VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down

Published:06 February 2020

VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Jake Groves

CAR's staff writer, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

By Jake Groves

CAR's staff writer, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

► Latest VW R car driven
► Trendy crossover has 296bhp
► Our full road test 

It was the logical next step, wasn’t it? Making VW’s next R Performance car an SUV.

Not a particularly thrilling one for proper car enthusiasts, but one that’ll do decent numbers, and that was arguably VW R boss, Jost Capito’s main justification. That and the fact that the Audi SQ2 and Cupra Ateca already exist, which would make some of the building process easier.

VW’s new T-Roc R is a hot crossover that, unsurprisingly, borrows a lot from the Mk7.5 Golf R, which means it should be good.

Interesting… tell me more!

The T-Roc R uses the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit and rides on the MQB A platform. Power from that is 296bhp, the same as the WLTP homologated version of Golf R’s engine, mated, like its hatchback relation, exclusively to a DSG automatic transmission and 4Motion all-wheel drive. It can sprint to 62mph in under five seconds and will do 155mph.

The suspension is a mix of Golf and T-Roc with the front sub frame from the GTI, a 20mm drop in ride height on springs around 20% firmer, it rides on 19-inch wheels with 235/40 R19 tyres. Passive dampers are standard (continuously adaptive ones under VW’s Dynamic Chassis Control tag are optional), as are powerful brakes from the Golf R Performance Pack. There’s also an Akrapovič sports exhaust (that saves you seven kilos) on the options list for a not inconsiderate £3,000.

T-Roc R rear 3/4

It would be offending Mr. Capito and his team if we didn’t make clear that it wasn’t just a simple copy-and-paste job from the Golf R hatch. Comparing back-to-back with the Golf R, the T-Roc has shorter gear ratios and specific damping settings for a kickoff. Capito is fairly vocal on the R’s chassis development, saying that unlike some rivals the electronics are there for safety rather than to mask deficiencies in the base chassis. 'The chassis must work well with everything off,’ he told us at the international launch.

It certainly looks the part…

Doesn’t it just, but I’d argue it’s lost some of the T-Roc’s funky charm in order to look more aggressive. The squircle LED DRLs of the regular car, for example, have been deleted to make room for a Joker face-like lower front grille arrangement. It also wouldn’t be a performance car without a fatter spoiler to improve downforce at high speed and four exhaust pipes.

Inside, for the most part the T-Roc R has the same issues as a regular one, namely the cockpit is surprisingly plasticky for what you come to expect from VW. The coloured insert happily injects a bit of life (provided you pick it), but it looks like it’s been painted by a seven-year-old with a spray can. Overall, it’s one of the T-Roc R’s biggest disappointments; you get in a Mk7.5 Golf and you’re still pleased by the quality. This far less so.

The standard R seats have loads of lateral support, allowing you to really lean into them, but the driving position is high; we kept fruitlessly pumping the height adjustment lever as far down as it would go wishing for it to go lower. Oddly, on our UK drive, the driving position was more adjustable, but you know you’re still sat in an SUV. Digital instruments and VW’s Discover nav are both standard in the UK.

T-Roc R interior

You mentioned an expensive exhaust?

I did. It’s got a deep, purposeful note that belies the relatively ordinary engine powering it. There’s still some synthetic sound piped into the interior, switching between the drive modes intensifying that. It is muted in Eco and Comfort, being just-about-noticeable in Normal and fully active in Race; these modes, as ever, altering the engine, transmission, steering and, with optional DCC dampers, chassis responses accordingly.

In Race the exhaust is downright naughty, shouting as the revs rise like a touring car and willfully popping and banging at any sight of overrun. So regular are the “emotional noises” that a few sounded like gunfire after a hard downshift. Giggles soon follow.

Without said expensive exhaust and in Race mode, there’s still the odd satisfying fruity parp on gearshifts, enough to still satisfy, but the noise is digitally enhanced in the cockpit. That’s a shame, as it masks the less pronounced but still welcome efforts from the standard exhaust.

