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The price may seem steep on paper, but can the Volkswagen T-Roc justify the money it is asking for?
We first got wind of the Volkswagen T-Roc at Auto Expo 2020, when VW confirmed it as one of the four SUVs it would be launching over the next two years. The T-Roc is very unlike VW — it strays away from the sombre designs, is far more out-there, and hints at what is to come in the future in the Taigun. After all, the Taigun will be based on an Indianised version of that platform with the same engine (and the 1-litre TSI from the Polo). But I digress. In this review, I'm going to try and answer a couple of questions — what exactly is the T-Roc, what is it like to drive and is it worth the money?
The T-Roc seems to eschew the traditional boxy SUV stance. Yes, it has got the typical Volkswagen look in that there are plenty of clean lines and tightly pinched metalwork. But where Volkswagen’s designs in the past have come off as a bit… mature, the T-Roc is the polar opposite. It’s like a cultured teenager that has just discovered tattoos and hair colour. It takes the strong design that we have traditionally associated VW with and injected a whole lot of funk in to it. The headlamps aren’t too outrageous and they flow in to the grille seamlessly, but then the way the bumper is styled gives it a strong chin and the hexagonal LED headlamps look really cool. There’s black cladding that runs around the car to remind you that it can deal with more rugged roads that a regular hatchback. On the side, the flared wheel arches add, erm, flair, but the real cool bit is the back. The C-pillar is raked down sharply and reminds you of those expensive SUV-coupes that luxury car buyers can’t seem to get enough of. Is the T-Roc the most affordable SUV-coupe you can put your money on?
In terms of dimensions, it is little longer than the Hyundai Creta which is a good thing — Creta being a segment benchmark and all that, but it does have a shorter wheelbase. It is wider than a Creta too, but then it is 1.57m tall and my Hyundai Venue long-termer is nearly 20mm taller. So it sits in a unique space and has the styling to match.
The T-Roc’s cockpit is a very pleasant place to be. I found it familiar because a lot of the parts are shared with the Tiguan Allspace — the digital instrument cluster (though the dials are styled differently), the infotainment screen, the air-con controls and even the gear selector and steering wheel. The T-Roc does come packing a good amount of features to make its price more palatable including auto headlamps, auto wipers, dual zone climate control, heated front seats (for, maybe, when you drive to Ladakh in the winters), a massive sunroof and six airbags. There’s also some active features like lane keeping assist and collision assist, though the lack of cruise control really sent our social media followers in to a frenzy. Not that we’ve ever used it on any of our drives in any part of the country.
The T-Roc does have some flaws and primary among them is space. The rear seat is tight in terms of knee room and the bench has scooped out seats making it more of a four-seater than a five seater. The seats themselves are very comfortable and they hug you well, but the lack of knee-room is a real downer and will definitely turn people away. The dash is all hard plastic, but it feels well put together. However the door grabs are hard plastic that squeaked when I held on to them for support and that was not something I expected from a VW at this price.
The 1.5-litre engine in the T-Roc is a real gem, as it should be considering it has Evo in its name! 1498cc of joy with a turbocharger latched on to it, to make it even more fun. It puts out 148bhp and 250Nm, and those numbers don’t just look good on paper. They do a darn good job of getting the T-Roc to move. The T-Roc feels quick off the line with lag under 1800rpm, but taking off once the turbo spools up. And while it is effective, it isn’t devoid of character — it loves to be revved to the 6500rpm redline, getting there quicker than I expected and sounding rather entertaining as well. While we didn’t V-Box test it, it feels like it can hit a ton in under 10 seconds. The DSG, as is always the case, works like a peach. It’s gentle in the way it takes off from standstill, but on the go, its snappy and works up and down the gears with finesse. You can pull back on the gear selector to put the transmission in to sport mode so it holds gears longer, though I just preferred taking control using the paddle shifters. Tiny, plasticky ones very similar to what was on the Karoq, but I won’t complain. Any paddle is better than no paddle. The engine-gearbox combination has a wide breadth of abilities — it manages silent cruising around the city without a fuss, and comes alive when you demand more from it. It’s also an engine that you can really wring out and use all the performance of without scaring yourself, or breaking the law and that makes it thoroughly satisfying experience.
This engine has another neat feature — cylinder deactivation. Under low loads and while coasting, the valves of the second and third cylinder remain shut, saving fuel and lowering emissions. There’s an ‘eco’ notification that it throws up on the digital cockpit when it activates, but it could be lying to you and you would never know. The shift from four cylinders to two and back is utterly seamless and close to imperceptible from behind the wheel. Cylinder deactivation has been restricted to large capacity engines — the AMG V8s, for example — and I think it’s brilliant that Volkswagen is democratising technology like this. I mean, shutting off four cylinders on a big displacement gas guzzler has very apparent benefits and it sure makes sense to pump in the cash to make it happen. The benefits would be far smaller on an engine like the 1.5 TSI, and yet VW sees sense in making that investment and engineering it in to its mass market cars!
The T-Roc is based on the ubiquitous MQB platform. We’ve seen plenty of it — Octavia, Kodiaq, Q3, Passat, Tiguan— the list goes on, in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Here’s a pub fact: the T-Roc has the shortest wheelbase of any MQB car in India. That pedigree of these MQB cars shines through — it feels stable and planted. Saying it feels European would be superfluous since it is literally made in Europe and then imported to India as a CBU. There’s a touch of firmness to it, and at lower speeds I found bad patches filtering slightly in to the cabin. It isn’t an SUV that you want to go clattering through broken patches on — it doesn’t feel like it can take as much of a beating as something like a Tiguan. Mechanical sympathy kicks in and I found myself slowing down for broken roads. But all the while it feels taut and controlled. And then when you hit the highway, that tautness translates in to immense confidence behind the wheel. The T-Roc feels rock solid and unwavering in the way it munches down miles on the highway. Even more entertaining is how it deals with corners. It feels quick on its feet, eager to make changes in direction and encouraging when being chucked around hard. The steering may lack a bit of feel and isn’t as weighty as I would have liked, but there’s a directness to it that makes you smile. It’s low slung too, and I’m pretty certain that aids dynamics as well. Out in the hills, the T-Roc is a real hoot — the chassis and the engine coming together brilliantly.
The T-Roc is a hugely likeable SUV, or crossover, or whatever you want to call it. It looks and feels premium and expensive and has the price tag (Rs 19.99 lakh ex-showroom) to match. But is it really all that expensive? In terms of its positioning, it doesn’t really have any rivals and the only two that come close in terms of size and powertrain are the Seltos and Creta with their turbo-petrol engine and twin-clutch automatic. In comparison the T-Roc does fall slightly short in terms of space and features, but the VW also has a more sophisticated powertrain and driving experience. And of course nothing turns heads like the T-Roc, which could well be worth the premium.
Photography by Rohit G Mane