Volkswagen T-Roc R 2020 long-term review
Is it worthy of its R badge and does it make a good Golf R alternative? We found out over four months
*Why we ran it: *To see if VW can succeed where rivals have failed and give us a fast crossover that’s as good to drive as a hot hatch
-Month 4 - Month 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Prices and specs-
-Life with a VW T-Roc R: Month 4-
*This car had a lot of convincing to do, as a £40k-plus motor as well as a 296bhp allwheel-drive Golf R on stilts. Did it succeed? - 2 December 2020*
I am really going to miss the T-Roc R. I never thought I’d say that about a performance crossover, but there you have it. I’ve taken a leaf out of this government’s book and made a U-turn. The concept of a performance crossover no longer makes my teeth itch with frustration quite like it did before life with this particular Volkswagen.
I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, really. Around 6000 miles in any car, let alone one with 296bhp and a 4.8sec 0-62mph time, is likely to inspire some kind of fondness for it. But I’m pleased to report that said attachment isn’t just a result of prolonged exposure. For all of the negative connotations that compact crossovers might evoke among enthusiastic drivers, this one has been genuinely enjoyable to live with. Genuinely fun to live with, even.
The Mk7 Golf R-based car has certainly seen its fair share of action since landing in the care of the Autocar road test team back in June. Of course, Covid-19 has prevented my road test colleagues from spending quite as much time behind the wheel as they usually would, but that’s not to say I’ve let it off lightly.
In addition to numerous work assignments, it has been through a house move and multiple tip runs, where it proved itself capable of swallowing a surprising amount of clobber, so long as you’re clever with your packing. It took me and my housemates camping, too.
Not only was the T-Roc R spacious enough to cart the four of us and all our equipment from London to our chosen field, but it also acted as a damn fine shield against the bitterly cold winds that threatened to batter our four-berth throughout the night. Who says camping in late September is a bad idea?
Meanwhile, the car’s loftier driving position and adaptive dampers made it reasonably comfy over distance. Previous experience shows that adaptive dampers can be tricky to come by in this segment, and without them some rivals have proved to be too stiff and unyielding in how they ride.
Not so the T-Roc R. Sure, it’s no Bentley Continental GT, but the added pliancy that Comfort mode brings to the car’s on-road demeanour means I’ve never winced at the idea of having to use it for those longer trips. Unlike some of my colleagues, I haven’t been across to mainland Europe in this particular long-termer, but on a 500-mile-plus weekend trip to North Devon and back it was relaxing enough. Yes, it could make a point of clattering over some rougher sections of rural back road, but such intrusions were never bothersome.
In fact, it’s on these tighter, more technical sorts of roads that the T-Roc R is most in its element. Here, you can really revel in its grip, body control and pace. Even in particularly adverse conditions, this remains an entertaining and confidence-inspiring car to pilot; and although it might be slightly taller and heavier than a Golf R, the T-Roc R gives up very little dynamism and outright competence to its hatchback relation. Having driven both back to back for a previous report, it’s nice to be able to say that with absolute confidence, too.
I suppose the only real-world test the T-Roc R hasn’t been put through is its annual service, but the powers that be have decreed it’s time for the VW to leave the fleet. It’s a bit unfortunate that we’re unable to comment on this aspect of the ownership experience, but for what it’s worth, the car has been faultless during its time with us. Aside from topping up the screenwash and treating it to the odd clean, the T-Roc R hasn’t required any work at all – and I’m sure we’d be saying the same thing in a year’s time if it did stick around a while longer.
Of course, everyday use has revealed a few gripes, although none is too serious. The plasticky interior is still a source of disappointment, but this is more because it just feels out of place in a car that costs £47,844 after options than any concerns about outright build solidity.
