Is this Volkswagen’s most important new model?
Forget the excitement around the potential revival of the iconic Kombi and Beach Buggy as electric cars. Or even the eighth-generation Golf set to emerge later in 2019.
No, this all-new T-Roc is arguably the most critical new model for the German brand to get right in Australia, to give its short- and long-term future a boost.
That’s because it fills a gaping hole in the brand’s current line-up, and a crucial one at that – the compact SUV. The T-Roc will slot underneath the Tiguan and above the equally new, even smaller Polo-based T-Cross, to give the People’s Car maker an offering for the vast number of buyers looking for something high-riding but still modest in size.
Which is remarkable because Volkswagen Australia actually gave up on the car a little more than a year ago. Speaking at the launch of the Arteon in November 2017, VW Australia CEO Michael Bartsch admitted it was too hard to get the T-Roc to Australia in the right specification at the right price so it had been put on the back-burner.
After what the company called a “hard fight”, the local operation changed the minds of the product planners in Germany and a better deal was able to be worked out, putting the T-Roc back on the Australian agenda.
Unfortunately this isn’t a comprehensive review, because our test drive was limited to cutting laps of Luddenham Raceway on the outskirts of Sydney. That’s because this particular T-Roc you see here is actually from the United Kingdom, via New Zealand. Volkswagen Australia simply borrowed it to give us a chance to sample the compact SUV before the definitive Australian-specification cars arrive in March 2020.
But we will tell you everything we know about it right now.
The T-Roc should be right for a lot of people, at least judging by the sales rate of its rivals, the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Subaru XV and Mitsubishi ASX. This kind of small car-based crossover has plenty of appeal to both young professionals, families and even empty-nesters. They offer small car liveability with SUV practicality and style, elements that are in demand from a wide range of people.
Can I afford the Volkswagen T-Roc ?
Pricing hasn’t been announced yet because the final specification of the T-Roc line-up is still being worked out by Volkswagen Australia. What the company has confirmed is it’s aiming for a starting price “below $40,000”, which would put the T-Roc at the upper end of the current compact SUV market.
However, it’s likely Volkswagen will offer an entry-level model in the low $30,000 range and then stretch well above $40K with the higher-grade T-Roc R-Line. That would position it close to the wagon-shaped Tiguan range, which is set to re-expand later this year to include the 110TSI models again, which were previously priced in the mid to high-$30K range, however Volkswagen is confident the two models are different enough to coexist.
There’s also hope that the high-performance T-Roc R will make it down under (if some technical hurdles can be cleared) and that would likely command a high-$50K or even a $60K asking price – at least based on the Golf R, which is currently $57,190 plus on-road costs.
What do you get for your money?
That’s an impossible question to answer at this stage without knowing the price.
It’s hard to know exactly what to expect, but if we were to speculate it seems likely that VW Australia would offer an entry-grade front-wheel drive model and then step up to all-wheel drive mid and high trim T-Rocs.
Golf-like. There’s a deep sense of familiarity with the T-Roc because it’s based on the same ‘MQB’ underpinnings as the current Golf Mk7.5 and shares the same powertrain options and even electrical systems. That means the design of the cabin has a very familiar feel, right down to the infotainment system.
However, one major difference between the NZ-sourced T-Roc we drove and the eventual Australian-grade models will be the quality of the materials used. The NZ car featured hard, cheap-looking plastics throughout the cabin, something VW Australia said it will replace with better-quality materials next year.
Unsurprisingly, the T-Roc offers up similar cabin space to the Golf, which is to say a generous amount for both front and rear occupants.
Those in the back do get slightly compromised headroom, though, courtesy of the stylish sloping roofline that gives the coupe-like T-Roc its dynamic and muscular stance.
Sharing key components with the Golf means the T-Roc’s infotainment system is the same as what’s in the current Golf. The T-Roc R-Line we drove was equipped with the higher-grade infotainment system and 12.3-inch digital dashboard (or Active Info Display in Volkswagen speak).
The T-Roc R-Line we drove was fitted with the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine you’ll find in a Golf or Tiguan. It’s paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.
Making 140kW of power and 320Nm of torque in the T-Roc, the drivetrain isn’t a match for a Golf GTI’s in terms of outright performance but it still feels punchy for a small SUV.
While our test drive was limited, it showed up largely what we anticipated – a Golf-like driving experience. The engine feels strong and willing, though the transmission is susceptible to the odd clunky shift when rolling along at low speeds.
With Volkswagen Australia yet to lock in engines – and the possibility of updated powertrains by the time the T-Roc arrives in 2020 – we can’t make a clear assessment of fuel economy.
What’s the Volkswagen T-Roc like to drive?
The billiard-table-smooth surface of Luddenham Raceway means our assessment of the T-Roc’s chassis is somewhat limited. It’s impossible to make a call on ride comfort, even on the R-Line 19-inch alloy wheels, as there are no significant bumps to hit.
What we can say is the steering is direct and nicely weighted, and the chassis feels taut and responsive. At the same time though, it doesn’t feel quite as sharp as a Golf, with more body roll when cornering and a lower threshold for its dynamic limits. In other words, you can’t quite hustle a T-Roc as quickly as you can an equivalent Golf.
What’s the verdict?
Until we know pricing and specifications, it’s impossible to compare it to its rivals. But there’s no doubt Volkswagen faces a significant challenge taking on more well-established names in the compact SUV market. That said, the T-Roc’s chunky, coupe-like style, vibrant colour palette and classy interior should give it a leg-up over its ageing Japanese competitors.
If it’s priced right, the sales potential of the T-Roc in Australia is huge. As more and more buyers shift away from traditional passenger cars, brands need to have an SUV alternative waiting for both loyal customers and potential new ones.
The “hard fight” between Volkswagen Australia and Germany has the potential to make both parties winners if SUV sales continue to climb, and the T-Roc is there to cash in.