What is it?
If we’re chatting casually as friends, the Volkswagen T-Roc is Volkswagen's Golf SUV, or perhaps its Qashqai - but the brand won’t thank you for either description, because it wants this new model to have its own, more playful identity.
The T-Roc is late to the family SUV party, of course, and that only makes VW's desire to seek a point of difference greater. Just how late it lands is emphasised by the fact it is based on the T-Roc concept car that was revealed as long ago as 2014, albeit presented in the lesser-seen (Range Rover Evoque Convertible aside) format of a convertible SUV.
Crucially, however, many of the more detailed designs of that concept can be seen even on this prototype, and so too can some of its slightly zany spirit: the T-Roc is here to usher in a new era of more 'emotional' Volkswagens that tug at the heart strings slightly harder than today’s defiantly rational line-up. There’s even talk of two-tone paint schemes.
Zany is also one word to explain how the car found its name: T is to link it to its bigger brothers, the Tiguan and Touareg, and Roc is a modification of the word rock, which, and I quote VW: “on the one hand refers to the off-road character of the vehicle and on the other reflects the powerful and avant-garde image of a crossover design”. Before we all wrinkle our faces in consternation, though, it’s worth a moment pondering the origins of Qashqai, Seat Ateca, Vauxhall Mokka X et al.
What's it like?
The T-Roc sits on VW’s now-famous MQB platform, and owes more than a little nod of acknowledgement to the Audi Q2, with which it essentially shares the same underpinnings. That means the same 2.59m wheelbase, which is slightly down on the Golf despite the T-Roc's larger exterior dimensions. Such is the flipside of a more expressive exterior design, but it still leaves enough room front and rear inside to fulfil its family credentials.
Inside, there are hints in our prototype that VW is also trying to break beyond its reputation for solid, logical materials and layouts. On this car, there’s a disguise in place, but insiders suggest body-coloured mouldings across the dash could be used, for instance, adding a sense of colour and fun alongside the traditional qualities for which VW is famed. If they are carried off credibly, it can surely add an extra, appealing dimension to the interior ambience.
The 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine we sampled is straight from the VW engine pool, and is expected to be joined by familiar 1.0-litre and 2.0-litre petrol and diesel options, with four-wheel drive available as an option on bigger-engined models. Mid-spec this engine may be, but it’s plenty powerful enough to haul the T-Roc along at a decent space, and it works well with the slick-shifting seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox.
On the mainly dusty, rutted roads of our test drive, it was difficult to form pin-sharp impressions of the ride or handling, but it felt likely that VW has erred towards a moderately sportier set-up than might traditionally be associated with an SUV in a bid to underline its shift towards more ‘emotional’ cars. Nor need that be a bad thing: the Ateca proves that the Volkswagen Group knows how to sit just the right side of this line.
Should I buy one?
Conclusions are notoriously hard to draw from a prototype drive, but on the evidence presented there’s few doubts that the T-Roc will deserve a place on small SUV buyers’ shortlists. It's a highly credible entry into the market, albeit thanks to the more traditional VW qualities of solidity, sure-footedness and value than the new characterful direction it has tried to embark on.
In time, VW might be able to make its 'emotional' side more prominent, but with the T-Roc standing alone in the line-up for now, it feels a little forced - especially when the test car is both partially disguised and so predictably decent to drive and be in.
Price tbc; Engine 4-cyl, 1498cc, turbo, petrol; Power 148bhp, revs tbc; Torque tbc; Gearbox Seven-speed automatic; Kerb weight tbc; 0-60mph tbc; Top speed tbc; Economy tbc; CO2/tax band tbc; Rivals Nissan Qashqai, Seat Ateca