interesting, and not in a good way. The menu tends towards the contacts list, which if the phone isn’t connected – i.e. the contacts have not been imported – the system gets very upset and can’t help. This applies even when requesting radio stations and addresses to navigate to.

When using the pre-determined command cues, the system is far more accurate, though the nesting is quite arduous and it triple checks what it’s heard, making it less convenient than typing. The reply voice is very computerised and wooden, at one point interpreting a muttered expletive as command ‘Line 2’ and tuning to Bloomberg Radio, which I guess is no bad thing. (Ed: Clearly the tester needs to watch her language in future!)

We rated it three out of five for both natural use and accuracy where the system understood commands through mixed syntax most of the time.

The networking features in the Car-Net system relies on the Car-Net app being downloaded onto the driver’s handset and paired with the car’s system. (There is a raft of Volkswagen apps, which we’ll come onto later.) This all seems incredibly convoluted, especially as you can connect the smartphone via cable to use Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Mirrorlink interfaces. 

The T-Roc features an SOS and concierge-esque button located near the sunroof controls. The latter connected us to a German-speaking helpline, which was awkward.

Companion App and Telematics
Volkswagen has created a number of Car-Net related apps. The Car-Net has the functionality to remotely control the horn and lights, find the car’s location and offer driving data, including hours and distance driven, average speed and average consumption. Car-Net also informs the user when the next inspection and oil changes are due. The app user can build in notifications for excessive speed and area alerts, which is helpful for parents. Overall the app was easy to register for, download and log into. 

Drive & Track is a live tracking recorder, so you can record track days. Trainer is part of VW’s Think Blue campaign, to encourage eco-driving. These sync with the car’s interface. VW Connect works in combination with the VW DataPlug, which connects to the vehicle’s OBD II port and offers more in-depth diagnostic information and driving data accuracy.

With a total of eight media output options, the Volkswagen T-Roc sailed ahead of any other manufacturer tested for the broadest range. The beats audio upgrade is decent enough, though the levels needed to be manually shifted. 

The navigation is on the whole as competitive as Google or Apple Maps. There are nine steps to set the destination and/or a waypoint, which by all accounts, is the highest on record. However, this includes a selection from ‘Shortest, Fastest, Most Eco-Friendly’ with time arrival estimates and distance displayed to inform the driver. This was very helpful, as was the Points of Interest feature. When looking for something it shows visually those matching POIs en route. In the case of petrol stations, the system will also display the price per litre too. Though this feature is offered on all other vehicles tested, this is the best example of execution for displaying this kind of information. We did, however, encounter some issues if the tethered connection had poor or no reception. In this instance, the POIs struggled to load. 

All Discover Navigation and Discover Navigation Pro include free lifetime navigation updates. We rated the navigation four out of five for intuitive design and three out of five for route accuracy. The system would definitely benefit from having its own independent data connection.

Aside from the glitches of voice control defaulting to the telephony menu when other functions were requested, the system was actually very good when it was supposed to be making a call. It does connect easily and the clarity of the calls is more than satisfactory. 

The T-Roc is equipped with many of the usual suspects: blind spot detection, lane keep assist, lane depart warning, auto emergency braking and auto adaptive cruise control (AACC). The AACC feature could be set from the steering wheel controls and the distance from the car in front determined. Though the cruise control was for most part smooth, the sensors could be a little sensitive, causing the car to brake unnecessarily when other vehicles were moving across lanes or joining slip roads. Again, a top-view connected view integrated into the navigation would resolve such issues but for now, it made us hesitate to use the feature as the braking could be a little heavy from time to time. 

Disappointingly, there’s no 360-degree parking camera, though there is a visual display of the parking sensor mapping and a rear camera combination. On the plus side, the start/stop technology wasn’t sluggish, initialising as needed. 

The Volkswagen T-Roc is one of our favourite runarounds from a performance perspective. Volkswagen has always been known for investing in the tech under the hood, rather than in the cabin. The system was comprehensive, yet easy enough that we didn’t find ourselves wanting to connect to Auto or CarPlay, as we have felt in some other vehicles. Volkswagen has announced Amazon Alexa will be integrated into the system in the future. Though Volkswagen is clearly wanting to push the envelope with some of these technologies, more urgent usability improvements, such as more minimal nesting, a 360-surround view camera and a data connection, will help Volkswagen justify the relatively high price point for its class.

*This article is an extract from a report that first appeared in our QUBE service. The QUBE article is accompanied by a comprehensive data sheet with our full evaluation of the Volkswagen’s connectivity and HMI.