Updated: September 23, 2022
Once upon a time, SUVs were either used for heavy duty work or for lugging offspring to their favorite past-school activity. Nowadays, this category of vehicles is becoming more and more popular among ordinary folks for all manner of tasks, usurping and pushing out other classes. In fact, if you think about it, why would you not have a car that does it all, the only difference being a slightly elevated (and arguably superior) driving position and some extra head room?
I always ask myself that question when faced with the choice of driving an SUV. And driven a fair share of them, I have. Now, a fresh new contestant has chanced itself upon me, one T-Roc by Volkswagen, powered by a solid 2.0-liter diesel and mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. Italian roads, here I come. Commence to begin this little review.
The T-Roc came fairly well equipped. You get nice 16-inch Chester alloys, an 8-inch touch display inside, very similar to what I've shown you in my Polo GTI review, navigation, two-zone climate control, and loads of safety features, including autonomous emergency braking and lane assist. Now, as an aside, I am also aware that different countries offer different engine types and trim levels, so what I'm sharing here might not necessarily be what you get.
I was surprised and somewhat dismayed by the electronic parking brake, which feels wrong on a car with manual transmission - something we will touch upon later. But there's also auto-hold, which should keep you from rolling off on an incline (in lieu of using your handbrake as it's meant to be).
What really pleased me was the engine - 150 horses from two liters of bore displacement, turbocharged and whatnot. With some 340 Nm of torque available, the T-Roc should be good for up to 205 km/h, with forward acceleration of 9.5 seconds from standstill to three digits. That does feel a little sluggish, but again, we will talk more about the performance and driving dynamics later on. All in all, a reasonable setup and such.
For me, the T-Roc is the prettiest of all Volkswagen SUVs (and among the best looking SUVs out there, period). The smaller T-Cross looks a bit awkward, while the larger Tiguan and Touareg are just boxy and vulgar. The T-Roc is spot-on, combining chunky elegance with a hint of sporty flair, although my test model would have benefited from the R package and larger, lower-profile tires.
If you've driven a Volkswagen before, you will feel at home. The driver's environment is cozy yet spacious, with solid ergonomics, a sexy gear level, and all of the gadgetry within easy reach. The infotainment touch screen was easy to read even under direct sunlight, and I felt comfortable throughout my experience. The seats didn't look like they would do a great job (they were only mildly sculpted), but they delivered successfully. It might also be the slightly higher seating position that helps create the right feel.
There's ample room regardless of where you choose to sit, front or back, and enough storage for a handful of suitcases in the back. Once again, the slightly higher profile makes the use of the boot area easier and more convenient than a typical low-riding car.
Driving in Italy is always nice. Just the right dose of speed and aggression to suit one's needs. The T-Roc handled the challenge with reasonable grace, all six hundred kilometers and change over three days. The good roads of northern Italy posed no problem, and the journey on the well-maintained autostradas was quite enjoyable.
The T-Roc is a solid car, but there are some small flaws in how it handles the g forces. It feels a bit bulky, and you never quite lose the sense of its dimensions, unlike say the BMW X3, which I drove in Germany and France a couple of years back. The road noise is also fairly high, but this could be due to the particular type of tires fitted on the car.
While the 2.0-liter diesel has a plenty of torque, it's not always easy to get those sweet Nms transferred onto the tarmac. The second and the third gears are quite responsive, but the fifth is a bit lethargic. Sometimes, during overtakes, I'd downshift from the sixth to the fifth, expecting a splurge of Newtons, only to experience turbo lag and a very mild uptick in forward velocity. On the other hand, the sixth gear is solid, and perhaps even too eager, as you can very easily surge above the legal speed limit of 130 km/h. It seems that the T-Roc is most comfortable around 80-90 km/h or above 130-140 km/h, but not in between for some reason.
Similarly, you can feel the wind at high speeds, and in corners, the weight and the elevated center of gravity play their part. It's not like you wobble, or feel insecure, but you don't feel glued to the road as you would hope.
Here, I also got to experience the car's built-in safety features, which include lane departure warning, lane correction, forward proximity/collision avoidance system, and then some. And again, I must compare to the X3, as it had a similar array of technology available and active when I was driving in France and Germany.
The T-Roc's systems are a bit annoying. If you want to take that "perfect" cornering line, the system may auto-correct (which means the steering wheel may twitch under your fingers or turn heavy), or it may play a loud and rather distracting sound should you touch/cross the lane lines. This is great for clueless people, but this is quite unnecessary and even detrimental for people who know what they're doing, and are doing it better than the predefined, middle-of-the-road machine algorithms. I don't mind safety features, but they need to be unobtrusive, which wasn't the case here.
Other than that, the driving was fairly smooth. The car's seats are good, and you don't feel exhausted even after a lengthy stretch. You have good visibility, and the ergonomics are quite all right, predictably so for a VW-family vehicle. The ride could be improved, in my taste, with a much stiffer suspension, and a more tightly tuned engine, either a different gear ratio setup or extra torque. While 150 HP is a decent cavalry regiment, this type of car could definitely benefit from 50 more. Or more. Way more.
On a side note, during a particular stretch of road in the Veneto region, for almost 100 km, I drove in perfect synchronization with a car in front of me, one BMW 530d (previous generation). The driver of the said vehicle would sometimes go for an overtake, and in that exact millisecond, I would execute the same maneuver. And then, we would both glide back to the right lane and resume our cruising. Slow down, accelerate, overtake, repeat. I wasn't trying to match the other person's actions, it all happened naturally. A lovely dance of precision, speed, response, motion, and spatial logic. 'Twas a brother from another mother.
The fuel consumption was a tad over 6 liters at the end of my short roadtrip.
A few tiny ones. As I mentioned, the safety systems are too aggressive, quite annoying, and frankly, distracting. Yes, everyone thinks they are a great driver, but these sensors need to be less in-yer-face. If the technology designed to help me keep focused makes me unfocused and confused, then it fails the very mission it's supposed to be doing.
I also didn't like the parking brake. Steep hill, I need to reverse. Ordinarily, I'd use the handbrake to time my rearward movement correctly (with the clutch pedal depressed ever so). But when you have an electronic one, ergo a button, this is harder to do. In fact, impossible. You need to rely on the auto-hold feature, but it's an all-or-nothing approach. In the end, I went for a "rolling" start, and while I managed to slip only maybe 10-15 centimeters before the gearbox engaged, this is still more than zero centimeters I'd roll if I'd had a normal handbrake.
The T-Roc has the potential to be the ultimate Jack o' All Trades vehicle. It is spacious enough to drive a family around, there's enough capacity for suitcases and such in the back, the entry and exit are quite comfy due to the elevated chassis position, which should make it appealing to older people too, it's mighty pretty, drives nicely, and has enough equipment to keep you happy. I was rather pleased with its capabilities.
There were some small annoyances, too. The gearing isn't aggressive enough, the ICE thermodynamic cycle notwithstanding, and you can't always efficiently apply all of the engine torque onto the road surface. The safety systems are noisy, and I don't like the electronic parking brake, but that's an outstanding problem of mine. Other than that, this was a sweet ride, pleasant and comfortable, speedy enough, and you get a lot of goodies from the venerable 2.0 diesel. Did I say this is a beautiful car? Anyway, if you're looking for something that can work well across the widest range of driving conditions, styles and needs, the T-Roc does exceptionally well. I think the R version is the one I'd go for. Overall, 8.5/10. And with that, we end this review.