The response from certain quarters to cars like the VW T-Roc R and its rivals - the X2 M35i, Cupra Ateca, that sort of thing - is not unlike the reaction to a Greggs' vegan sausage roll. Because a sausage roll without meat seems as silly to some as a hot hatch that's actually a 4x4 that can't really off-road. But that's rather missing the point. Maybe it is a bit daft ideologically, but if the customer requests a meat-free sausage roll, and is willing to pay for it, then there's little reason for it not to be made.
Furthermore, in the case of both sausage roll and performance SUV, they are additions to line ups - not replacements. You can still have a porky pastry from Greggs, and hatchback equivalents are still available from BMW, Cupra and VW. The next Golf R might be a little way off, but the end of production ought to mean good deals on the outgoing one - the one that Dan P still preferred to a new AMG A35, so it remains very good. The prospects that some deride, put simply, are in addition, and not in place of, the things that people like. Nothing is going anywhere, so chill out.
And, if Jost Capito is to be believed, buyers may well want a T-Roc R instead of a Golf R anyway. Keen drivers, that is. Back in Marchwhen interviewed about the T-Roc, Capito said: "I believe this car drives better than the Golf R." So there. He attributed that behaviour to the additional stiffness gifted to the SUV, as well as new mounts for the engine and transmission and reworked steering.
He's not talking total guff, either. Given the T-Roc is built on the same MQB architecture as the Golf and shares a powertrain, it should come as no surprise that the first few miles feel distinctly Golf-like. Only it feels ever so slightly improved, those grievances that do exist with the flagship Golf have been addressed to some extent - not transformatively so, but noticeably. The most aggressive steering mode has less cloying weight, the DSG is more decisive, the augmented engine sound isn't as intrusive, the snatchy feeling of the brakes at the top of the pedal reduced slightly. The T-Roc still feels distinctly VW, of course, and there's always the suspicion of a placebo effect with a new car - plus altered expectations for an SUV - but there's also the feel of underpinnings refreshed and rejuvenated for this particular R.
Conditions for the UK launch of the T-Roc could hardly suit it better: a wet and windy Wales play to its strengths of compact dimensions - wider than a Golf, but shorter - easily accessible performance and all-wheel drive. Sitting slightly higher up gives a better line of sight than something lower-slung, meaning speed can be maintained and conserved because you can observe the way ahead - rather than accrue it all over again because a hedge is in the way. In terms of usable pace on the public road, it's an ideal formula.
And you know what? The T-Roc really isn't half bad to drive, either. The most intense 'Race' mode for the DCC adaptive dampers is too brusque, jostling with rather than accommodating the surface (who'd have thought?) but the normal setting strikes an agreeable compromise. Mass feels decently controlled, kept admirably low and balanced for something that does purport to have some off-road credentials.
While precious few buyers will likely give a toss, the T-Roc has good balance, too. Turn in with a little too much speed and the understeer will gradually and predictably move through the car to tighten the line, while on the throttle the all-wheel drive can straighten the line and mitigate some of the power understeer. It still doesn't make for the most finessed experience, because Haldex always seems to be playing catch up with what the car is doing, but it's pretty entertaining given expectations. It also suggests a level of work put into the T-Roc that didn't need to be there, which is nice to see. It could have been less agile and more ponderous - so it's to the credit of the engineers that the R is an enjoyable vehicle to blat along a Welsh mountain road.
The engine and gearbox are now the Troy McClure of the VW group line up, a powertrain you might remember from such productions as the Golf R, Leon Cupra, Cupra Ateca, Octavia vRS, Audi S3 and on. Of course, it does just the same job here, eagerly if plainly delivering performance for very little driver effort. Perhaps that's a little harsh, given the EA888 still comes across as a reasonably energetic unit for one that's been around a good few years, but being installed in all-wheel drive, DSG cars on the MQB platform has never quite shown it off as the most exciting prospect - just as it is here.
Hopefully it's not a disservice to suggest the T-Roc R is agreeable company; not the fastest, not the most thrilling, but a really pleasant quick car to spend time with. Much like the Golf and Leon, there feels just enough in this VW to elevate it above the equivalent Cupra as an experience - interior ambience, most notably, but also a marginally improved drive - resulting in a better car overall.
And yet. Whatever Jost Capito claims, whatever little tweaks have been done for the T-Roc that weren't done for the Golf, there's no escaping the inevitable handicap: weight. This little 4.2m crossover is 1,575kg at the kerb; while lighter than a Golf R estate, that's 70kg heavier than a five-door, DSG Golf hatch, and it is noticeable. Performance isn't as enthusiastic, direction changes lacking just a wee bit in precision and willing. In isolation the T-Roc R is decently close, though a back-to-back comparison does make the differences clear.
No great surprise, is it? Heavier, higher-riding car isn't as sharp to drive as lighter, lower one. The T-Roc R, that said, should be praised for getting as close as it does, and those buyers for whom a Golf isn't in contention for being, well, too much like a Golf will be suitably impressed. This feels like a close sibling of the base product, not some long lost and distant acquaintance. The best of both worlds doesn't exist just yet - the compromise of a dynamic SUV arguably suggests it never will - but this is arguably as close as the genre below the Macan has yet reached. As long as those buyers are willing to pay for it, that is - don't expect many T-Roc Rs to leave the dealer at less than £40,000. Still, if there's a competitive lease deal, who knows how many might end up on the road...
SPECIFICATION - VOLKSWAGEN T-ROC R
Engine: 1,984cc, four-cyl turbo
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@5,300rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,000-5,200rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,575kg (DIN)
Price: £38,450 (as standard; price as tested £41,699.19, comprised of Flash Red paint for £360 (only pics of the blue car currently available!), rear view camera for £185, Dynamic Chassis Control for £695, Driver's Assistance Pack Plus (Emergency Assist, High Beam Assist, Side Scan, Traffic Jam Assist) for £205, keyless entry for £395, 'beats' soundpack (eight channel digital amp, subwoofer, 400w output and six speakers) for £425, pre-crash preventative occupant protection for £150, winter pack (heated front seats and heated washer jets) for £300 and Vodaphone S5-VTS tracker with one year subscription for £534.19 including fitting.)