While the compact SUV segment is growing fast, the Germans seem to be catching up instead of leading the charge. In the Chinese market native brands dominate, and in Europe and the US, the Korean-designed Opel/Vauxhall Mokka and their Buick Encore/Chevrolet Traxx siblings are particularly successful. But now Volkswagen is charging hard into the market with the long-expected T-Roc. We had a look at the new model at its Villa Erba launch on the shores of Lake Como last night.
At 423cm long, 182cm wide and 157cm tall, on a 260cm wheelbase, the T-Roc has roughly the footprint of a Golf Mk VII. It is slightly shorter and wider – and taller, of course, although its height does not particularly stand out in its segment. The T-Roc’s technical basis is the MQB platform, shared with a plethora of VW Group models from the Polo up to the Atlas/Teramont; in terms of components, it is closest to the Golf. It is available in its European home market with three gasoline engines (1.0-litre three with 115 horsepower, 1.5-litre four with 150 horsepower and 2.0-litre four with 190 horsepower) and three TDI engines (1.6 with 115 horsepower and 2.0 with 150 or 190 horsepower). The T-Roc can be specified with front- or all-wheel drive and a six-speed manual (obligatory on 115hp versions) or a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (obligatory with either 190-horsepower model). No hybrid or electric version is planned at the moment.
The exterior is derivative of the original T-Roc, a two-door targa concept unveiled at the 2014 Geneva auto show. Back then many observers thought the concept was merely to hint at a new styling language for VW’s crossover and SUV models. But in fact the production car manages to preserve the basic proportions of the concept, and a lot of details have been carried over as well.
The bold front end features headlights attached to the grille, much like the concept car (and, unfortunately, a lot of other recently-launched SUVs). The round lower lighting elements of the concept are gone; instead, there is a unique DRL/turn signal contour placed around nonfunctional air intakes. Lower trim levels sport a horizontal LED DRL and conventional turn signals.
The side view is characterised by several elements not seen on a VW before. The front and rear fenders are extremely muscular and reach up high, with the rear upwards kink a particularly daring element (for this brand). The C-pillar is styled to evoke the targa look of the 2014 concept, and it lends the car a coupe-like appearance. There is a metal bar flowing from the A-pillar to the base of the C-pillar, arching over the DLO. It is an element that was first shown on the T-Roc concept but has since appeared on the Jeep Compass and concepts by Volvo's Chinese sister brand Lynk & Co. VW will offer many two-tone paint combinations.
Wide, horizontal taillights stand out at the rear; the air outlets are nonfunctional, just like the simulated exhaust tips. The VW logo serves as the liftgate opener, and the T-Roc designation is centrally placed below the brand logo, in wide chrome letters. Stretching around the entire length of the car, the lower part of the T-Roc is unpainted, successfully masking its height. Wheel sizes are up to 19 inches, but even with the biggest wheel/tire combination, the T-Roc seems narrow-tracked when viewed from the front. Only the upcoming R model will remedy the predicament. China will get a slightly stretched, locally built version of the T-Roc next year.
Inside, the T-Roc can be specified with several unique features. Depending on the trim level (Base, Sport and Style), the decor on the dashboard is executed in the body colour – but owners can also opt for a black dashboard. There is an optional TFT instrument panel, with remarkably futuristic graphics that move far beyond a mere simulation of analogue instruments. And there is an additional touch-sensitive central screen of up to eight inches diameter. Altogether, the dashboard can be equipped to display an unusual amount of glass and advanced infotainment options.
The seats can be specified with sporty, multi-coloured patterns. The fitment of panels and switches is impeccable, as are the haptics. But the materials clearly belong in the mass-market segment that VW competes in; there are a lot of hard plastic surfaces. Clearly VW spent the budget on technology and edgy design elements, not on padded panels and stitching.
The T-Roc begs to be compared to its Audi Q2 sister model, and it actually fares quite well. With its sculpted flanks and wider taillights, it actually looks more premium than its sibling, although the Audi shines with unique interior options and its own user interface (which, however, will be replaced on future Audis with a more VW-like touch-screen solution.)
It is an altogether convincing entry in the segment – and one with the potential to conquer it.