The Apple CarPlay connection wasn’t always flawless in its reliability, either. I’d often plug my phone in only to find the system wouldn’t quite work properly, but there was never a time when this couldn’t be fixed by simply removing the cable and then plugging it back in again. A slightly larger fuel tank might have been nice, too, but the frequency with which I visited petrol stations in the T-Roc R is probably more a product of the extensive miles I do than a particularly ravenous appetite for fuel on its part. An average economy of 29.8mpg isn’t amazing, but neither is it terrible for a car of this performance calibre.
So I’m sad to see the T-Roc R leave. At the beginning of our stewardship, we set out to discover if it made for a fitting addition to VW’s growing family of R vehicles. And after these past few months, I reckon that answer is a resounding yes.
I struggle as much with its £40k-plus asking price now as I did on the day this test began. For that, it really ought to be better than a regular 4WD hot hatch. But I have enjoyed the drives I’ve had in it; and not least the day we figured it, when it easily showed up a Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 for handling dynamism. There’s plenty to like about this car. I’m just not sure there is quite enough for the money
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*Effortless performance *T-Roc’s 296bhp and 295lb ft make it feel plenty quick enough. All-paw grip and intuitive steering help, too.
*Individual mode *A configurability godsend. I found I left dampers in Comfort most of the time but the engine in Race.
*Practicality *Second row and the boot have both been put to good use. Neither felt particularly short of space.
*Intrior plastics *Arguably, the biggest turn-off of the whole package. Material quality feels crummy next to a Golf R.
*Dodgy connection *Apple CarPlay is fantastic, but the infotainment didn’t always hook up to my phone reliably on the first go.
*Final mileage: 6992*
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-Life with a VW T-Roc R: Month 3-
*VMAX run proves rapid - 25 November 2020*
A trip to Millbrook meant we were able to rig up the T-Roc R to find out just how quick it really is. With launch control engaged, the SUV stormed off the line with no fuss whatsoever and hit 60mph 4.7sec later. That’s quicker than the BMW X2 M35i we tested last year (5.0sec), although not quite as swift as the Audi SQ2 (4.5sec). Still, a good show.
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*T-Roc to the rescue - 28 October 2020*
I never thought I would need to use the T-Roc’s first aid kit, but a weekend surfing session quickly changed that. An unfortunate encounter with my board’s safety leash during a big tumble left one of my toenails hanging by a thread. Ouch. Thankfully, bandages were on hand in the Volkswagen, so I was able to tape myself up before sheepishly driving off to A&E.
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-Life with a VW T-Roc R: Month 2-
*We meet a Golf R-owning reader to compare and contrast - 14 October 2020*
At the international launch of the T-Roc R last year, I remember wondering just how closely it would compare to what was then the outgoing (Mk7) Golf R.
This was chiefly born out of the fact that, despite it being a taller, slightly heavier machine than its hatchback sibling, the T-Roc’s pace, traction and, crucially, body control didn’t seem to suffer much at all.
Since taking on our long-termer, that curiosity has been at the forefront of my mind. So when long-time Autocar subscriber Richard Borgonon got in touch to kindly offer up his very own Golf R for comparison, there could be only one answer. Conveniently, Borgonon also has a T-Roc R, in a specification that’s all but identical to ours, and the opportunity to hear his thoughts on the two as an actual owner was an enticing bonus.
Once I had arrived at Borgonon’s home in Surrey, we got directly to comparing and contrasting the two. And before we had even pressed a starter button, one big difference had made itself readily apparent: the Golf is simply in another league when it comes to interior material quality.
This is something I’ve long suspected, but seeing the two side by side really hammered the point home. Where the T-Roc uses hard, scratchy plastics, the Golf has soft-touch materials. While the T-Roc gets gloss-black trim finishers in the front half of the cabin, the Golf features them throughout. The differences are really quite stark in places and, in Borgonon’s opinion, some are inexcusable given the T-Roc’s price.
“Do they think we won’t notice that, in this case, £45,000-plus doesn’t even buy you door trims in the rear of the cabin and quality plastics throughout? Would I pay a little more for them to get it right? Yes, because we must be talking about a very small difference in cost,” says Borgonon.
