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First drive: Volkswagen ends drought with T-Roc

T-Roc to boost overall Volkswagen sales as GoAuto gets a brief steer on local soil

Volkswagen logo6 Mar 2019

VOLKSWAGEN Group Australia (VGA) is poised to end its small-SUV drought with a pair of new models, the overdue Golf-based T-Roc and Polo-derived T-Cross, due at the end of the first quarter next year.
 
Given that small SUVs were the fourth most popular type of vehicle sold Down Under last year, the T-Roc and its T-Cross sibling will play key roles in growing VGA’s sales volume in the coming years.
 
Despite their differing platforms, the T-Roc and T-Cross are very similar in size, with a few millimetres here and there separating the pair, but it is the latter that VGA expects to contribute the bulk of its small-SUVs sales thanks to a targeted sub-$30,000 starting price.
 
Comparatively, the T-Roc will be positioned as a premium offering, with its more potent engine options, higher specification and – as a sign of the times – coupe-like silhouette reflected by an intended sub-$40,000 entry-level cost.
 
Having been revealed in August 2017, the T-Roc has been a long time coming for VGA, but significant demand from Europe, where it launched four months after its reveal, has primarily been to blame for its unprecedented delay.
 
However, Australian production has finally been allocated to Volkswagen Group’s busy Portuguese factory, making the market one of the first outside Europe to secure the in-demand T-Roc.
 
But what is all the fuss about? Well, VGA this week gave us a quick spin of a New Zealand-market T-Roc 140TSI R-Line at Luddenham Raceway in NSW so we could find out.
 
By using Volkswagen Group’s MQB architecture, the T-Roc is already off to a promising start, and given that the mechanically related Golf small car is widely considered to be its segment’s benchmark, the small SUV has quite the reputation to live up to.
 
Measuring in at city-friendly 4234mm long, 1819mm wide and 1573mm tall, the T-Roc is smaller than the T-Cross in all dimensions barring width, thanks to its sloping roofline and shorter overhangs.
 
Buyers are likely to be drawn in by the T-Roc’s mature exterior design, which is punctuated by its cool-looking LED daytime running lights (DRLs) that are flanked by the headlights and foglights.
 
Despite its small size, the T-Roc offers a claimed class-leading 445L of cargo capacity with its rear bench upright, or 1237L with it folded flat. However, this falls to 392L if it is fitted with the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system that is standard on the 140TDI grade set for Australia.
 
Its strong packaging is further demonstrated in the second row, which provides a few inches of legroom behind our 184cm driving position and an inch of headroom. As always with a small SUV, the T-Roc cannot comfortably sit three adults abreast on longer journeys.
 
While the platform underneath it is undeniably Golf, the rest of the T-Roc’s cabin feels much more Polo-like with its general layout, but this is good given the fitment of the excellent 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that will be standard Down Under.
 
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support will be a win for buyers, but so too will be the availability of the 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster running second-generation software.
 
However, the Polo comparisons are not all positive, with cheap-looking shiny hard plastics used for all of the touchpoints in the NZ-market 140TSI R-Line test vehicle we drove.
 
Nonetheless, VGA says it is pushing to add a badly needed soft-touch dashboard – and maybe front door shoulders – that would better align the T-Roc with its Golf origins and premium positioning.
 
Speaking of its shared architecture, when it comes to driving mannerisms, the darty T-Roc can be best described as a Golf on (very small) stilts.
 
Dynamically, the T-Roc mimics the Golf with its strong body control during low-speed cornering, although its increased ride height does lead to some unwanted body roll when pushed hard around tight bends, at which point understeer is almost non-existent.
 
The chassis is beautifully communicative thanks to the incredible amount of feedback on offer via the quick steering, which is well-weighted in its Normal setting and preferably heavy in its Sport mode.
 
The NZ-market 140TSI test vehicle we sampled was fitted with the R-Line package that, among other features, adds a sports tune to the T-Roc’s suspension, although this example lacked the adaptive dampers that are set for Australia.
 
Either way, it is hard to truly assess the T-Roc’s ride after driving it on a buttery-smooth circuit, but it did remain composed over rolling bumps, although the Volkswagen sports suspension’s stereotypical firmness meant these impacts were noticeably felt.
 
As its name suggests, the NZ-market 140TSI R-Line test vehicle we drove is motivated by a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine that produces 140kW and 320Nm, and is matched to a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission.
 
While the familiar 110TSI grade with front-wheel drive and 110kW/250Nm is also on the cards Down Under, the 140TSI is a unique proposition given its unavailability with the local Golf.
 
Therefore, buyers in the market for sub-GTI performance are in for a treat because the 140TSI is an absolute cracker, with more than enough power and torque on offer to make for a truly engaging driving experience.
 
The DSG’s gear shifts are predictably quick, although it does delay briefly when responding to spontaneous full-throttle inputs. Naturally, the aggressiveness can be dialled up by switching from Drive to Sport.
 
We will, of course, reserve full judgement for when we drive the Australian-market T-Roc locally early next year, but until then, Volkswagen’s new small SUV has left us longing for another drive – and that can only mean good things. Only 12 more months to go.

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