Many of us are in relationships with someone who has different tastes to us in certain things, including cars.
For example, how many of you have a wife or husband who is adamant about your next family car being an SUV while you loathe the idea? For those of you in this situation, you’re likely looking for a car that’ll please your partner without you feeling like a little bit of your soul is dying every time you’re behind the wheel.
That’s where we get to the 2021 Volkswagen T-Roc. Between you and me, it looks more like a hatchback than a crossover SUV. But there might be just enough SUV styling here to attract the attention of your SUV-loving spouse, while there’s enough dynamic sparkle here to make you happy, too.
It sounds like the perfect compromise, though it makes a few compromises itself.
If you think of the Volkswagen T-Roc as just a Golf hatchback on stilts – which it is, in a way, as it shares its MQB architecture – then the 140TSI Sport tested here is a bit of a bargain.
At $40,490 before on-road costs, it mightn’t sound cheap for something based on a Golf hatchback but it has something you can’t get anywhere in the Golf hatch range except at the very top: all-wheel drive. Only the Golf R offers all-paw traction and it costs $15,500 more.
Technically, you can get all-wheel drive for cheaper in the Golf Alltrack 132TSI which costs $36,590 before on-road costs. I think many of us, however, have had a partner say to us, “Eww, we’re not getting a wagon.” And extra plastic cladding aside, the Golf Alltrack looks very much like a wagon.
The T-Roc’s value proposition therefore isn’t as poor as many other small SUVs. It might actually be better value for money, relatively speaking, than the entry-level, front-wheel drive 110TSI Style.
In terms of equipment, the T-Roc sits somewhere between the Golf Alltrack 132TSI and the $40,990 before on-roads 132TSI Premium.
Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding exterior mirrors and proximity entry with push-button start.
Inside, you’ll find an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and satellite navigation, as well as ambient lighting, dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a six-speaker sound system.
Compared to the $500 more expensive Golf Alltrack 132TSI Premium, you miss out on leather upholstery, heated front seats, and a powered driver’s seat, though you get slightly more power and torque.
Some of those features can be found in the two available option packages, neither of which were on our tester.
The $2000 Sound and Style Package adds 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive suspension and a Beats 300W premium sound system, while the $3500 Luxury Package adds a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery and a power tailgate.
ANCAP recorded a rating of five stars for the T-Roc. That’s based on Euro NCAP testing conducted in 2017, where the T-Roc received an adult protection score of 96 per cent, a child occupant protection score of 87 per cent, a pedestrian protection score of 79 per cent, and a safety assist score of 71 per cent.
All 2020 T-Roc models come standard with autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, as well as lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, anti-lock brakes, and front, front-side and curtain airbags.
Let’s start with the positives.
Volkswagen’s 8.0-inch Discover Media touchscreen infotainment system and 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit both boast quick response times and crisp, modern graphics. They’re easy to navigate, too, and we love the ability to display the map in the gauge cluster.
The ambient lighting is classy. There’s a strip of red lighting on each front door but as well as white lighting elsewhere on the doors. It has a soft glow and looks extremely elegant.
The standard Volkswagen switchgear is also, for the most part, tactile and well-damped. That includes the column stalks and the various buttons on the dashboard and doors. The only exception to this are the climate control knobs, which feel cheap.
The overall interior design will be familiar to anybody who has sat in a recent Volkswagen product, with a neat, ergonomically-friendly layout. It’s nothing exciting or unfamiliar though, which only serves to underscore how much better other Volkswagen interiors tend to be in terms of material quality.
You’ll struggle to find soft-touch plastic anywhere in the cabin. When even utes are starting to add padded touch points, that’s disappointing for a $40,000 SUV. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bothersome if the T-Roc’s plastics looked good, but they look cheap and chintzy.
Volkswagen used some gloss grey trim on the dashboard to break up these depressing plastics but it doesn’t look particularly upscale itself. Nor does the upholstery on the door cards, which reminded us of school pencil cases.
Classic VW design without classic VW material quality
The infotainment and instruments are excellent, the rest not so much.
The front seats have some white leatherette accents that add some much-needed contrast to the cabin but they lack much in the way of bolstering. We wish they felt more substantial and thickly-padded, too.
That classic Volkswagen touch, lined door pockets, are also missing in action though we appreciate the size of the front bottle holders which can swallow a 1L bottle.
Not every material used inside the T-Roc’s cabin is unappealing. The headliner is nicer than some rivals, while Volkswagen’s leather-wrapped steering wheels are always a delight. Nevertheless, this is an unrelenting sea of drab plastics that both look and feel underwhelming.
