VW T-Roc R (2021) long-term test: the six-month verdict

Published: 08 January 2021

► CAR lives with a hot T-Roc R
► 296bhp, 4.8sec to 62mph
► A-ff-C is its keeper...

I can't remember having my hands on any other quick car for so much time and spending so little of it driving quickly.

Odd, really. VW has clearly put some effort into pummelling its SUV undercarriage into sufficient submission to elicit R-appropriate handling alacrity, including winding the T-Roc's ride height all the way back down to near-hatchback status. A residual whiff of extra bodyroll and pitch cannot be held accountable for this amount of amiable dawdling.

So, given that the driving position is also only fractionally more lofted and upright than that of the nippiest Golf, I've come to the conclusion that it's down to presentation. No; not the orange paint. I wouldn't drive an orange McLaren more slowly... Perhaps don the full Groucho disguise first, but no slower.

Thing is, you just don't – metaphorically or otherwise – walk out to it of a morning pulling on the string-backs while muttering 'Right you lot: en garde!'

Don't get me wrong; amid Mudfordshire's mithering traffic, having the in-gear oomph to overtake largely at will makes for a heady blend of necessity and joy. And such is the effortless delivery of straight-line pace that the next speed awareness course is never far over the horizon. But when a family-free flail on a sinuous B-road beckons, somehow the flappy paddles always seem to stay un-tugged...

As transgressions go, I don't think this is up there with shrouding a mint Ferrari 365 GTB/4 in a dust cloth and hiding it under a Swiss mountain in perpetuity, but my reluctance to engage Race mode has left me a tad baffled.

Such musings aside, the T-Roc has been a doddle to live with – the hallmark of any R-badged VW, the continual crunch of road-surface information pushing its way into the cabin the only cruising-speed reminder of the performance potential available.

Though VW does it better than most, I'm not yet entirely sold on the digital cockpit, especially when it expends so much effort merely replicating proper analogue dials. No one (including Lexus) has yet bettered Lexus's first centre-console touchscreen, with a screen-flanking, button-operated menu and no more than two prods of the screen required thereafter for... well, anything.

I know we'll miss the T-Roc, though. As Joni Mitchell put it: 'Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone...'

Logbook: VW T-Roc R

Price £38,450 (£42,359 as tested)
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 296bhp, 4.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 32.5mpg (official), 26.3mpg (tested), 176g/km CO2
Energy cost 20.5p per mile
Miles this month 676
Total miles 3110

Month 5 living with a VW T-Roc R: sick note herewith

T-Roc R LTT interior

I have not, in truth, seen a great deal of the T-Roc lately. Knowing the missus is essentially happy with it, it has seemed the safest course of action to simply surrender the keys and allow her to report back from the real world: 'Home-work-home-Tesco is about the sum total of miles driven. Probably should have taken it to Somerset (to see a chum) instead of the Ford Puma with its unbelievably irritating intermittent windscreen wipers...

'I have very few comments, which for me is a good thing, because it reflects the fact that you can just get in and drive without any annoying buzzing, beeping or welcome screen notifications. I like the radio, which just works, with none of those idiotic "ensemble" listings, which just don't work.

'It's the perfect boot size for a Tesco visit, in that the shopping doesn't cascade everywhere en route home. However, even with the parcel shelf in the shed, I think Winnie [aka the evil smelling dog] finds the space somewhat small for longer journeys.

'Oh, and the front windscreen wiper is clicking.' Ah ha! Something to write about. Except when I investigate there's nothing untoward to be heard at all...

Logbook: VW T-Roc R

Price £38,450 (£42,359 as tested)
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 296bhp, 4.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph
Efficiency 32.5mpg (official), 26.3mpg (tested), 176g/km CO2
Energy cost 19.9p per mile
Miles this month 286
Total miles 2434

Month 4 living with a VW T-Roc R: in search of good curry

T-Roc R LTT bridge

Excellent bookshop, but two spectacularly iffy curry houses. One spontaneously combusts with insurance-alarming frequency, the other is rumoured to rely on recipes such as Golden Retriever Microchip tikka masala.

Rogan Josh
A picturesque and precipitous high street selling a bewildering array of stuff you suddenly won't want the instant you get it home. Which could also be said of the town's sole curry house.

T-Roc R static country house

Model village, model railways, the Mudfordshire Motoring Museum, toasted muffins, chip-gorged mallards swimming at periscope depth, and more tourists than you can shake a stick at. Proper curry? Fat chance.

