Sandwiched between the compact T-Cross and ever-green Tiguan, I think that this T-Roc is probably the best pavement-hopper currently made by Volkswagen.
Let’s start at the bottom, shall we? When VW launched its angular cutie T-Cross, most of southern Africa went absolutely bananas. And rightfully so, as the car-buying public is perennially hungry for smaller (and more affordable) products by the leading brands. A teeny but stylish Volksie soft-roader… is a bit of a no-brainer.
This was already proven by the Tiguan, VW’s first city SUV, which exceeded sales expectations despite some steep price tags. And initially, completely nonsensical trim names. But the beloved Tig’ was out of reach for quite a few doting fans, made worse by our dwindling economy and the vehicle’s innovative evolution.
They even introduced a seven-seater Tiguan, to cater for larger families with active social and/or outdoor lives. Now add turbo-diesel or –petrol power, clever gearboxes and optional 4Motion (all-wheel drive) to justify an asking price which is often double that of the front-wheel driven petrol-only T-Cross.
The solution? It’s staring you in the face, with its friendly yet confident visage, bulbous wheel arches and Germanic silhouette, culminating in a slightly over-styled rear end. This also depends on trim levels, but our fetching grey metallic test car had silver scuff and diffuser elements, ill-placed fake exhaust ports, bevelled light clusters and more indented lines than Madonna.
Contrasted by a jet-black roof and tasteful chrome accents, the T-Roc is a fine-looking machine; in my humble opinion. The recent facelift nipped and tucked a few of those aforementioned design lines, but its trademark inlayed front indicators (and those lower rear clusters) are still here to easily identify this as a ‘Roc.
It’s much the same story inside this updated model, so you’ll find the swooping new steering wheel with its soft new logo and multiple remote controls for audio, cruise and display settings. The gauge cluster in this vehicle is fully digital, with plenty of options to customise the design and information on offer.
Volkswagen interiors can be extremely drab affairs, no thanks to the company’s insistence on using Ford’s Model T colour palette when deciding on cabin hues. Happily, this T-Roc had one of the lightest VW cockpits I’ve recently laid eyes on, with medium grey seat inserts, white contrast stitching and a bright head-liner material.
Seating comfort is on the firm side, especially at the back, but head- and leg-room are both sufficient for four adults; showcasing how neatly this car fits between the rather snug T-Cross and more generous Tiguan dimensions. Same for the boot and tank sizes: at 445 to 1,290L cargo capacity, plus a 50L petrol tank. VW claims average fuel consumption of 6.3L/100km.
And although we noticed a recent dip in VW interior quality, this stylish cabin provided no such dramas. Some middle dashboard surfaces are hard plastic, but feel and look praiseworthy. The leather-covered and double-stitched dash top was soft to the touch, while the large grey panels lower down seemed like a lavish inclusion of the body colour.
Not everyone liked the piano black trim, as it can easily show fingerprints and may scratch easily.
Our … press vehicle also delighted everyone with its fairly intuitive climate control and media/infotainment screen. Thanks to a physical volume knob and wonderfully elevated position, it is a perfect antidote to the train-smash we experienced in a new Touareg. Ditto for the central air vents, which actually work.
Speaking of things that actually work, we were fortunate to have a 1.4TSi Tiguan Allspace underfoot not long before this vehicle arrived; with exactly the same power plant. However, where the Allspace DSG was lethargic in an alarming number of daily traffic situations, this T-Roc 1.4TSi with its traditional torque converter automatic was nippy and responsive; almost perfect.
The only hurdle preventing perfection is the gearbox shift algorithm in anything but sporty modes. No doubt inspired by EU emissions policies, this 8-speed automatic gearbox will shift up earlier than most of our testers would like. So there’s an occasional delay in power delivery, as the excellent turbo-petrol spools up and the transmission finds a more suitable ratio.
More proof that we’re dealing with a fantastic power plant comes in the shape of our 0-100km/h tests, of which the best attempt took just 9.04 seconds. Volkswagen of South Africa claims 8.4, as well as a top speed of 205km/h. We also observed a wonderful urgency in sport mode, whose delightfully rude gear changes culminated in first- and second-gear wheel chirps.
Ride comfort is excellent, no thanks to one of the most balanced crossover chassis I’ve recently piloted. How so? Well, it’s derived from the best-selling and highly refined Golf platform. What also helped this vehicle was its base “Design” specification with 215/65R17 wheels; the sportier R-Line has thinner sidewalls and hence, inferior low-speed damping.
Typing of which, the T-Roc is also available with a jolly exciting 2L TSi motor (in either Design or R-Line trim), essentially offering you the chance of driving a watered-down but jacked-up Golf GTi. If that’s your cup of tea, go for it, but I for one would be perfectly content with this well-rounded base model in the range.
Which, by the way, is a bit of a VW trademark.