We know Volkswagen can do better, and it has a long history of appealing cabins. The T-Roc interior appears to be well screwed together but “things didn’t fall off” is faint praise.
Step into the back seat and you’ll find there’s an average amount of legroom. A 180cm tall passenger can sit behind a driver of the same height with no problems and will also find a good amount of headroom with several centimetres of clearance.
The front seatbacks are also upholstered, though the rear door bottle openers can only easily fit 600ml bottles. Back-seat passengers have rear air vents and a 12V outlet, while you’ll also find three top-tether anchor points and two outboard ISOFIX points for child seats.
The T-Roc’s 445L of cargo space is competitive for the class and expands to 1290L with the rear seats folded, though it doesn’t have as upright and boxy a load bay as, say, a Kia Seltos due to the slope of its tailgate.
The T-Roc uses a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine producing 140kW of power and 320Nm of torque, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It’s all-wheel drive, though there’s a less powerful, front-drive 110TSI Style available.
Volkswagen claims a combined cycle figure of 7.2L/100km for the T-Roc, which requires 95RON premium unleaded fuel.
In our testing in a mix of city and highway driving, we recorded 9.8L/100km – quite a bit off the claim, despite a fairly economy-focussed transmission that often shifted the T-Roc all the way up to fifth or sixth gear even at speeds of 50-60km/h.
Dynamically, the T-Roc is the complete package.
There’s a terrific sense of immediacy to the powertrain, with no delay off the line and gratifying, linear acceleration. Shifts from the DSG are snappy and you’re propelled to 100km/h in a claimed 7.2 seconds, though it feels quicker.
This feels like a much more expensive car to drive, particularly in the way the suspension damping combats bumps and ruts in the road. The T-Roc’s ride quality is superb and the crossover effortlessly shrugs off pockmarked roads without feeling too floaty.
Refinement is stellar. The car is impressively hushed both around town and on the highway, with a muted engine note and very little wind or tyre noise entering the cabin.
In almost every driving environment, the T-Roc is wonderfully smooth. There’s a slight vibration at city speeds from the DSG but it’s barely noticeable and doesn’t detract from the overall feeling of refinement the T-Roc exudes.
For your urban commute, then, the T-Roc is a comfortable cruiser and your SUV-loving spouse will be happy. But what about on winding back roads?
Here’s where the T-Roc really impresses. It never feels particularly high off the ground, and so its fairly low (by SUV standards) centre of gravity is a boon on a spirited drive in the mountains.
Warm hatch on stilts
Fun-to-drive, and we don't even need to add the 'for an SUV' qualifier.
There’s some understeer at the limit but the T-Roc feels so much lighter, lower and more willing to play than other SUVs, and you can throw it into a corner without experiencing that somewhat tippy, reluctant feeling some SUVs have.
The steering is a little light in default mode for these spirited back mountain road jaunts but pop it into Sport mode and the car will add some confidence-inspiring weight.
Though it may be down 40kW and 50Nm on a Golf GTI, Volkswagen’s 4Motion system puts the power to the ground effectively.
The similarly-priced Kia Seltos GT-Line also features a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive and a dual-clutch automatic but the T-Roc feels more polished overall. Its handling is also more entertaining than that of the cheaper, smaller Volkswagen T-Cross.
The lane-keeping assist function, as in all Volkswagens, works adeptly at keeping you in your lane while the Digital Cockpit features crisp, legible instruments. The only thing we’d like to see is for the speed limit to appear in the instrument cluster as, even when you display the map there, the limit doesn’t appear.
The T-Roc is covered by Volkswagen’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and is available with either a three-year or five-year servicing care plan, priced at $1300 and $2100, respectively.
Perhaps the risk here is that the Volkswagen T-Roc doesn’t look enough like a butch SUV to trick – uhh, we mean persuade – your 4WD-loving spouse. After all, this does look like a taller hatchback. Fortunately, it drives like a hatchback, too.
Dynamically, the T-Roc is an impressive package. It has excellent road manners, with a quiet cabin and a pliant ride, but it’s also fun-to-drive in a way many SUVs aren’t.
It’s let down predominantly by its interior. While it’s laid out in classic Volkswagen fashion and features the brand’s excellent Digital Cockpit and infotainment system, the material quality – especially at this price point – is sub-par.
If Volkswagen adds some nicer touch points at mid-cycle enhancement time, the T-Roc is going to be hard to beat in this class. In the meantime, if you’re pushing for a warm hatch but your spouse really wants an SUV, here’s an excellent compromise.