And, when you’re not scaring the local populace?

We’re busy flooring it. This is a wicked fast machine, due mostly to that formidable EA888 engine. It’s genuinely one of the most flexible performance car engines out there, and the fact a small SUV can do a sub-five-second launch sprint still boggles the mind. Long may it continue to reign.

It does sound gruffer than in the Golf, but no less potent – so much so that you can happily just leave it in the midrange and short-shift when wanting to make pronounced progress. Using the steering-mounted DSG paddles to shift is satisfying, too – the paddles themselves are nothing special, but the ‘box’s responses to downshifts is sharp.

And when you’re not at full tilt, it turns into you’re average everyday VW crossover; quiet, comfy, smooth-shifting and discreet.

It’s an SUV, so…

You think it’s going to be porky to drive fast? Wrong. Yes, you sit higher up but that’s about the only difference. One other key area Capito and his team worked on was roll control, not least to stop the rollover protection sensors from killing the fun. The work paid off, as the T-Roc manages to eliminate any real sense of roll without it feeling alien, like those cars with 48v active anti-roll systems.

T-Roc R rear cornering

Our cars had the DCC option box ticked, and it’s one we recommend you pick up, too. Even without, Capito’s demands to make the T-Roc R an impressive thing to hoon hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Larger standard wheels and a firmer springs naturally mean a stiffer ride than your average pedestrian T-Roc, but it’s far from unmanageable or ruinously uncomfortable. Jiggly around town in the firmer drive modes is expected from a hot hatch/SUV thing and it pays huge dividends when setting a new split time on your favourite back road.

There’s a pleasing solidity to the T-Roc R’s handling traits that make it a car you feel safe driving fast. I’d like a little more involvement from the steering, similar to Mini’s Countryman JCW, but it’s a brutally fast cross-country weapon.

But this all sounds like a Golf R…

Well, duh. But you raise a good point: sharing so much with something that is already a great car doesn’t really give the T-Roc R much of an individual identity. You’re sat taller, the boot’s a bit bigger and the cockpit a bit hollower than some may like but the same extremely good driving sensations, power and exhaust noise you get with the hatch are all present and correct. It’s impressive to drive and doesn’t really feel like an SUV but, again, you could confidently say that about the Golf R.

But VW believes the on-trend looks of a crossover will draw in some new, younger and more gender-balanced customers into the R fold. Plus, as the Golf transitions between Mk7.5 to Mk8, the T-Roc R will bridge the gap between one Golf R model coming off sale and the other arriving.

More R models are coming too, Capito told us at the T-Roc R’s launch, but what they may be is still a mystery. We rather like the idea of an Up! R or Polo R, but Capito isn’t convinced, saying the numbers don’t really add up for R models below the Golf. As the brand gains a new logo, the rumour mill is swirling about an ID.3 R…

VW T-Roc R: verdict

We’d have this T-Roc R over an £1,000 cheaper Audi SQ2 for a start. While the Ingolstadt version might have a better-built interior, the driving position is worse, and the ride firm and only available with passive dampers.

The T-Roc’s cockpit is wholly unexciting and we’d argue it’s not quite different enough from the brilliant Golf R, but it’s certainly an impressive package. Super quick, deft handling qualities and plenty of kit in a trendy crossover package. Transplant complete.

Check out our VW reviews

Specs

Price when new: £38,450
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1984cc turbocharged 4cyl petrol, 296bhp @ 5500rpm, 295lb ft @ 5200rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch auto, all-wheel drive
Performance: 4.8sec 0-62mph, 155mph, 36.7mpg, 176g/km
Weight / material: 1575kg/steel and aluminium
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4234/1819/1573mm

Rivals

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Photo Gallery

  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down
  • VW T-Roc R (2020) review: doubling down

By Jake Groves

CAR's staff writer, office Geordie, gamer, lover of hot hatches

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