A town strangely dominated by kitchenware shops and, more predictably, outward-boundah emporia. The curry house produce looks, and smells, the part, but has all the flavour kick of a Jacob's cream cracker.

Two not to choose from here; one upstairs so you can arrive by boat in the next floods, the other with a carpet stickier than a teenager's Penthouse centrefold. Great cheese, though.

T-Roc R cheese house

Once a middle-of-nowhere Little Chef – home of the Olympic Breakfast and, hence, assembly point for every CAR Giant Test. Ever. Then, JOY, briefly home of Mudfordshire's finest curry by far. Alas, no more.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Volkswagen T-Roc R

Price £38,450 (£42,359 as tested) 
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 296bhp, 4.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph  
Efficiency 32.5mpg (official) 24.6mpg (tested), 176g/km CO2 
Energy cost 19.8p per mile 
Miles this month 549
Total miles 2148

Month 3 living with a VW T-Roc R: waste of space

T-Roc R LTT cupholder

To paraphrase Sean Connery in The Untouchables: enough of this cupholder shit... Not being a family which likes to nonchalant along the middle lane, munching junk and slurping fizzy pop from paper buckets, the ff-Cs find the dedication of valuable storage bins, between the seats and in the doors, to soft drinks more than irksome.

The moment you profile the side walls of a box to resemble a diorama of the Himalayas, the residual volume – in the T-Roc at least – becomes useless for the slip-free storage of anything you might actually wish to transfer there from your pockets.

How about interchangeable cubbies?

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Volkswagen T-Roc R

Price £38,450 (£42,359 as tested) 
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 296bhp, 4.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph  
Efficiency 32.5mpg (official) 27.0mpg (tested), 176g/km CO2 
Energy cost 21.8p per mile 
Miles this month 297
Total miles 1597

Month 2 living with a VW T-Roc R: raising the roof

Trapped temporarily into a daily choice of two T-Rocs, the missus and I are entirely in accord – especially since I unearthed a glasses repair kit disgorged years ago by a pointlessly posh Christmas cracker, and, therein, a screw minuscule enough to secure the errant lens in her shades.

I take the one powered by a T-Rex with a wasp under its tail, and she takes the one with a demountable trampoline roof and 114bhp. Because, lid off, shades on, Wrigley's in, Radio 1 on, it matters not a jot to her either that it has a tendency towards the shudderbysmal, or that – in torque delivery terms – it couldn't pull a new age traveller off your sister.

Bodyshell, performance, handling, ride quality, luggage capacity, upholstery and colour aside, there's little to choose between the R and the Cabriolet. However, with her unerring eye for detail, the missus has spotted one significant difference hidden away in reverse gear. The Cabriolet's rear sensors are so neurotic that the flimsiest waving frond of a clematis sends the emergency braking system into a panic, slamming on the anchors with appalling, unheralded vim. Not a great start to a day of lidless motoring.

Read Anthony's review of the T-Roc Cabrio

Speaking of clematis, one of the rag top's more redeeming features is its gigantic-wheelbarrow ability to transport tall plants home from the local nursery without any shoot-snapping destruction of the shape which made you choose them in the first place. As long, that is, as you keep the speed low enough to prevent the wind promptly doing what the roof lining hasn't.

Life in the R, meanwhile, continues to be a hoot. However, time recently spent in a Mk8 Golf has served only to confirm how much sweeter a steer is afforded by the hatch's stance. Hard to believe such a small difference in height could have such a clear impact on involvement at the helm.

The R is proving a doddle to live with, not least because once you've switched off a safety feature you don't want meddling in your affairs, it stays off thereafter.

Owners of the new Golf are destined to rapidly become cross-eyed with irritation at the discovery that Lane Keeping Assist, which turns the helm into a miffed python with the cutting of each corner, must be deactivated every time you start the car. And that entails an ecstasy of screen stabbing. There is a button on the end of the indicator stalk but that doesn't switch the thing off, as in some other VW Group products – it merely indicates system status. Ludicrous.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Volkswagen T-Roc R

Price £38,450 (£42,359 as tested) 
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 296bhp, 4.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph  
Efficiency 32.5mpg (official) 27.0mpg (tested), 176g/km CO2 
Energy cost 22.0p per mile 
Miles this month 231
Total miles 1302

Month 1 living with a VW T-Roc R: hello and welcome

T-Roc R static

If the Golf R currently constitutes the cake-and-eat-it of the hatchback world, there's no reason to suppose the T-Roc R won't tick all the boxes with equal insouciance in the realm of the compact SUV.

