Is the compact convertible the next niche to be conquered by the crossover SUV?

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This week’s test subject, the T-Roc Cabriolet, provides a new kind of motoring experience, according to Volkswagen: one that mixes “the rugged appeal of an SUV with the feel-good factor of the wind-in-the-hair open-top”. And anyone still puzzled as to why it might exist need only direct their attention to the sales figures of its manufacturer to find an explanation.

Having been available in only one bodystyle since its launch in 2017, the Volkswagen T-Roc has become one of VW’s biggest-selling models and is its fourth-most-popular car in the UK, after the Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Polo and Volkswagen Tiguan.

Blistered wheel arches quite effectively disguise the visual mass of the car’s profile. Most crossovers are more slab-sided, but at least this one, although big, isn’t too blocky.

People like medium-sized crossover SUVs, then, and buy them in numbers that were still growing before the current market paralysis struck. As unintuitive as it may seem, that makes the T-Roc precisely the kind of car that might justify an extra bodystyle such as a convertible – at least from a business perspective. And since the T-Roc also attracts younger customers than some of the models higher in the sales ranks, those younger buyers might be particularly suggestible to the idea of drop-top motoring.

You can certainly follow the logic, but does it make for good product strategy? Is the crossover convertible a vehicle type that’s likely to stick? Stand by to find out.

The T-Roc Cabriolet range at a glance

VW slims down the engine range of the wider T-Roc crossover line-up to just two petrol options for the cabriolet (see above) and likewise offers just two trim levels: Design and R-Line.

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Neither trim level is meanly equipped. Design gets 17in wheels, 8.0in touchscreen infotainment, an electric roof, adaptive cruise control and a full set of parking sensors.

R-Line has sportier bodystyling, LED headlights, digital instruments, 19in alloy wheels and the mechanical difference mentioned on the next page.

What Car? new car buyer marketplace - Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet


Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet 2020 road test review - hero side

For VW to choose the Volkswagen T-Roc instead of the new Volkswagen Golf or Volkswagen Polo as the basis for its latest Karmann-built convertible imposes some predictable compromises on the car, although modern platform engineering means the conversion isn’t the technical leap some might imagine it to be.

The regular T-Roc uses the same MQB model architecture as both of those hatchbacks, after all, and so the T-Roc Cabriolet ends up with transverse front-mounted engines and a driven front axle, just as a Golf or Polo cabrio might. Whether it ends up looking quite as neatly attractive as a lower, more compact cabrio might have is subjective, although none of our testers thought so.

Elliptic daytime-running lights add visual interest to a bluff front end. The T-Roc’s sheer chunkiness makes it unusual among cabriolets – and somewhat inelegant.

The engines in question are VW’s 113bhp 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol and its 148bhp 1.5-litre four-cylinder. Only the 1.5 can be had with a dual-clutch automatic gearbox as an option to the standard six-speed manual, and it was the 1.5-litre auto we elected to test.

The T-Roc Cabriolet has a longer wheelbase than the standard car, allowing space for two rows of what are alleged to be adult-sized seats in addition to the furled roof. It has two passenger doors rather than four, reinforced A-pillars and windscreen, and pop-up rollover protection, as well as several reinforcements to the regular T-Roc’s underbody structure to add rigidity.

Kerb weight (which we couldn’t verify under prevailing testing restrictions) is claimed to be 190kg greater than that of a regular T-Roc with the same powertrain, at 1540kg. It’s perhaps more revealing that an Audi A3 Cabriolet with the same engine and gearbox is 145kg lighter than this car.

The rolling chassis configuration depends on trim. Both the 1.0- and 1.5-litre models come with multilink rear suspension but R-Line cars get shorter, stiffer coil springs than Design models, as well as 19in alloy wheels and ‘progressive’ passive variable-rate steering as standard.

An effort has been made at some level, clearly, to give this car a bit of sporting driver appeal. Meanwhile, Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive damping is also available as an option and was fitted to our test car


Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet 2020 road test review - cabin

The T-Roc’s status as a genuinely usable four-seat cabrio might give it a certain rational appeal at lower price points where equally practical open-top options have become rare. At higher price points such as that of our test car, four-seat alternatives for similar money aren’t so hard to find.