When it comes to driving, however, the T-Roc can absolutely hold its head high. Aside from a degree more body roll through quick corners; a steering set-up that doesn’t quite feel as pure and direct; and a tendency to make a bit more of a point of shuddering over rougher surfaces (likely a result of its larger 19in wheels and stiffer set-up), the T-Roc is remarkably similar to the Golf. In fact, I think you probably get about 85% of the hatchback’s overall dynamic competence in the SUV. Given that the Golf was one of our favourite mega-hatches through its production run, that’s no bad showing.
The thing is, I think that makes the T-Roc’s lacklustre cabin even more of a let-down – and Borgonon fervently agrees. “It’s certainly a worthy addition to the R family,” he says. “However, if Volkswagen wants us to consider ‘going R’ as being a believable means of obtaining well-rounded performance and a step-up-quality product package, it has to stop some idiot accountant robbing from its cars a classy cabin by being so ridiculously cheap.
“The Golf delivers a fully rounded class act. The SUV just can’t match such class, despite the applaudable efforts of Volkswagen’s engineers to make it drive the way it does.”
*Engineering excellence *Comparison with the Golf shows how impressive the T-Roc’s chassis really is. Any compromises from a taller, heavier body and stiffer suspension truly are minimal.
*In need of a trim *The lack of door trim finishers in the rear really bothers me now that it has been pointed out.
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*Seats-down abilities tested - 23 September 2020*
A recent house move really stretched the T-Roc’s storage capacity to its limits. With the second row of seats collapsed, there’s 1237 litres of space to play with, and with some clever packing you can fit in a surprisingly large amount of stuff. It certainly came in useful for the compulsory tip runs that go hand in hand with these sorts of life events.
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*Hot crossover’s body control is tested on a patched-up B-road - 2 September 2020*
There’s a short stretch of B-road on my daily commute that has become as useful to me as a commis chef’s favourite paring knife or a mechanic’s best torque wrench. I drive it twice per day, every day that I commute to work – which means I haven’t driven it much at all since early March. And because I’m missing it and I had a good reason, it was where I headed on my first proper go in the road test team’s new Volkswagen T-Roc R the other day.
Oxhey Hill, between the North Oxfordshire villages of Mollington and Cropredy, isn’t much to look at, but it’s narrow, a little bit snakey, undulating and bumpy. But it’s how it’s bumpy that matters most. It’s steadily degrading and being patched up at its margins, so it throws repeated asymmetrical inputs at a chassis over about a minute or so. Driven well under the national speed limit, it can tell you an awful lot – not just about how sophisticated a car’s close body control is but also how it’s achieved.
It was here that I remember learning just how much better sorted a road car the McLaren 720S is than, say, the Ferrari 812 Superfast (cars with stiff anti-roll bars don’t generally do well on it). One of them feels like it could carry 100mph along there perfectly safely, if you knew nothing was coming the other way; the other wants to bounce you into a ditch at little more than 50mph.
This is the sort of road that a supple, sophisticated, adaptively damped Volkswagen Golf R Mk7 would devour, yet it also made me aware just how stiff and restrictive is the tuning of the Cupra Ateca when I drove it there.
The T-Roc R ended up somewhere in the middle. You have to be more deliberate about which driving mode you choose than you do in the Golf R. Normal works quite well on single carriageways and B-roads, but you need Comfort to settle the car properly on the motorway.
Softest isn’t necessarily best on really uneven surfaces, though. I reckon Normal mode on the standard adaptive dampers gives the T-Roc R the best blend of absorption, tautness and fluency on really testing surfaces; it actually copes pretty well. What isn’t said often enough about adaptive dampers is that they are, by definition, adaptive, and that usually means they have the widest operating automatic adjustment range and often work best if you just leave them in their Normal middle setting instead of indulging the urge to fiddle.
