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The T-Roc has been with us since 2017 - can it still turn heads in a congested segment?

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The Volkswagen T-Roc has taken the UK market by storm over the last couple of years and has grown to become one of the UK’s best-selling cars

Based on the proportions of a Volkswagen Golf but with the high-riding driving position of an SUV, the T-Roc built on what the Nissan Qashqai had started, further bolstering the commercially appealing crossover-hatchback segment. 

Bullet-shaped LED daytime-running lights lend the T-Roc a distinctive light signature. On higher-spec models, the DRLs double as indicator

The T-Roc is one of the more athletic-looking and dynamic, driver-focused takes on the crossover to have emerged of late, enlivening what was previously a rather snooze-inducing segment.

It’s a striking thing to behold, too, being more athletic, elegant, purposeful and interesting in its slightly decorated appearance than the crossover norm, although you’d never call it shouty or over the top.

It first arrived in 2017 as a rival to the technically similar (and excellent, by the way) Seat Ateca, the more striking Toyota C-HR and the upmarket Audi Q2. There’s no lack of competition, even in-house, sitting below the larger Volkswagen Tiguan and Volkswagen Touareg in the brand’s own model line-up. 

The T-Roc range at a glance

The T-Roc’s engine is diverse and versatile, with a handful of trim levels, powertrains, and the option of front- and all-wheel drive.

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Engines for the T-Roc start with a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol producing 108bhp. A more powerful 1.5-litre petrol unit produces 148bhp, and there are two 2.0-litre options with all-wheel drive, with 187bhp and 296bhp, which is found in the range-topping, performance T-Roc R. VW also offers the T-Roc with two 2.0-litre diesel engines, with an output of 113bhp or 148bhp. 

VERSIONPOWER
1.0 TSI108bhp
1.5 TSI147bhp
2.0 TSI 4MOTION187bhp
2.0 TDI113bhp
2.0 TDI 4MOTION147bhp
R 2.0 TSI 4MOTION296bhp

There are four specification levels for the Volkswagen T-Roc: Life, Style, R-Line and the range-topping, performance Volkswagen T-Roc R. All are decently equipped with a digital touchscreen display, wireless smartphone connectivity and 

So, what does the T-Roc bring to the table? Find out below in our in-depth review.  

DESIGN & STYLING

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VW T Roc front driving

It’d be difficult to mistake the T-Roc for anything other than a Volkswagen.

It shares the low, wide grille styling that you’ll find on the new Volkswagen Polo, facelifted Volkswagen Golf and latest Volkswagen Tiguan, adapting the design cue to form its own unique identity within the manufacturer’s range.

The T-Roc’s handling and its 2.0-litre TSI engine are highlights, but it is surprising the appearance of low-rent materials in a £30k car

As with almost all medium-sized VW Group products, the T-Roc makes use of the familiar MQB architecture. It’s a compact car by mid-sized crossover standards.

Dimensionally, the T-Roc’s 4234mm length makes it 252mm shorter than its Tiguan big brother but also 129mm shorter than a Seat Ateca – and shorter than the Seat in the wheelbase, too.

Compactness is part of VW’s positioning of the T-Roc as a sportier, better-looking and more desirable kind of crossover.

You’ll have no doubt spotted the car’s curving roofline and sloping C-pillars, marking it out as a second-era crossover more like the Toyota C-HR or Audi Q2 than the class-defining Nissan Qashqai.

And helping the T-Roc live up to this billing elsewhere is its relatively wide, low-slung stance, which is suggestive of the dynamism that’s still tellingly hard to find in the wider crossover hatchback segment.

Power is generally sent to the front wheels, although the 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines are paired with VW’s 4Motion part-time four-wheel-drive system as standard.

The multi-plate-clutch-based system sends the bulk of the engine’s power to the front axle the majority of the time, with the rear axle being involved either as traction deteriorates upfront or more consistently depending on the selected driving mode.

A six-speed manual gearbox is standard fare for all but the 2.0-litre petrol, which has a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

As for suspension, MacPherson struts are used up front, with a torsion beam or multi-link rear set-up, depending on engine choice. An optional adaptive damper system is also available.

INTERIOR

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VW T Roc interior

The Volkswagen T-Roc isn’t the most spacious crossover, and pretty clearly so by design.

It presents a higher seating position than a conventional hatchback and has a boot sufficiently large that you’d be unlikely to find one to match its size in a normal five-door (although the four-wheel-drive specification reduced its carrying capacity a little).

VW’s second-generation Active Info Display instruments do lend the cabin a techy flourish and the modes are easier to switch between, but too many omit simple speedo and tacho dials

Still, although it may feature somewhere on the list of likes, enhanced practicality isn’t likely to be the primary motivator of anyone choosing this car in place of a Volkswagen Golf.

Up front, though, you’re certainly surrounded by a greater impression of space than you’d find in a normal hatchback, and you get a good view of the road in all directions.

The driving position adjusts from gently perched up to distinctly raised and bent-legged, but the controls are all as well placed and spaced as is typical for a thoroughly thought-out VW product.

In the back, there’s decent room for an average-sized adult and just enough if you’re above average height assuming a slightly splayed-kneed seating position.

Plenty of direct rivals are more spacious. But VW deserves credit for integrating the T-Roc’s panoramic sunroof without impacting on occupant headroom.

The optional glass roof finishes just ahead of the scalps of those sitting in the back, leaving space for useful recesses that will keep the heads of even taller passengers from brushing the headlining.

Instead of aiming for particularly roomy, VW has gone for a ritzy, contemporary ambience – and has produced it quite well.

Active Info Display digital instruments, the T-Roc's large and flush-fronted 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system and its sparingly deployed strips of ambient lighting make it feel advanced and quietly ‘high-tech’.

The digital instruments are Volkswagen’s second-generation system, which is also available on the Polo. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available as standard.

The system's graphics are both resolute and clear, and the instruments appeared crisp and usefully adaptable when following a plotted navigation route or listening to the audio system.

VW leaves the door ajar a little to those who might say these features are window dressing on a cabin that feels slightly plain and ordinary in other respects, though. The fascia top is hard and slightly shiny, and in a market where even a Nissan Micra gets a soft-touch slush moulding, that’s a little surprising.

Likewise, its interior door handles and below-the-knee mouldings all look and feel as though they could have had a little bit more money spent on them.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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DB2022AU00099 medium

Although it’s rare to find a crossover hatchback with what’s ostensibly a slightly detuned engine from a GTI hot hatchback – albeit a Volkswagen Polo GTI in this case rather than Golf – it’s not altogether surprising that VW should have built one.

The company tends to offer broader engine ranges than many of its volume-brand competitors and its semi-premium positioning also allows it to embrace the more powerful end of the combustive spectrum in a way that its rivals perhaps can’t.

T-Roc’s chassis can carry more pace through bends than you’ll initially believe and encourages you to be bolder with your entry speed

As the entry engine for the T-Roc range, the 1.0-litre TSI comes with a conservative 107bhp and is exclusively available with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Even with an 11.0sec sprint from 0-62mph, this three-cylinder model is still punchy enough and is remarkably easy to drive. You'll struggle to find more power for the money, with the Ford Puma the only real competitor out there. 

The 2.0 TSI is our pick of the range for the T-Roc. It performs with the strength and zest that puts much of the model's rivals to shame. 

It's smooth and polished and is particularly quiet and well-mannered when cruising at low and high speeds. It's best matched to a smart, quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic gearbox that impresses in both automatic and paddle-shift manual modes.

When all is said and done, it’s probably the completeness of this all-corner powertrain that distinguishes it best.

But the car is generously swift – more so, by our measurements, even than VW claims it is. And, given its head, the T-Roc finds assured traction even in slippery conditions and needed just 6.7sec to hit 60mph from rest, making VW’s 7.2sec-to-62mph claim look unnecessarily conservative.

If you're after a diesel, you'll likely be content with either of the available engines. With 113bhp, the 2.0 TDI 115 still provides ample power, offering a 10.4sec sprint from 0-62mph. This engine can feel slightly less refined than the two petrol options, however, and can only be selected with a six-speed manual. 

The 147bhp diesel is also a safe bet, with optional all-wheel drive and selectable with either a manual or DSG. It pulls decently from a standstill, and thanks to excellent low-rev performance, can tow up to 1600kg - 100kg more than the current Qashqai. 

 

RIDE & HANDLING

VW T Roc cornering

The Volkswagen T-Roc certainly came in a form in which you’d expect it to do well in this section, fitted with optional Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive damping and variable-ratio steering, both of which are features denied to many of its rivals.

But the car deploys those technologies to its advantage particularly successfully. The T-Roc’s breadth and range of dynamic ability is quite something.

Body control is excellent through faster corners in Sport mode, with just a hint of jitteriness from the ride under duress

Select the Sport driving mode and the handling becomes crisper, keener and more inspiring than that of any of its competitors.

Select Comfort instead and its ride becomes pleasingly supple and absorptive. We’ve seen cars in this class capable of one or another before, but none has done both quite as well.

Equally pleasing to find, however, is the predictability and linearity of response that continues to mark out Volkswagen's cars from those of its peers.