After pulling open an unusually large and heavy door, you’ll find a comfortable driving position that, while anything but low or sporty, still manages not to feel perched as a result of the car’s high waistline. Even taller, bigger drivers will find plenty of head and leg room up front.

Digital instruments, standard on R-Line models, are the same ones that you’ll find on upper-end Polos.

If carrying adults in the rear, you are likely to need to sacrifice some front-row leg room to accommodate everyone comfortably. Anybody travelling in the back will need to be below average height, though, since the roof impinges on head room a bit when it’s in place. The second row is a two-seater. It’s a little narrow, with two seatbelts only, but it does have Isofix points and accommodates child seats pretty easily.

Still, the implicit suggestion that you’re getting a crossover-hatchback-sized cabin in this crossover convertible is quickly debunked. And yet, compared with the cars that must be considered the T-Roc’s closest rivals – the A3 Cabriolet and BMW 2 Series Convertible – the VW offers quietly commendable usability.

Access to the boot is restricted a little by the roof mechanism, but the capacity is the same whether the hood is up or down – and 284 litres is more carrying space than the BMW affords, albeit not quite as much as the Audi.

For cabin ambience and perceived quality, the T-Roc Cabriolet hits a reasonable standard, but not a great one considering the price positioning of top-of-the-range versions. The dashboard is attractive and well finished, and although our test car’s was a little monochromatic, bolder colour combinations are available. The usability and graphical presentation of the infotainment and digital instrumentation systems are impressive. The car lacks a little bit of the tactile quality feel you expect of a VW at this sort of price, though – the soft-touch mouldings and finer materials in particular.

VW T-Roc Cabriolet infotainment and sat-nav

Both T-Roc trim levels come with a good 8.0in Discover Navigation colour touchscreen infotainment system. Upgrading to R-Line trim gets you the 10.3in Active Info Display digital instruments as standard (they’re £435 otherwise) but you’re still expected to pay extra for VW’s Beats premium audio system (eight-channel, 400W) and for voice activation (£210) irrespective of trim level. For the price of an R-Line, VW should have thrown those in as well.

The touchscreen interface is laid out clearly and responsive to inputs. The navigation is easy to programme, too. It displays mapping and instructions neatly and attractively and you can relay them into the digital instrument cluster.

Our test car had the optional premium audio system, which sounded fairly good but it didn’t have the knockout power some urban cruise merchants might desire. Music can be streamed and played via your smartphone’s data connection. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mirroring is supported as well.


Cabriolets and open-top sports cars, although easy to confuse, are quite different things. For the T-Roc to miss the kind of zingy responsiveness and swiftness you might get from a similarly priced Mazda MX-5, then – or even from a low-end Audi TT Roadster – needn’t be considered a failing. Cabriolets are, by and large, high-day cruisers.

Richness and slickness in operation, good associated drivability and an assured performance level are the qualities we’re after – and the T-Roc’s powertrain has at least some of them.

It’s high time a cabriolet specialist like Karmann came up with a better wind deflector than the standard type that either makes the back seats unusable or takes up room in the boot. A better solution can’t be beyond the wit of a good designer, surely?

The 1.5-litre engine and gearbox combine very agreeably at low speeds. The motor is smooth and refined across most of its operating rev range. The dual-clutch gearbox, meanwhile, shifts ratios with polish under lighter loads, changing down fairly quickly and intelligently when it needs to. It’s never particularly fast acting, but only begins to show real hesitancy during harder driving.

The car’s outright performance level isn’t a strong one, although it feels reasonably swift when picking up from town speeds through the lower intermediate gears. Its kerb weight feels like a bit of a millstone even for 184lb ft to move and so only via use of manual mode on the gearbox, keeping the revs high and the selected gear number low, can you really maintain any kind of urgency from point to point.

