What it's like to drive Volkswagen’s all-new city SUV
City SUVs are like Kardashians. They've become incredibly popular, even if no-one's quite sure how that happened. And as with the Kardashians, keeping up is imperative in the SUV market.
Volkswagen Australia knows only too well what it's like to be off-trend. It's been waiting for what seems like an age to have a competitive line-up of city-focused faux-wheel drives.
That wait is over with the arrival of the oddly-named T-Roc and T-Cross, which slot in neatly under the company's family-sized Tiguan.
The T-Roc is based on the Golf, the T-Cross on the smaller Polo. Each follows the tried and tested formula of an elevated seated position, more ground clearance and some plastic cladding around the bumpers and wheel-arches to make them look more butch.
There is a difference, though. The smaller T-Cross is more utilitarian, with a boxier shape and clever sliding rear seats to maximise load space. The sole T-Roc model is less about practicality and more about style, with a tapered rear-end that gives it a sleeker, coupe-like profile.
Initially, there will be only one T-Roc in the line-up; a fully loaded, all-wheel-drive, circa $40,000 offering powered by a punchy 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder.
Red brake calipers and low-profile tyres on the outside, combined with a flat-bottomed steering wheel with red stitching on the inside, are clearly aimed at the enthusiast driver.
Order the optional "luxury" and "style" packages and you're looking at close to $50,000 on the road.
Volkswagen is expected to introduce an entry level version later in the year, but for the time being it's targeting the style and performance-conscious buyer. Mainstream rivals are Toyota's C-HR and Mazda's new CX-30, while the brand also expects to steal buyers at the bottom end of the luxury SUV market.
Volkswagen's product marketing manager, Jeff Shafer, acknowledges the brand's SUV line-up needs an injection of new blood.
"Australia's such a strong SUV market and a lot of the growth has come at the smaller end of that, so we've been really eager to get T-Roc and T-Cross into the market," he says.
The brand has modest initial sales expectations for the new models - particularly with T-Roc - but in the longer term they are sure to be key models in its line-up, if not top-sellers.
"Over time we expect hatchback sales to continue to decline relative to SUVs," Shafer says.
He says the T-Roc will initially be pitched as an SUV alternative to the Golf GTI.
"It's got pretty decent performance and really good spec as well. The 140kW engine is pretty zippy," he says.
In standard form, the T-Roc is well equipped. Volkswagen's "digital cockpit" replaces the normal dials and gauges with a configurable screen that is both modern-looking and easy to operate on the move. The centre screen is large and houses standard satnav and integrated Apple Car Play-Android auto.
Standard safety includes auto emergency braking, lane-keeping, blind-spot monitor and rear traffic alert. It will also automatically parallel park.
Active cruise control, which keeps a safe distance between you and the car in front, is part of a "Sound and Style" package that also includes larger 19-inch wheels, adaptive suspension and a cracking Beats premium audio unit for $2000. It's an odd combination but good value.
Standard seats are cloth but our test vehicle had a $3500 "Luxury Package" that has leather appointed seats (heated in the front), a sunroof and an automatic tailgate. Metallic paints costs $600.
The three-tone leather seats - light grey, dark grey and black - give the cabin a luxury feel, but less impressive are the noticeable hard plastics on the dash and doors. It has the whiff of cost-cutting, although the eye-catching digital cockpit and large centre screen offset any disappointment.
The rear seats are heavily sculpted and best suited to two people. Headroom and legroom are good and there are air vents, but no USB ports. The rear load area is above average despite the sloping roof.
It's on the road where the T-Roc impresses most.
The 140kW 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder isn't the sweetest sounding engine, but it's got ample grunt off the mark and in the mid-range, thanks to a generous 320Nm of torque. The seven-speed dual-clutch auto is quick witted and calibrated to extract the most from the engine. For the revheads, there are paddle-shifters. The acceleration claim of 7.2 sec for the 0-100km/h dash seems achievable and we easily matched the claimed fuel consumption of 7.2L/100km in a mix of city streets, winding country roads and freeway.
The optional adaptive chassis control is one of the more impressive examples we've encountered. Around town, the comfort setting soaks up the bumps and lumps. If you want to dial up the fun, the sport setting sharpens the car's reflexes, stiffening the suspension, quickening gear shifts, adding more weight to the steering and making the throttle more responsive. There aren't many mainstream SUVs that could keep up on a winding road.
T-Roc sales will be hampered by the high starting price and lack of variants initially, but its sharp looks and roadholding ability should win a lot of friends.
Price: From $40,490 plus on-roads
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo, 140kW/320Nm
Warranty/Service: 5-year/unlimited km, $???? for five years
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert
Cargo: 392 litres
Spare: Space saver
Originally published as Driven: Volkswagen's all-new city SUV