It’s hard not to slightly absorb the optimism of VW R boss Jost Capito, who’s a ball of energy when he introduces us to the new T-Roc R in Nice. “I am very excited to see what you think because we’re very happy with this car,” he says with a big smile on his face, before we head off to the nearby mountain passes. “This is a car we’ve worked very hard on to be perfect for the B-roads. Benny Leuchter [VW’s TCR racing driver] has been driving it absolutely flat out at the Nordschleife and the surrounding roads. It really is special; I think you’ll be impressed.”
Jost gets straight to it, skimming over the boring bits to tell us that Benny – the Ring Meister you may remember helped finalise the Golf Clubsport S’s sweet chassis – focussed much development time on enhancing the T-Roc R’s balance, fine-tuning its steering and improving brake feel. Music to our ears. Jost goes on to say that the T-Roc R is a totally different proposition to the Golf R despite the obvious similarities, which we’ll touch on in a sec, because of its different target market. He promises that it’s more youthful in character.
Still, there’s no getting around the technical similarities. The T-Roc R pinches the Golf’s 2.0 TSI in identical 300hp and 295lb ft form, drives through a seven-speed DSG and uses 4Motion hardware. Then there’s the usual standard passive suspension setup or optional adaptive dampers, an optional Akrapovic exhaust system (for £3k!) and a predictable R makeover that includes a 20mm-lower ride height, 19-inch alloys along with new bumpers and a roof spoiler. It’s familiar stuff.
Even the numbers are close. The T-Roc R weighs only 70kg more than the hatch, hits 62mph in 4.8 seconds (a tenth slower) and has an identical top speed of 155mph. But the latter is due to the T-Roc R’s shorter gearing rather than a limiter, which you might think of as a nice signal of intent. As is the unique tuning for the car’s Haldex 4Motion driveline, which is said to make it keener to shift torque rearwards in a bid to fight understeer, and the use of 432mm two-part front discs that have uprated pads to handle track work. Benny did two flat out laps of the ‘Ring without fade, we’re told, which suggests occasional jaunts up the Buttertub’s Pass should be well within the T-Roc’s remit.
This is all true for the Golf R too, though, so why would you opt for the taller, slightly pricier T-Roc? Carrying capacity, apparently. The R retains the standard crossover’s ability to hold 75kg on the roof or tow 1.9 tonnes of braked trailer, plus, it doesn’t sacrifice any cabin space or lose anything of the standard T-Roc R’s 1,237 litre (with the seats down) luggage capacity, and there’s the obvious appeal of an SUV vantage point for some, so it unquestionably steps out of the Golf’s shadow to bring something new to the table. Versus the Audi SQ2, its closest group sibling, the T-Roc R wins on the practicality front hands down. The Cupra Ateca and Golf R estate beat them both for ultimate room, but they’re longer cars.
One thing’s sure, the T-Roc’s cabin can’t square up to that of the closely aligned SQ2. It’s nice enough, kitted out in top spec trim as standard with a digital instrument cluster and VW’s smartest infotainment system. But the Audi is unquestionably the more impressive place to sit. Our test car gets the standard cloth seats which, while well bolstered, aren’t particularly sporty-looking, so in normal operation the T-Roc R feels rather like the standard car from the driver’s seat.
With optional Dynamic Chassis Control (the SQ2 is passive only), you can slacken the chassis from its firm normal mode (which Jost says is essentially the car’s ‘sport’ setting) back to comfort, but you’re never fully able to escape this inbuilt firmness to the ride. It deals with bigger things like speed bumps alright, but the smaller stuff can vibrate up through the struts and into the body. Perhaps that’s a somewhat inescapable feature of a jacked-up performance car like this, though – and it’s still a world away from the rock hard SQ2 and similarly brittle BMW X2 M135i.
The T-Roc R does feel remarkably refined in other ways. The body is nicely composed at both ends in normal mode, with the harder race mode tightening things up significantly. It’s too firm for bumpy urban streets but with more speed comes a lovely mix of vertical fluidity and lateral stability. The T-Roc is no featherweight at 1,575kg but it uses an aluminium front subframe in place of the standard car’s steel item, so it feels light on its front axle and shrinks around you as a result. Handy, as many of the roads on our south of France test route are narrow and local van drivers don’t have much respect for the white lines…
It’s rapid, this T-Roc R, instantly hooking up on corner exits to fire out of bends with equal avail to the lighter Golf, thanks most likely to those more tightly stacked ratios. The EA888 under the bonnet has brilliant tractability so it pulls from practically anywhere in the rev range, while the dual-clutch ‘box is responsive and quick shifting – particularly in manual mode. In fact, it’s the sweetest incarnation of this engine-box combo we’ve experienced yet, flattering its driver by polishing over-eager downshifts and – with the four pipes of the Akrapovic fitted to this test car – encouraging gurgles, crackles and occasional pops as cogs are swapped. The optional exhaust is expensive, but we suspect a lot of character (and laughs) would be lost without it.
In contrast to that somewhat childish feature, the steering feels brilliantly mature. It has an Evoqueness about it, in that it’s got this pleasant smoothness and consistency as you wind back and forth through the lock. In a rare case of weight being beneficial, the slight increase in resistance provided by race mode feels spot on for the application, the rack not needing to be overly fast to give the car a rewarding keenness for each input. There’s sod all feedback, true, but those other factors combine so the T-Roc R beckons you into attacking corners faster and faster with confidence. It responds with enthusiasm, the nose tipping into turns with only a small amount of roll, meaning the process feels natural rather than artificially flat and there’s information passed through the chassis as a result. And yep, the brakes really are as tough and easy to modulate as Jost claims, with none of that excessive VW Group bite at the pedal’s top. Well done Benny.
Over hustle the car into a bend and, as you might expect, a layer of safety understeer is waiting for you, but the T-Roc R’s unique Haldex settings mean it’ll throw torque rearwards quicker than the Golf R, so you can quickly neutralise the balance with a dose of throttle before winding off the lock. There are no special diffs at play here either, the driveline and chassis just feel that cohesive, and the good body control means the tyres beneath can share the workload evenly. That higher ride height does ensure the limits are lower than a Golf R, but it’s by remarkably small amounts so cross country pace is properly fast.
If there’s concern for the car’s performance in Britain, it’s ride related. The busyness of the chassis on smooth French tarmac might point to something more drastic on cold, bumpy UK roads. While the unbreakable traction flaunted in 20-degree heat might fall off a performance cliff when confronted with winter without a limited slip diff to help. But that’s it, and those concerns are up in the air at this stage, which for a 300hp crossover is a pretty strong way to get going. With UK deliveries starting in the coming weeks, a British verdict is not far off. Until then, we’re happy to have found a youthful side to the T-Roc, but even more impressed to note how confidence inspiring it is thanks to the seamlessness of its controls and underlying capability. Racing drivers call that good driveability. We call it the Jost and Benny effect.
SPECIFICATION - VOLKSWAGEN T-ROC R
Engine: 1,984cc, inline four-cyl, turbocharged
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@5,300rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,000-5,200rpm
Top speed: 155mph