Except in the styling department, wherein VW has clearly lost its way. Each element of the T-Roc's couture seems to have been carried to the clay from a separate annex of the design department, none of which have been speaking to the others.

Judging by shots of the Mk 8 Golf GTI, a lower front grille styled on Aardman Animation's Wallace sucking a leaking pen while composing a letter of complaint about the Wrong Trousers having gone wrong is to become commonplace on the bows of future VWs. It doesn't particularly suit the Golf, and on the T-Roc just looks wrong, much like the going-nowhere crease curving over the rear door handle.

Mercifully, things are much less muddled on board. From both a visual and tactile perspective, some of the plastics fall short in the context of a car costing over two grand more than the Golf R, but all is as well screwed together and intuitively operable as we've come to expect from VW.

No complaints about the driving position or the deliciously grabbable steering wheel. But it must be said that climbing behind the wheel fails to deliver that feeling of imminent immersion in the driving process promised by the Golf R; strange how sitting just a whisker more upright and a few millimetres higher can make all the difference between 'on' and 'in'.

There's just about room in the rear seats for a pair of bickering teenagers, but the evil-smelling dog fares less well astern, where a steeply raked rear screen narrows the canine head space afforded by the removal of the parcel shelf to barely acceptable limits.

Happily, there's absolutely nothing wrong with a powertrain lifted pretty much wholesale from the Golf R. To quickly recap, that constitutes a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit developing 296bhp and 295lb ft of torque; this delivered via a seven-speed DSG gearbox to all four wheels courtesy of Haldex.

T-Roc R LTT cornering

Thus armed, the T-Roc R will pelt to 62mph in just 4.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph – this terminal velocity, unlike that of the Golf R, ungoverned.

VW has fettled here and there to compensate for the T-Roc's extra 81mm in height and 50kg weight gain over the Golf. An aluminium front subframe (which the GTI gets but the R doesn't) adds rigidity and loses weight; the brakes are lifted from the Performance Pack version of the Golf R; and the Haldex clutches have been tweaked to offer a more rear-biased power delivery under acceleration.

There's also a titanium Akrapovic exhaust system on the options list to make those noises off a little less disappointingly humdrum. But at £3000 a snap, crackle and pop, that is where it will remain.

Unlike driving the Golf R, you'll have to engage the T-Roc's Race mode to unleash the full stabbed rat, and that's where the capacity to tailor the optional Dynamic Chassis Control's dampers separately from the engine mode comes in handy – Race for the engine, by all means, but never for the damping. The Normal setting is tuff enuff to deliver flat, hard-charging cornering without dislodging your contact lenses.

Oh, and the brakes are very much front loaded on the pedal; you get the lot with the first touch, which leaves you with the unfortunate impression that you're getting less with subsequent shoving thereafter.

All in all, after a very pleasant year spent idly wishing Mazda's CX-5 came with something a little shoutier under the bonnet, the T-Roc R has no trouble fulfilling the Sport section of the SUV brief.

On first acquaintance, though, it may struggle to deliver the levels of precision and engagement that make the Golf R such a delight. Understandable, perhaps, given the extra height, weight and lofted driving position. Nonetheless, if it can combine the undeniably sizeable chunks of entertainment on offer with just half an ounce of Utility, you'll hear no complaints from this department.

Spec details of our T-Roc R

Colour Sensitive - £1020
It isn't until you specify David Dickinson Racing Orange that you suspect the T-Roc R might be just a tad colour-sensitive. These 19-inch alloys and logo'd brake calipers are standard.

Keyless Entry - £395
And start. And locking. So the car keys can remain safely in your pocket for the duration. Or, more to the point, lost in the bottom of the missus' handbag for all eternity.

Beats Soundpack - £425
Eight-channel 400-watt digital amplifier with six speakers and a subwoofer; because the capacity to smash two small lumps of earwax together with stupefying force in the middle of your brain is what teenagers want in a car.

Dynamic Chassis Control - £695
Choice of Normal, Sport and Comfort suspension settings; includes progressive steering and driving profile selection. Race mode best twinned with Normal or even Comfort damping to spare eyeballs.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Volkswagen T-Roc R

Price £38,450 (£42,359 as tested) 
Performance 1984cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 296bhp, 4.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph  
Efficiency 32.5mpg (official) 28.1mpg (tested), 176g/km CO2 
Energy cost 19.3p per mile 
Miles this month 1007
Total miles 1071

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche