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Six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
By Matt Joy
Volkswagen's hard-earned reputation for quality and reliability has relied heavily on its conventional saloons and hatchbacks, an empire built on the incredible success of the Golf and Passat. But the first Touareg arrived 15 years ago and moved the company into the SUV segment. Fast forward to today, and following the instant success of the mid-sized Tiguan the inevitable smaller version has arrived in the shape of the T-Roc.
Like the respective offerings from within the VW Group, the T-Roc sits squarely in the middle of the compact SUV segment, but does so with one of the strongest visual statements of any car in the class. Although there are some visual links with the Audi Q2, it is a far bolder machine, helped by the multiple body and detail colour choices, giving 24 combinations in total. The big wheel arches, chunky alloy wheels and well-defined body cladding give the T-Roc instant impact - it's easy to see how this car will win over customers on its looks alone.
That boldness continues in the cabin, where the dashboard and doors can be finished in a colour matched to the exterior. Volkswagen claims the T-Roc is the first car in its class to offer digital instruments in the form of its Active Info Display, while the range of infotainment systems are encased behind a glass screen and offer gesture control on the highest trim models. The standard specification is decent but not exceptional, with base models getting climate control, an 8in touchscreen, Bluetooth and DAB as well as 16in alloy wheels.
Mechanically, the T-Roc covers the vast majority of likely buyers with a mix of engine and transmission options, although petrol is predicted to make up a huge 80% of sales in the UK. At launch, it is being offered with 115hp 1.0-litre and 190hp 2.0-litre petrol versions as well as the 150hp 2.0-litre diesel tested here. The 1.0-litre models are front-wheel drive and six-speed manual only, 150hp models can be had with two or four-wheel drive and manual or seven-speed DSG automatic, and the most powerful petrol and diesel options are DSG and four-wheel drive only. Three more engine options will follow the initial launch including the new 1.5-litre 150hp petrol first launched in the revised Golf in February.
From the driver's seat, the position gives a desirable sense of height and a superior viewpoint - without it ever feeling like an overly tall car. There's a good range of adjustment to allow the driver to get comfortable and visibility is good, although the rising windowline does slightly reduce the amount of light entering the cabin.
Typically, the materials used are of a high standard and operate with cool efficiency, even though the central cup holders are frustratingly shallow. Space in the front is good, even for taller drivers, and in the rear the bench is sculpted to seat two comfortably, although a third person could fit. Meanwhile, the boot is class leading at 445 litres.
The 150hp 2.0 TDI version starts with little audible fuss and revs smoothly, although the car can seem a little reluctant to respond to the accelerator at first. However, the T-Roc's driving profile system in the Eco setting encourages relaxed progress, while switching to Normal or Sport brings the power and torque to the fore. With the DSG gearbox left to its own devices, making progress is a breeze, with acceleration always on tap; a flick of the lever or the paddles is an option for an even quicker response.
Given the available performance, the running costs are respectable. Volkswagen's official figures claim 133g/km of CO2 and a combined fuel figure of 55.4mpg. The economy champion is the 1.0TSI 115hp engine with emissions starting as low as 117g/km and a matched fuel economy of 55.4mpg, very competitive for the sector, while Volkswagen's typically strong residual values will likely be replicated, contributing to competitive cost-per-mile figures.
Even more impressive is its well-judged blend of ride and handling. On exceptionally poor roads, it copes remarkably well, smoothing out significant imperfections at speed, with only sharper, smaller bumps making their presence felt. Despite this, the T-Roc tackles challenging bends with real composure. The electric power steering is relatively light but responds quickly to driver inputs, body roll is kept in check and overall it feels far closer to the Golf than a conventional SUV.
With the building blocks of the T-Roc already in place, it would have been easy for Volkswagen to create a scaled-down Tiguan and still deliver a strong-selling car. Instead, the result is a small car with a strong style and more personality that drives well and is a pleasure to use. A little convenience is sacrificed in the name of style, but for some customers this will be an easy compromise.