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VW's take on a sportier small SUV comes at a price.
Our first chance to sample the T-Roc R-Line with the combination of front-wheel drive, a DSG gearbox and the 150hp diesel engine.
Standard equipment with R-Line:
19in alloy wheels, R-Line styling pack, silver roof rails, lowered sports suspension, front fog lights with static cornering function, automatic LED head, daytime running and tail lights, automatic wipers, selectable drive modes, two-zone climate control, door mirror puddle lights, electric heated door mirrors, heated windscreen washer jets with low level warning, heated front sports seats, 8in touchscreen with sat-nav, Apple Carplay and Android Auto, 10.3in TFT dashboard display, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, lane-assist, autonomous emergency braking, driver fatigue alert system.
The Volkswagen T-Roc was launched in late 2017 as the brand's first small SUV. It was followed around 18 months later by the smaller T-Cross, which makes the VW SUV line-up a bit tricky to understand relative to other brands, but in practice the T-Roc is very slightly larger than the likes of the Ford Puma and Nissan Juke, while still clearly smaller than C-segment SUVs like the Renault Kadjar, Seat Ateca and VW Tiguan.
The sports-inspired R-Line equipment grade arrived a few months after the rest of the T-Roc range, and when it did the 150hp diesel version tested here was only available with a manual gearbox and four-wheel drive, but it can now be had with a DSG auto, as well as front-wheel drive, with four-wheel drive now restricted to the most powerful petrol engines.
An expensive choice
As well as being a sportier option, the R-Line grade sits at the top of the T-Roc range (hot R model aside), with the spec tested here coming in at a P11D of nearly £32,000. That is a lot of money for a car in this segment, which makes it particularly disappointing to climb aboard and find a significant amount of cheap-feeling plastic on the doors and dashboard, making it seem more like a cheap supermini than the more premium vehicle drivers might expect, especially since some of the dashboard buttons also feel a bit flimsy.
The R-Line does claw back some ground with technology - the 10.3in digital instrument panel is impressive, and there is also the familiar 8in VW Group touchscreen infotainment system with its neat trick of reacting to the operator's finger as it approaches. R-Line spec also means plenty of sporty interior features, including R-Line branded steering wheel and front seats, although with the latter trimmed in combinations of grey they don't do much to add visual interest to the cabin. Exterior styling additions, including revised front and rear bumpers, black wheel arch extensions, a rear roof spoiler and 19in alloy wheels, are a bit more successful in this regard.
However, the R-Line spec isn't only cosmetic - it also comes with lowered sports suspension, designed to improve the car's handling. This is actually rather effective - as an SUV it is still not the last word in agility, but being closer to the road helps to keep body roll to a minimum and the car feels nicely planted in turns. The only price to pay is a slightly firmer ride than the SUV norm, but it is still far from uncomfortable, and in fact the cabin remains very well-insulated from road surface imperfections.
The diesel engine tested here might not seem like the sportiest choice, but it will push you along very nicely with a meaty helping of torque, and while it makes itself heard a bit under acceleration, cruising refinement is very good. The DSG gearbox can be a bit slow to respond when pulling out of junctions but otherwise operates smoothly, and it is great in slow motorway traffic when combined with the standard adaptive cruise control - one of the better such systems on the market.
But while there is plenty to like about the way the T-Roc R-Line drives, it remains difficult to overlook that hefty price tag. For the same outlay, you can buy well-specced versions of cars from the segment above, like the Kadjar and Ateca - and given the T-Roc's interior trim shortcomings they won't feel cheap in comparison. It means that while there is quite a bit to like about the T-Roc, in this spec it is tough to see it as a financially prudent choice.