So I wound up being quietly impressed by that first proper drive in the T-Roc R. It doesn’t have the ride sophistication of the Golf R, but it’s a lot closer to its sibling than I thought it would be, having driven some other sports crossovers. Moreover, I liked the noise it made through its pricey optional exhaust, once I had worked out how to turn down the digital ‘engine noise’ in order to actually hear it.
We’ll need to live with the car a bit more to work out whether its disappointing perceived quality inside really offends in daily use or whether it’s actually the sort of thing that only bothers a motoring journalist who happens to drive all sorts of cars but none for very long. I suspect it might be latter, although there’s no doubting that, for the money, it ought to be better.
*Good memory *Happily, one of the driving modes lets you choose settings à la carte. Better still, the car recalls the mode you last used and whether the lane-keeping assistance was off.
*Tacky alloys *The gunmetal 19in Pretoria alloys are a bit too aftermarket-looking for my liking. I’m particularly surprised that they’re standard, with no optional alternative.
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-Life with a VW T-Roc R: Month 1-
*mix and match driver modes - 26 August 2020*
I’ve found my ideal configuration for the T-Roc R’s Individual mode: dampers in Comfort; drivetrain in Race to make up for the sometimestardy throttle response; steering in Normal; and engine sound in Race. This seems to best suit everyday driving, but I’m looking forward to finally heading out for a proper trot this weekend with it all in Race.
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*Putting the boot in - 12 August 2020*
A recent office clear-out enabled us to put the T-Roc’s boot to good use. It has 392 litres of space with the seats up, which is more than enough room to stash a few boxes filled with old copies of Autocar. That figure also means the T-Roc pips two of our favourite family hatchbacks for storage space: the new, Mk8 Golf (381 litres) and the Ford Focus (375).
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*Welcoming the T-Roc R to the fleet - 5 August 2020*
Temporarily, at least, the T-Roc R represents the pinnacle of Volkswagen’s performance division output. From an enthusiast’s perspective, that might seem a somewhat strange mantle for a jacked-up compact crossover to assume, but with the Mk7 Golf R mega-hatch being withdrawn from sale shortly after the T-Roc R’s launch last year, that’s the situation in which we find ourselves.
For what it’s worth, I think the launch of a more hardcore version of Volkswagen’s second-smallest SUV is a pretty encouraging statement of intent. In fact, when the T-Roc R was first unveiled, Jost Capito – the man who heads up Volkswagen’s R division – told Autocar that the task he’d been given was to “make R to Volkswagen what M is to BMW”.
That’s by no means an aim lacking in ambition, but based on the news that has been emerging from Volkswagen over the past few weeks and months, it isn’t an idle one, either.
So there’ll be an R version of the Arteon four-door coupé in a few months’ time, as well as a shooting brake model. The recently facelifted Tiguan will join the R range in the autumn. We got a look at the plug-in hybrid V6-engined Touareg R earlier this year, and the Golf R will make its return in Mk8 guise before the year’s end. Capito and his team have certainly been busy.
But for now, it’s the T-Roc R. Its arrival on the Autocar long-term test fleet will provide an opportunity for us to determine whether or not it represents a worthy addition to the R family while we also examine the pros and cons of living with a performance crossover compared with, say, a more traditional hot hatch. Given the fact that the last long-termer my road test colleagues and I ran in earnest was a Renault Mégane RS, I’d say we’re pretty well placed to find out.
For anyone well versed in small, fast Volkwagens (or Audis and Cupras, for that matter), the T-Roc R’s mechanical specification won’t come as much of a surprise. It’s based on the VW Group’s MQB architecture and uses the same EA888 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder engine that appeared in the previous Golf R. It develops the same 296bhp and 295lb ft as it did in its hatchback sibling and deploys it through a familiar combination of a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and part-time Haldex clutch-based four-wheel drive system.
Dimensionally, it’s a bit different, of course, being both shorter in length and wheelbase than the previous Golf, but also taller, wider and (slightly) heavier than the hatchback. There’s a more aggressive suspension tune that makes its ride height 20mm lower than a standard T-Roc’s, as well as a new aluminium front subframe and revised engine mounts. UK cars get smart-looking 19in Pretoria alloy wheels as standard and the larger performance brakes that were once an option on the Golf R are also included free of charge.
