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Volkswagen arrives late at the crossover hatchback party. But can the T-Roc still turn heads in a congested segment?

The Volkswagen T-Roc has taken the UK market by storm over the last couple of years and has grown to become one of the UK’s most popular models. 

Based on the proportions of a Golf but with the high-riding driving position of an SUV, the T-Roc built on what the Nissan Qashqai had started, further bolstering the commercially appealing crossover-hatchback segment. 

Bullet-shaped LED daytime-running lights lend the T-Roc a distinctive light signature. On higher-spec models, the DRLs double as indicator

The VW T-Roc is one of the more athletic-looking and dynamic, driver-focused takes on the crossover hatchback to have emerged of late, enlivening what was previously a rather snooze-inducing segment.

It’s plainly a striking thing to behold, too, being more athletic, elegant, purposeful and interesting in its slightly decorated appearance than the crossover norm, although you’d never call it shouty or over the top.

It first arrived in 2017 as a rival to the technically similar (and excellent, by the way) Seat Ateca, the more striking Toyota C-HR and the upmarket Audi Q2. There’s no lack of competition, even in-house, sitting below the larger Volkswagen Tiguan and Volkswagen Touareg in the brand’s own model line-up. 

The T-Roc range at a glance

The T-Roc’s engine is diverse and versatile, with a handful of trim levels, powertrains, and the option of front- and all-wheel drive.

Engines for the T-Roc start with a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol producing 108bhp. A more powerful 1.5-litre petrol unit produces 148bhp, and there are two 2.0-litre options with all-wheel drive, with 187bhp and 296bhp, which is found in the range-topping, performance VW T-Roc R. VW also offers the T-Roc with two 2.0-litre diesel engines, with an output of 113bhp or 148bhp. 

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So, what does the T-Roc bring to the table? Find out below in our in-depth review.  

VW T Roc front driving

It’d be difficult to mistake the T-Roc for anything other than a Volkswagen.

It shares the low, wide grille styling that you’ll find on the new Volkswagen Polo, facelifted Volkswagen Golf and latest Volkswagen Tiguan, adapting the design cue to form its own unique identity within the manufacturer’s range.

The T-Roc’s handling and its 2.0-litre TSI engine are highlights, but it is surprising the appearance of low-rent materials in a £31k car

As with almost all medium-sized VW Group products, the T-Roc makes use of the familiar MQB architecture. It’s a compact car by mid-sized crossover standards.

Dimensionally, the T-Roc’s 4234mm length makes it 252mm shorter than its Tiguan big brother but also 129mm shorter than an Seat Ateca – and shorter than the Seat in the wheelbase, too.

Compactness is part of VW’s positioning of the T-Roc as a sportier, better-looking and more desirable kind of crossover.

You’ll have no doubt spotted the car’s curving roofline and sloping C-pillars, marking it out as a second-era crossover more like the Toyota C-HR or Audi Q2 than the class-defining Nissan Qashqai.

And helping the T-Roc live up to this billing elsewhere is its relatively wide, low-slung stance, being suggestive of the dynamism that’s still tellingly hard to find in the wider crossover hatchback segment.

Four engines were available from launch: three petrols and a solitary diesel. The petrol line-up consists of a three-cylinder 1.0-litre TSI that churns out 113bhp and four-cylinder 148bhp 1.5-litre TSI Evo and 187bhp 2.0-litre TSI turbo petrols. The 2.0-litre TDI diesel also produces 148bhp. A 113bhp 1.6-litre TDI then expanded the choice shortly after.

Power is generally sent to the front wheels, although the 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines are paired with VW’s 4Motion part-time four-wheel-drive system as standard. The multi-plate-clutch-based system sends the bulk of the engine’s power to the front axle the majority of the time, with the rear axle being involved either as traction deteriorates up front or more consistently depending on the selected driving mode.

A six-speed manual gearbox is standard fare for all but the 2.0-litre petrol, which has a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

As for suspension, MacPherson struts are used up front, with a torsion beam or multi-link rear set-up, depending on engine choice. An optional adaptive damper system is also available and was fitted to our test car.

