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18 Oct, 2019 9:00am Antony Ingram
The VW T-Roc R uses its Golf R underpinnings to full effect deploying its 296bhp, but is it worth £38k?
With crossovers and SUVs breaking into best-sellers lists across Europe and further afield, it’s not surprising car manufacturers are now looking for niches within niches to generate even more buzz – and for many, that means a performance car model.
The new Volkswagen T-Roc R ticks all the boxes on paper, sharing its underpinnings and chassis with the talented Golf R hot hatch, but packed inside a fashionably taller silhouette. With prices starting at £38,450, it’s only a couple of thousand more expensive than its hatchback cousin, too.
Volkswagen says it expects a much broader customer base for the T-Roc R – fewer dedicated hot hatchback fans, and more young customers, family buyers, and women. While there have apparently been no compromises on performance or engineering, it’s down to that crossover body style again, and while the R has inevitably been tuned at the Nurburgring, VW says it’s very much a road-orientated vehicle – further broadening its appeal.
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The R’s DNA is present and correct, sitting 20mm lower over 18-inch wheels (19-inch items are optionally available) than the standard T-Roc. You’ll also find deeper front and rear bumpers – the latter with a diffuser element that also hides a tow hitch point – and of course the option of VW’s distinctive Lapiz Blue Metallic, just like you find on the hottest Golf. Inside there’s a set of sports front seats, metal-finished pedals, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and R-specific details in the digital instrument display.
We’d steer clear of the £115 Lapiz Blue dashboard inserts though, as despite adding a bit of colour to an otherwise sombre cabin, they look cheap. Overall, the T-Roc R’s interior doesn’t feel quite as expensive as that of the Golf R, though the basics are all there – good driving position adjustment and visibility, plenty of space for both front and rear passengers, and a well-shaped 392-litre luggage area – or 1,237 litres with the seats down.
The driving experience is the most important thing though, and it’s off to a good start on paper. Not only does the T-Roc R use the same 296bhp turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the Golf R, but it also uses its seven-speed DSG twin-clutch transmission, and Haldex all-wheel drive set-up.
And rather than carrying all this straight across, Volkswagen’s engineers have tweaked it to take account of the new surroundings. The all-wheel drive setup is still largely front-biased, but now sends its power to the rear wheels quicker than in the Golf R, to account for the loss of agility given the extra 50kg it carries and higher-centre of gravity over a five-door Golf R.
It also uses an aluminium front subframe for extra stiffness and reduced weight, and the standard brakes are equivalent to the Performance Pack option from the Golf R. VW worked hard to ensure the stability control systems don’t kick in too soon to curtail sporty driving, too, despite what it calls extra “roof load” – high-up weight resulting from the taller body.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the T-Roc R drives much like a Golf R as a result. Aside from feeling slightly less agile than its lower counterpart and not quite as eager to fire out of tight corners, the T-Roc R otherwise has the same tireless grip, mighty traction and impressive resistance to understeer, as well as direct and well-weighted steering.
Our car wore 19-inch wheels, DCC adaptive dampers, and had the optional Akrapovic titanium exhaust system. With the dampers in comfort mode there’s still a firm edge to the ride quality – one that might come as a bit of a surprise to buyers trading up from a lesser T-Roc, say – but it improves with speed, and body roll is minimal despite the taller profile. The brakes are tireless, though a slightly firmer pedal would be welcome for more reassuring response.
Surprisingly, it’s the engine that lets things down a little. There’s little wrong with the outright performance, even if it doesn’t step off the mark as smartly as a Golf R. But while the Akrapovic exhaust has a pleasant burble at idle and a tantalising growl at low revs, the characterless blare from the exhaust and tuneless engine note in quicker driving are disappointing.
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At least there are a few pops and crackles when you lift off the throttle – and there’s still an amusing parp on full-throttle gearchanges. That DSG box is still a highlight, too; it feels quicker and smoother than ever, though you can occasionally catch it napping with an unexpected gearchange.
Nevertheless, there’s something delightfully devilish about being able to go quite so quickly in a relatively unassuming coupe-styled SUV like the T-Roc. Like them or loathe them, performance crossovers are here to stay.
4 Volkswagen expects a different type of customer to consider the T-Roc R over its Golf R hatch, but the car those customers are getting is surprisingly close to the hot hatch in its ability. It’s pricier, but almost as fun and a little more practical, too.
- Model: Volkswagen T-Roc R
- Price: £38,450
- Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol
- Power/torque: 296bhp/400Nm
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch, all-wheel drive
- 0-62mph/Top speed: 4.8sec/155mph
- Economy/CO2: 37.2mpg/176g/km
- On sale: Now