All of this combines to paint the T-Roc R as a seriously quick cross-country machine, at least on paper. With its standard-fit launch control engaged and Race mode selected, it can cover 0-62mph in just 4.8sec, Volkswagen claims, and it has a top speed of 155mph. So it’s easily in the same ballpark as the likes of the Cupra Ateca, Audi SQ2 and BMW X2 M35i in terms of performance, although with a base price of £40,735, the T-Roc R is pricier than its VW Group compatriots, if cheaper than the BMW.
And when you delve into the options list, there’s scope to bump up that price even further – as demonstrated by our, shall we say, enthusiastically specced, £47,844 long-termer. Its headline option is the titanium Akrapovic sports exhaust, which adds a hefty £3050 to the bill but, as well as shaving 7kg, makes the T-Roc R sound a bit naughtier than it otherwise would.
Other options include – but aren’t limited to – a rearview camera (£190), Lapiz Blue metallic paint (£755), a Winter Pack with heated front seats (£305) and keyless entry (£400). The most important option, however, is the £695 Dynamic Chassis Control, which adds adaptive dampers and an all-important Comfort drive mode. Many of the fast crossovers we’ve tested in the past year either came without or weren’t available with any variability in their suspension settings, and they suffered from overly firm, brittle rides as a result. I recall the X2 M35i being a chief offender in this regard.
As far as our T-Roc R is concerned, those dampers are paying dividends already. With the engine needing to be run in properly before any B-road thrashes can really take place, my trips have so far been limited to short dashes to the supermarket and a few lengthier drives up the motorway for the small number of photo shoots we’ve been able to make happen as lockdown eases further.
Although there’s undoubtedly a firm edge to the T-Roc’s ride, even with the dampers in their most forgiving setting, I’m not yet looking for excuses to avoid making any particular journey. Quite the opposite, in fact.
And while I can’t say I’m particularly fond of the cabin plastics, I’m willing to overlook these for now in the hope that the T-Roc R will put its best foot forward when I can finally show it a good B-road.
Its list price looks strong and VW’s online finance calculator suggests you’ll pay at least £100 a month (over four years, after a good deposit) more than for the Mk7 Golf R you might be giving up. Can a ‘performance crossover’ be worth that? I actually quite like the way this car drives, but I’ve still got big reservations. This is me, trying to keep an open mind.
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-Volkswagen T-Roc R 2.0 TSI 4Motion specification-
*Prices: List price new* £40,735 *List price now* £40,735 *Price as tested* £47,844.19
*Options:*Rear-view camera £190, Dynamic Chassis Control £695, Akrapovic titanium exhaust £3050, Driver’s Assistance Pack Plus £205, keyless entry £400, Winter Pack £305, pre-crash preventative occupant protection £150, Vodafone tracker £534.19, Lapiz Blue metallic paint £755
*Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy* 30.6mpg *Fuel tank* 56 litres *Test average* 29.8mpg *Test best* 31.4mpg *Test worst* 28.2mpg *Real-world range* 367 miles
*Tech highlights: 0-62mph* 4.8sec *Top speed* 155mph *Engine* 4 cyls in line, 1984cc, turbocharged, petrol *Max power* 296bhp at 5300-6500rpm *Max torque* 295lb ft at 2000-5200rpm *Transmission* 7-spd dual-clutch automatic *Boot capacity* 392-1237 litres *Wheels* 8Jx19in, alloy *Tyres* 235/40 R19, Hankook Ventus S1 Evo2 *Kerb weight* 1575kg
*Service and running costs: Contract hire rate* £416.85 *CO2* 197g/km *Service costs* None *Other costs* None *Fuel costs* £970.54 *Running costs inc fuel* £970.54 *Cost per mile* 17 pence *Faults* none
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