VW T Roc interior

The Volkswagen T-Roc isn’t the most spacious crossover, and pretty clearly so by design.

It presents a higher seating position than a conventional hatchback and has a boot sufficiently large that you’d be unlikely to find one to match its size in a normal five-door (although the four-wheel-drive specification of our test car reduced its carrying capacity a little).

VW’s second-generation Active Info Display instruments do lend the cabin a techy flourish and the modes are easier to switch between, but too many omit simple speedo and tacho dials

Still, although it may feature somewhere on the list of likes, enhanced practicality isn’t likely to be the primary motivator of anyone choosing this car in place of a Volkswagen Golf.

Up front, though, you’re certainly surrounded by a greater impression of space than you’d find in a normal hatchback, and you get a good view of the road in all directions.

The driving position adjusts from gently perched up to distinctly raised and bent legged, but the controls are all as well placed and spaced as is typical for a thoroughly thought-out VW product.

In the back, there’s decent room for an average-sized adult and just enough if you’re above average height assuming a slightly splayed-kneed seating position.

Plenty of direct rivals are more spacious. But VW deserves credit for integrating the T-Roc’s panoramic sunroof without impacting on occupant head room. The optional glass roof finishes just ahead of the scalps of those sitting in the back, leaving space for useful recesses that will keep the heads of even taller passengers from brushing the headlining.

Instead of aiming for particularly roomy, VW has gone for a ritzy, contemporary ambience – and has produced it quite well.

Our test car’s Active Info Display digital instruments, its large and flush-fronted 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system and its sparingly deployed strips of ambient lighting make it feel advanced and quietly ‘high-tech’.

You have to plump for top-of-the-line SEL trim to get the T-Roc’s 8.0in Discover Navigation infotainment system and its 10.3in Active Info Display digital instrument screen as standard.

On a mid-spec car, having both is an additional cost of just over £1500, but they’re worth the money.

The digital instruments are Volkswagen’s second-generation system, which is also available on the Volkwagen Volkswagen Polo.

Graphical resolution and brightness are both claimed to be improved and that certainly seemed to be the case in our test car, where the instruments appeared crisp and usefully adaptable when following a plotted navigation route or listening to the audio system.

On an entry-level S-trimmed T-Roc, you get an 8.0in touchscreen Composition Media infotainment system on which Volkswagen’s App-Connect software for smartphone mirroring will cost you an extra £170, but it’s standard everywhere else in the range.

VW leaves the door ajar a little to those who might say these features are window dressing on a cabin that feels slightly plain and ordinary in other respects, though. The fascia top is hard and slightly shiny, and in a market where even a Nissan Micra gets a soft-touch slush moulding, that’s a little surprising.

Likewise, its interior door handles and below-the-knee mouldings all look and feel as though they could have had a little bit more money spent on them.

DB2022AU00099 medium

Although it’s rare to find a crossover hatchback with what’s ostensibly a slightly detuned engine from a GTI hot hatchback – albeit a Volkswagen Polo GTI in this case rather than Golf – it’s not altogether surprising that VW should have built one.

The company tends to offer broader engine ranges than many of its volume-brand competitors and its semi-premium positioning also allows it to embrace the more powerful end of the combustive spectrum in the way that its rivals perhaps can’t.

T-Roc’s chassis can carry more pace through bends than you’ll initially believe and encourages you to be bolder with your entry speed

Interested drivers should certainly be glad of both facts, because the T-Roc 2.0 TSI performs with the strength and zest that has been conspicuous by its absence from this class thus far.

It has smoothness and polish, too, being particularly quiet and well mannered when cruising at low and high speeds, and is also well matched to a smart, quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic gearbox that impresses in both automatic and paddle-shift manual modes.

When all is said and done, it’s probably the completeness of this all-corner powertrain that distinguishes it best.

But the car is generously swift – more so, by our measurements, even than VW claims it is. You don’t expect to find a ‘launch control’ setting, but select S mode on the transmission and ESC Sport on the stability control and you certainly will when holding the car on the brakes and building up a bit of power against them.

