Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0
  • Four petrol engines, two diesels
  • No electrification just now
  • T-Roc R packs a 300hp punch

Volkswagen has provided loads of engines for the T-Roc, including those balanced for economy and others more focused on performance. Hybrid or electric SUV buyers should look elsewhere, though.

Broad spread of petrol engines

Entry-point for T-Roc ownership starts with the baby 1.0-litre TSI  with 115hp and 200Nm of torque. Getting from 0-62mph is dealt with in a steady 10.1 seconds. This engine has a characterful engine noise with sufficient overtaking punch, but you may have to change down a gear or two if you’re in a hurry. Take note, however, as this will be replaced in the latter half of 2020 with a newer version that's also found in the latest Golf - with a slightly lower 110hp. Figures are yet to be published.

Making a better first of things is the 1.5-litre TSI Evo with 150hp and 250Nm of torque. This engine is one of VW’s newest, and features active cylinder deactivation technology to save fuel. It’s smooth and you don’t notice the cylinders cutting in and out at all – the car does it all automatically and without fuss. Oddly, this engine even sounds better than the more powerful 2.0-litre.

Topping out the core petrol range is the 2.0-litre TSI with 190hp and 320Nm of torque. This offers plenty of sporty performance and a 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds. It sounds dull and uninspiring, though, which may take some of the fun out of a spirited drive. We enjoyed the 1.5 more, despite its performance shortfall.

Pair of diesel options

There are only two diesel options in the UK. The entry-level 1.6-litre TDI is armed with 115hp and 250Nm of torque and is the current best performer in terms of fuel economy. What it is not, however, is the most sprightly unit in the world. It feels quite punchy when it's in its stride but takes a committed press of the throttle to get there, resulting in a model-worst 0-62mph time of 10.9 seconds. This engine is also about to be replaced by a 2.0-litre unit also fitted to the Golf, producing the same power. Updated figures are to be published.

The 1.0-litre petrol, despite having less torque, is marginally quicker that this smallest diesel and that's where we'd spend our money if the car was going to spend its life in town, where the ability to get up and go is more important.

If you spend a lot of time on country roads or motorways however the 1.6-litre diesel is a great fit - swift enough once it's up and running, while offering less engine noise than the larger 2.0-litre.

Noise aside, the 2.0-litre TDI has greater appeal, with 150hp and 340Nm of torque. It’s not a very quiet engine, but the huge torque offers plenty of punch for overtaking manoeuvres, picking up speed from 2,000rpm and pulling strongly across the rev range. This provides the best case for those who actually go off road more than once a century or have towing in mind.

High-performance T-Roc R

Many SUV buyers have swapped from hatchbacks in order to enjoy the higher seating position that SUVs provide, but as the number of people making the transition continues to grow, so does the demand for sportier versions. Volkswagen's got an enviable back-catalogue of hot hatchbacks, so the omens are good for the T-Roc R.

At its heart is the familiar turbocharged 2.0-litre TSI producing 300hp and 400Nm of torque. Those numbers are sufficient to propel the T-Roc R to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph and a 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds. All of that grunt is sent to all four wheels via a seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

There's plenty of mid-range muscle to get the R going, but given it also weighs 1,575kg, it's hardly surprising this hotted-up T-Roc doesn't feel as eager as the Golf R. It’s quick and effective getting you from point to point, but it feels quite blunt. The engine sounds a bit soulless, too, despite a subtle amount of artificial noise piped into the cabin. Thankfully, it's no-where near as prominent as it is in the Golf R hatch and estate, which we feel is perhaps appropriate for this type of family car.

The quad exhaust pipes aren't too loud either, with some crackles on the overrun when set to Race mode - but again, it’s very subtle and a well-judged volume for a family SUV.

T-Roc gearbox options

The six-speed manual is exactly as we’ve become familiar with in other Volkswagen Group products. It’s easy to drive, with well-spaced gaps between the gears and a well-damped feel to the shifts.

The other transmission option is a seven-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic. It’s a decent gearbox, with smooth and fast changes, although the reaction times seem to slow down as you reach the higher gears to offer a more relaxed experience.

Pleasingly, the 2.0-litre TDI 150 and the R we tested with these gearboxes didn't seem to suffer from the same level of hesitation found on other VW group models when you try and set off from stationary. If you spend a lot of time stop-start driving in city centres, this is a welcome gearbox and there’s a manual change option using paddleshifters behind the steering wheel.

Engines no longer available

A slight amendment to the entry-level engines in late 2020 meant the 1.0-litre 115hp dropped 5hp and the 1.6-litre 115hp became a 2.0-litre with the same power. This brings it in line with the new eighth-generation 2020 Golf introduced earlier in the year.

What is Dynamic Chassis Control?

Optional for certain models, the Dynamic Chassis Control includes the ability to choose from one of four different drive modes: Eco (or Comfort on the R), Normal, Sport and Individual.

Sport makes the engine more eager to throttle responses, holds gears longer and firms up the suspension a little more. We got a very light experience of using the off-road mode using a steep, rutted decline. The suspension coped with even significantly large holes in the track and the drive mode braked for us going down the hill to manage our speed.

Those with 4Motion all-wheel drive models get a rotary control by the gearlever instead, with modes for Snow, On road, Off Road and Off Road Individual. Furthermore, the Drive Mode button typically found on the dash just above the climate control cluster is now integrated in the centre in the centre of this dial. It can be a little confusing at first, as you’d think the rotary control would incorporate all of these and the off-road modes into one place

What is it like to drive?

  • Steering is precise with good feedback
  • Bodyroll is kept in check
  • Why can't all small SUVs be fun to drive?

It’s remarkably easy to drive and, despite its height, it doesn't seem to roll significantly when cornering at speed. Its compact dimensions also mean it's a doddle to park and manoeuvre in urban areas.

The steering is light, but direct off-centre, meaning motorway lane changes can be of minimal effort, but it's not quick enough to be fun when dealing with bigger bends down your favourite country roads. The T-Roc requires you to apply more lock than expected before there's enough weighting to load up and be involving.

There is plenty of traction available even if you’re a little too eager in your corner speeds.

We found the T-Roc engaging enough – but it's hardly spectacular against the vast majority of its competition. It's well judged for this sort of car and it's very similar to the Golf in that the suspension is firm enough to stop it from wallowing too much from side to side, and yet avoids being harsh enough to be uncomfortable. The differences here being the additional body roll means you'll drive a little slower into corners and the added suspension travel soaks up bumps well when fitted with smaller wheels.

T-Roc R is an effective tool, but lacking spark

With lowered sports suspension, the T-Roc R remains composed, unflustered and gives you lots of confidence when pushing on down a twisting country road. Given the high seating position, you wouldn’t necessarily think it would like get stuck in and hunker down a little in the bends, but there's plenty of grip and traction available. It's pleasingly stable under braking as well, but can feel a little heavy as it dives forward onto its nose.

Body roll is present but kept in check, even when set to Comfort mode, but you’d perhaps hope so considering the firm ride quality.

The drive modes don't seem to make that much difference, however: You get a sharper throttle response and heavier steering in Sport, but not by much, while Comfort doesn't live up to its name. Overall though, we'd rather have a Golf R Estate, and if we had to choose a similar-sized performance SUV, the Cupra Ateca offers a little more theatre for the price.