IAIN ROBERTSON 

In creating a rival to the Audi Q2, Skoda Karoq and Seat Ateca, from within its own competitive stable, suggests Iain Robertson, Volkswagen felt compelled to stick with a customary mine of tried, trusted and renowned elements…oh well…

Let’s face it, VeeDub is never going to ‘do radical’, however substantial is the hint that appears to be dropped by its design stance and ‘rocky’ nomenclature. Its latest ‘bugger Bognor’ gesture arrives in the most smartly attired T-Roc that points a very clear signpost at automotive conventionality and even draws back a touch from its ‘slush-moulded’ plastics technology that once heralded the marque’s superiority over all of its competitors.

While the new model is not the first compact SUV created by VW, it is fair to suggest that the Tiguan, having now moved up the model ladder, has left a convenient T-Roc shaped slot just below it. While not wishing to let too many cats out of the bag, there will be an even smaller model due at sometime in the near future but, in the meantime, T-Roc not only makes a decent visual impact but needs to be recognised as probably the most important single model range to be introduced by the German giant.

Naturally, with such an immense multi-brand parts bin to dip into, the four trim levels (S, SE, Design and SEL) are accompanied by a choice of five engines, three petrol and two diesel, with prices starting at a lower-than-anticipated £18,950 but still escalating to £31,485 for the all-singing-and-dancing, 2.0TSi version boasting 187bhp, a seven-speed DSG transmission and four-wheel-drive. This latter aspect is one considered by VW to be vital, as very few of its rivals even offer an all-wheel-drive transmission and the company knows that its clever 4Motion system will find contented customers in many more geographical regions as a result.

Yet, there is an over-arching aspect to the T-Roc that was engineered into it from the outset. VW feels thoroughly justified in making its new model more focussed in terms of chassis dynamics, overall handling capabilities and the delights of sheer drivability. Each model feels so competently assembled and impressively taut that there are no creaks, groans, or complaints arising from any aspect of the driving experience. Mind you, it is hardly a brand with which we associate such aspects of duffness. Of course, the car tips the scales from a moderate 1,270kgs kerbweight, which should provide a clue to the solidity of its structure. While not quite a Brunel Bridge, engineering integrity is high on VW’s list of model demands.

Torsional rigidity is at the head of its list of benefits and it is reflected in the efficiency of T-Roc’s suspension system that boasts outstanding wheel control, highly effective damping and, quite possibly, the best steering feel and responsiveness that I have sampled on any VW product since the very first Golf model. It truly feels as though VW has rediscovered its mojo with the T-Roc, which is not an expression that I expected to write. Yet, I cannot fault it. The amount of feedback provided to the driver’s fingers is seldom less than intuitive. That it is also translated into feel received from the driver’s seat is remarkable and results in one of the most engaging driving experiences that I have enjoyed in a long time, most especially in a ‘family car’ of this class.

Although time only permitted drives of both 1.0TSi and 1.5TSi models, I cannot state that I am anything less than enamoured by the 1.0-litre turbo-triple, which develops a modest 112bhp (matched by 148lbs ft of torque), yet still manages a top speed of 116mph, after despatching the benchmark 0-60mph sprint in a mere 9.8 seconds. It will be the biggest seller by a considerable margin, not least because of the anti-diesel ill-will for which (ahem) VW is partially responsible. Thanks to a wealth of low-end grunt, there is no need to work the 6-speed manual gearbox into a frenzy and I never ceased to be amazed at carrying out open-road overtakes in 5th gear and taking town centre junctions in 3rd. The engine is a revelation and it is refined, quiet and beautifully geared, no matter how close to its limits it is being pushed.

Yet, the 1.5TSi, four-cylinder turbo-petrol unit that develops 147bhp (185lbs ft) and features automatic cylinder shut-off in its suite of intelligent technology is also a marvel, if you stretch the budget a tad (£25,520, as tested). It blitzes the 0-60mph dash in just 8.0 seconds, before coursing onto a top speed of 127mph. Remember that these were figures in hot hatch territory not so long ago and, when the ‘ECO’ setting does not engage imperceptibly, allied to its splendid chassis control, this is the ideal T-Roc in which to exploit the ‘traffic-lights GP’…not that I am encouraging hooliganism, you understand, but I would defy you to hide the horns, when that occasional challenge arises!

At just over 4.2m in length, 1.9m wide and 2.0m tall, T-Roc’s dimensions are typical of the class. Yet, with a copious range of adjustment of both front seats and steering column, virtually any size and shape of driver will be able to obtain a comfortable and commanding driving position, something at which VW Group is renowned. The interior design is as confident as the bodywork, with a bold dashboard layout containing a central touch-screen that can be replicated within the main instrument display ahead of the driver. Audi led the field with its full-width map that could be placed ‘magically’ within the main instrument binnacle but VW has taken that tech to new levels of potential.

There is excellent use of flexible space within the cabin and the boot can be expanded from 445-litres to a moderate 1,290-litres, with the rear seats folded forwards. However, even with a lack of spare wheel (replaced by an air-pump and repair kit) and the practicality of a bumper-level, easy-access floor, it is a space that could have been maximised further. The quality of the trim detailing is without doubt excellent and, dependent on model trim selected, the dashboard, centre console and seat colourways can be customised to meet personal requirements, which is an important competitive element in this sector…even though the cabin warmth of soft-touch, ‘slush-moulded’ technology appears to have been given ‘The Big E’. There are no questions at all about its solidity, as T-Roc feels as sturdy as that aforementioned Brunel bridge, even though tactility takes a dive south.

However, the Volkswagen T-Roc is not just a confident entry to the most hectic sector of the new car market but it is also one of the most competent models to emerge from Wolfsburg. Its drivability is second-to-none and I can envisage that it will become the default choice of the junior-league SUV customer, regardless of the levels of technology, or trim choices applied. It will also obtain the broadest age-range appeal of any VW model, thanks to the levels of personalisation that are available. In that respect alone, it is a seminal product that avoids rewriting the book but which enhances and tautens everything that we already believed we knew about the SUV sector.

Conclusion:   While it is broadly accepted that SUV is little more than a fresh term for ‘family car’, Volkswagen Group has not only employed its immense strength in the new car scene but also factored 4WD into its T-Roc for its more discerning (or demanding) customers, which will also draw a degree of appeal from the business scene. Needless to say, the usual raft of today’s driver safety equipment is fitted to almost every model but it is not oppressive, mainly because the company has determined that ‘driver satisfaction and feedback’ is more important at this juncture. Handsome, impeccably detailed and phenomenal fun to drive, the new VW T-Roc is set to enjoy a great future for the brand and you can lay money on that certainty.