And, given its head, our T-Roc test car found bountiful, assured traction even in slippery conditions and needed just 6.7sec to hit 60mph from rest, making VW’s 7.2sec-to-62mph claim look unnecessarily conservative.

The T-Roc’s 2.0-litre EA888 engine doesn’t rev above 5500rpm with quite the freedom it shows in proper performance-branded applications, and if anything denies the car the telling aura of a GTI by another name, it’s probably that.

But it certainly pulls with ample muscle through the middle of the tacho’s travel, sounds cultured but nicely vigorous and has that feeling of relatively unstressed, unburstable strength almost irrespective of engine speed that’s familiar from VW’s even hotter Golfs and so many of the wider VW Group’s performance models.

VW T Roc cornering

Our Volkswagen T-Roc test car certainly came in a form in which you’d expect it to do well in this section, fitted with optional Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive damping and variable-ratio steering, both of which are features denied to many of its rivals.

But the car deploys those technologies to its advantage particularly successfully. The T-Roc’s breadth and range of dynamic ability is quite something.

Body control is excellent through faster corners in Sport mode, with just a hint of jitteriness from the ride under duress

Select that Sport driving mode and the handling becomes crisper, keener and more inspiring than that of any of its competitors.

Select Comfort instead and its ride becomes pleasingly supple and absorptive. We’ve seen cars in this class capable of one or other before, but none has done both quite as well.

Equally pleasing to find, however, is the predictability and linearity of response that continues to mark out Volkswagen's own cars from those of its peers.

Although the T-Roc’s variable-ratio steering is quick, it doesn’t gather pace in a way that surprises you off-centre; and although it doesn’t have the sort of weight that would make it feel unwieldy to some, it’s heavy enough to feel nicely comprehensible.

So the car is at once easy to manoeuvre at low speeds but also intuitive-handling, agile, controlled and generally encouraging when it’s whipped along. In none of its dynamic modes does the car lack a sense of measured, road-appropriate maturity, either.

Being a pretty ordinary Haldex-style set-up, VW’s 4Motion four-wheel-drive system isn’t one that takes a lead in the driving experience. Its ESP-based torque vectoring capacities are plainly pretty slight and it never moves enough power to the rear wheels to make the car feel like it’s genuinely being pushed around corners rather than pulled.

And yet it clearly adds a layer of surefootedness to the T-Roc’s limit handling, combines well with a subtle but effective stability control system and makes the car assured and easy to drive at any speed.

Would you call the net result really exciting or involving? Perhaps not in total confidence – but it’s getting there, and given the rounded dynamic brief this car had to meet, that’s very commendable.

Even in chilly, damp conditions, the T-Roc made short work of fairly brisk progress around Millbrook’s Alpine hill route.

Where taller, firmer-sprung crossovers can feel exposed for cornering grip and a little unforgiving when driven quickly, the VW shows its dynamic class by developing plenty of grip both on turn-in and under high lateral load. In tighter bends, its ability to carry speed and hit apices simultaneously belied expectations.

VW’s stability control (ESC) almost imperceptibly prevents you from breaching the car’s grip levels with power as you accelerate out of corners but, like all the best similar systems, it feels as though it’s metering out power rather than reining it in.

With the ESC off, meanwhile, you eventually become aware of the limitations of the four-wheel-drive system, which isn’t sophisticated enough to stop power-on understeer.

VW T Roc lead

At £26,210, the entry-level T-Roc 1.0 TSI costs similar to a like-for-like Seat Ateca

Standard equipment at this price point isn’t bad, with DAB radio, an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system and Bluetooth connectivity all thrown in.

As strong a performance on retained value as you’re likely to find in a crossover hatch, despite a high list price

If you want Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though, you’ll have to step up to SE trim, which commands a £1475 premium. Satellite navigation isn’t fitted as standard until you reach Design trim, which starts at £21,125.

That’s considerably less than our range-topping R-Line test car, which is priced from a hefty £31,875 before options.

Although that’s expensive, it is not exorbitant, considering its level of performance and equipment. There’s plenty of in-car technology included, but it pays to remember that you’ll be very close to pushing into proper premium-brand territory here: a BMW X1 20i Sport could be yours for just over £1000 more, for instance.