Although the T-Roc’s variable-ratio steering is quick, it doesn’t gather pace in a way that surprises you off-centre; and although it doesn’t have the sort of weight that would make it feel unwieldy to some, it’s heavy enough to feel nicely comprehensible.

So the car is at once easy to manoeuvre at low speeds but also intuitive-handling, agile, controlled and generally encouraging when it’s whipped along. In none of its dynamic modes does the car lack a sense of measured, road-appropriate maturity, either.

Being a pretty ordinary Haldex-style set-up, VW’s 4Motion four-wheel-drive system does not take the lead in the driving experience. Its ESP-based torque vectoring capacities are pretty slight and it never moves enough power to the rear wheels to make the car feel like it’s genuinely being pushed around corners rather than pulled.

And yet it adds a layer of surefootedness to the T-Roc’s limit handling, combines well with a subtle but effective stability control system and makes the car assured and easy to drive at any speed.

Would you call the net result exciting or involving? Perhaps not in total confidence – but it’s getting there, and given the rounded dynamic brief this car had to meet, that’s very commendable.

Even in chilly, damp conditions, the T-Roc made short work of fairly brisk progress around Millbrook’s Alpine hill route.

Where taller, firmer-sprung crossovers can feel exposed for cornering grip and a little unforgiving when driven quickly, the VW shows its dynamic class by developing plenty of grip both on turn-in and under high lateral load. In tighter bends, its ability to carry speed and hit apices simultaneously belied expectations.

VW’s stability control (ESC) almost imperceptibly prevents you from breaching the car’s grip levels with power as you accelerate out of corners but, like all the best similar systems, it feels as though it’s metering out power rather than reining it in.

With the ESC off, meanwhile, you eventually become aware of the limitations of the four-wheel-drive system, which isn’t sophisticated enough to stop power-on understeer.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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VW T Roc lead

There are plenty of benefits to choosing the T-Roc if you're after a crossover with good daily fuel economy. 

Volkswagen promises around 47.1mpg for both the 1.0 and 1.5 TSI models, while the 2.0 TSI 4MOTION, with its seven-speed DSG, offers 38.2mpg.

As strong a performance on retained value as you’re likely to find in a crossover hatch, despite a high list price

Diesel is where it's at if you're after the biggest fuel savings, with the 110bhp TDI offering 60.1mpg and the more powerful 147bhp unit offering 58.9mpg. The 2.0 TDI 4MOTION will offer around 51.4mpg. 

At £28,365 the entry-level T-Roc 1.0 TSI costs identical to a like-for-like Seat Ateca

Standard equipment at this price point isn’t bad - and far better than when the model launched - with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, automatic LED headlights, ambient lighting, front and rear parking sensors and two-zone climate control all included as standard. 

Mid-range Style cars, priced from £31,255, come with 17in wheels, improved LED headlights, a 10.25in digital cockpit pro system, sat-nav and roof-in-body colour options, plus front and rear carpet mats. 

You get bespoke bodywork on R-Line specifications, which will set you back £34,390, plus drive profile selection, 65% tinted glass at the rear, plus heated front seats. R-Line starts from £34,390. 

Although that’s expensive, it is not exorbitant, considering its level of performance and equipment. There’s plenty of in-car technology included, but it pays to remember that you’ll be very close to pushing into proper premium-brand territory here: a BMW X1 20i Sport could be yours for a near-identical price, for example. 

The T-Roc is marginally outdone by one or two rivals in terms of depreciation but is competitive with most – and compared with other ways you might spend similar money, it remains a relatively sensible place to put private money.

Prices for the range-topping T-Roc R jump significantly to £45,465. You can read our full review of this high-performance crossover here.

VERDICT

VW T Roc static beach

The Volkswagen T-Roc is one of countless compact crossovers introduced over the past six months, but it stands well clear of most within that melee as both something to look at and interact with.

You’ll have your own view on the stylishness and desirability of this car, but to almost all of our testers, the T-Roc seems a very clever visual concoction of likeable compactness, coupé-like rakishness, SUV-like robustness and typical VW-brand smartness. To deny it credit for that here would be wrong.

Shows performance verve, dynamic completeness and stylish swagger

The T-Roc imposes a price for that style and the palatability of that price will depend, equally subjectively, on whether you need the greater occupant practicality that bigger crossovers in this segment afford.

Indeed, it’s for the slightly disappointing accommodation level of its back seats, as well as for its high pricing and mixed material quality levels, that we’re denying the car top spot in the crossover hatchback class.

However, the T-Roc offers a rare degree of perky performance and polished ride and handling in this niche. So class champion or not, the T-Roc is our kind of crossover.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Volkswagen T-Roc First drives