That may not bother the majority of T-Roc Cabriolet owners, but you can get a markedly better outright performance level in the same market niche for much the same money. Refinement in the car is better. The front of the cabin is quite effectively sheltered from the wind when the roof is down and the windows and wind deflector are up, and driving around the national speed limit like that is pleasant. With the roof in place, meanwhile, cabin sealing is also good.


Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet 2020 road test review - on the road front

Thanks to its surprisingly direct off-centre steering response and a fairly modest footprint, the T-Roc Cabriolet feels quite wieldy and agile at urban speeds.

It nips around junctions and roundabouts with a little bit of keenness; and while the low-speed ride can be more clunky and rough than really suits a car of this brief (those optional adaptive dampers certainly don’t offset the impact of the sports suspension and 19in wheels on secondary ride isolation), you nevertheless feel a little encouraged that there may be some enjoyment to be had on an open road.

I worry about how well those large passenger doors will continue to fit and close as this car ages. They’re big, heavy old things that more than double the width of the car when they’re fully open

The encouragement is predictably short-lived. As speeds increase, the T-Roc’s ability to superficially cover for its weight and its raised centre of gravity quickly evaporates; and meanwhile, the limits of the car’s torsional rigidity – which, for the most part, seems good enough at low speeds – begin to present themselves.

Lateral body control doesn’t ever deteriorate too much, but the car’s grip level and handling response have little of the sharpness that was promised at pootling pace. The chassis rolls hard enough and ‘thinks’ for just long enough on turn-in to make you aware of the heft of its construction. But it’s the unsettled, unchecked pitching and bouncing of the car, and its fussy primary ride on a slightly testing A-road, that will put a lid on your enjoyment more tellingly.

Whether you put those dampers in Sport mode or not, the car just doesn’t have much composure at speed. Of more importance to owners will be the way in which ride comfort deteriorates as speeds increase, with sharper inputs eliciting the occasional shudder from the chassis, and body flex particularly evident in the way in which the rear headrests shimmy away in the rear-view mirror, slightly but perceptibly, to a beat all of their own.


Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet 2020 road test review - hero front

VW has aligned T-Roc Cabriolet list prices throughout the model range quite closely with those of the A3 Cabriolet and the drop-top 2 Series.

Given the status and perception of the VW brand at the moment and the relative desirability of the car in question, you might think that a decidedly bold strategy, to say the least. And you definitely will when you consider that, after options, the price of our test car rose to just above £40,000, which, for a 148bhp T-Roc, looks like an awful lot of money any which way you try to justify it.

Avoid the big wheels of an R-Line car, but don’t skimp on the engine. Have a 1.5 TSI Evo Design manual on standard 17s, with DCC (£1130) and a nice bright colour combination.

VW would probably counter by pointing out that true rivals for the car don’t really exist, and that the retail buyers signing up for the car are less likely to be put off by such a bold price positioning than other kinds of buyers might be. In justification of that positioning, VW has at least been fairly generous with standard equipment – but not so generous, clearly, that you can’t spend a lot of money on options.

What Car? new car buyer marketplace - Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet


Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet 2020 road test review - static front

If the T-Roc Cabriolet were an experiment in a researcher’s laboratory or a chef’s kitchen, it wouldn’t avoid the dustbin for very long. It is, however, a car – and it’d appear to be the kind of car to strike a chord with a certain type of customer; one who, it’s probably fair to say, might not have particularly high expectations of it.

Run through a list of the compromises it represents in contrast to a more conventional lower-slung compact cabrio (its awkward looks, tepid performance, clunky ride, flawed dynamic composure at speed), then compare that list with what the car actually brings to its market segment (slightly improved four-seater practicality, convenience, ease of use and urban drivability), and it’s very hard to make a convincing, rational case for it.

It brings little worth having to the compact cabriolet niche

But then it’s equally hard to rationally explain what we might call the ‘SUV-ification’ of so many parts of today’s car market. Nevertheless, people still seem to want other high-rise ‘leisure vehicles’, from the BMW X4 to the Cupra Ateca to the Lamborghini Urus.

Fashion is fickle, of course, but if it does create a modicum of success for this car, that success will be built on very little besides.

What Car? new car buyer marketplace - Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet

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 Cabriolet First drives