The T-Roc is marginally outdone by one or two rivals in terms of depreciation but is competitive with most – and compared with other ways you might spend similar money, it remains a relatively sensible place to put private money.

VW T Roc static beach

The Volkswagen T-Roc is one of countless compact crossovers introduced over the past six months, but it stands well clear of most within that melee as both something to look at and interact with.

You’ll have your own view on the stylishness and desirability of this car, but to almost all of our testers, the T-Roc seems a very clever visual concoction of likeable compactness, coupé-like rakishness, SUV-like robustness and typical VW-brand smartness. To deny it credit for that here would be wrong.

Shows performance verve, dynamic completeness and stylish swagger

The T-Roc imposes a price for that style and the palatability of that price will depend, equally subjectively, on whether you need the greater occupant practicality that bigger crossovers in this segment afford.

Indeed, it’s for the slightly disappointing accommodation level of its back seats, as well as for its high pricing and mixed material quality levels, that we’re denying the car top spot in the crossover hatchback class.

However, the T-Roc offers a rare degree of perky performance and polished ride and handling in this niche. So class champion or not, the T-Roc is our kind of crossover.


Volkswagen T-Roc FAQs

Is the Volkswagen T-Roc available as a plug-in or electric?

Strangely, given it shares its platform with the Golf hatchback, the Volkswagen T-Roc isn’t available with either a plug-in or mild-hybrid engine option. Instead, there’s a range of traditional petrol and diesel units available with the compact crossover, which is one of the German brand’s most popular models. However, the firm has revealed that the second generation T-Roc, due in 2024, will be available with a plug-in powertrain that should be capable of over 60 miles on a single charge.

What are the main rivals for the Volkswagen T-Roc?

The compact crossover class is one of the most fiercely fought in the new car market, so the Volkswagen T-Roc isn’t short of rivals. If you want a plug-in drivetrain and a dash of style, then the Peugeot 3008, Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson are all worth a look, while the Nissan Qashqai is good value and affordable to run. Based on the same platform as the T-Roc, the Skoda Karoq offers great space and lower prices, while the SEAT Ateca is sharper to drive and look at.

How much power does the Volkswage T-Roc have?

There’s a range of familiar engines available with the Volkswagen T-Roc, starting with the 108bhp 1.0-litre TSI petrol and 113bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel. The latter also comes in a 148bhp guise, which is the same power as the 1.5-litre TSI petrol, while the larger 2.0-litre TSI develops a healthy 187bhp. However, the biggest punch is reserved for the high performance T-Roc R flagship, which serves up 296bhp and will blast from 0-62mph in just 4.9 seconds.

What choices of gearbox are there on the Volkswagen T-Roc?

Lower powered versions of the Volkswagen T-Roc are fitted with a six-speed manual that has a well-oiled shift action and progressive clutch, making them easy to drive. Available as an option on these models, but standard on the 187bhp 2.0-litre TSI, T-Roc R any version with 4Motion all-wheel drive is a seven-speed automatic. This is the brand’s trademark twin-clutch DSG type, which delivers extremely quick and smooth shifts, whether left to its own device or when changing manually using the steering wheel-mounted gear shift paddles.

Where is the Volkswagen T-Roc built?

Given the popularity of the Volkswagen T-Roc, it’s surprising to find that it’s only built in a handful of factories. Most European examples are assembled at the Palmela plant in Portugal, which was recently home to the Volkswagen Sharan and SEAT Alhambra MPVs, as well as the Volkswagen Scirocco and Eos. The T-Roc is also constructed at the VW-FAW joint venture plant in Foshan, China, while the convertible version is made at the brand’s Osnabruck facility in Germany.

How many generations of Volkswagen T-Roc are there?

The current Volkswagen T-Roc is still in its first generation, although it has recently been facelifted with updated looks and revised interior that features the latest infotainment from the MK8 Golf. While it has no direct predecessors, in size the T-Roc is an almost direct replacement for the original Tiguan, which effectively moved up a class when the MK2 machine was launched in 2016. Volkswagen has revealed that an all-new, second generation T-Roc will make its debut in 2024.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Volkswagen T-Roc First drives