Volkswagen Australia might be growing its sales numbers, but it's still hopelessly under-represented in a couple of key segments locally. And by under-represented, we mean not represented at all.
Compact SUVs are hot property at the moment – they grew 3.0 per cent last month in a market down by more than 9.0 per cent – but the littlest SUV you can buy from VW Australia is the Tiguan.
The chunky little crossover you see here is 50 per cent of a two-part plan to rectify that problem. The other half is the T-Cross, a Polo-based offering with a focus on practicality. We're yet to drive it, so stay tuned for that one.
Sitting above it, in both size and price, is the T-Roc. It's based on the Golf, with a larger boot (392L) and chunkier interior to match its higher-riding, more aggressive aesthetic on the outside.
The car we drove is a 140TSI with 4Motion all-wheel drive and kitted out for the New Zealand market. Although the powertrain is a match for what we'll be getting initially, there are a few differences between our tester and cars coming to Australia.
Final specifications haven't been confirmed, but it's unlikely we'll see a T-Roc with 19-inch wheels on passive suspension like the Kiwi car, for example, with VW Australia instead preferring adaptive dampers for its big-wheeled range-toppers.
Where the New Zealand car has a scratchy, shiny dashboard, local vehicles will get more premium soft-touch materials. Little things, but worth mentioning nonetheless.
Regardless of spec-sheet nuances, the T-Roc is a handsome little car. It looks punchy and wide sitting in the Luddenham Raceway pits, with strong proportions offset by a few neat little touches, including rounded daytime running lights sitting below the headlamps and a contrasting roof with chrome trim.
Turmeric yellow is a nice touch, too. Apparently, the T-Roc will get a more interesting palette than usually offered with Volkswagen stuff in Australia, in keeping with its more exciting, youthful remit.
The interior is similarly interesting, blending the infotainment system offered in the Golf and the Active Info Display optional on the Polo in an upright dashboard.
It's all familiar, but the overall design is definitely more 'SUV-ish' than we're accustomed to, right down to the all-wheel-drive mode switch on the transmission tunnel. The touchscreen now has an off-road display, too. How very rugged.
We'll reserve judgement on material quality until Australian-spec cars arrive, but suffice to say the soft-touch plastics VW Australia is promising will be more than welcome.
Space is plentiful in the front, with more than enough adjustment for taller drivers, while we managed to comfortably fit four full-sized adults – two of whom were lugging bulky camera kit – without anyone feeling squeezed. Although the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system eats slightly into boot space, 391L is a mere 15L short of what the larger Ford Escape offers.
On the move at Luddenham Raceway, the T-Roc feels a lot like a Golf. That shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, given they're both built on the brand's MQB toolkit. It's clear the taller ride (a whopping 20mm taller than a Golf!) hasn't turned the T-Roc into a barge in the bends.
In fact, there's a bit of fun to be had in those bends if you're feeling bold. Hopping from the ’Roc into a Tiguan reveals the former is notably lighter on its feet – keener to change direction, and less prone to understeer when pressed – around Luddenham. That certainly bodes well for the T-Roc R and its 221kW turbo four-pot, although its passport hasn't yet been stamped for Australia.
As for how it rides? It's tough to tell given Luddenham Raceway is billiard-table smooth, but we'd wager it'll offer a distinctly Golf-like blend of compliance and sportiness on the road. No bad thing.
The steering is unobtrusive and light pulling out of the pits, the 140kW engine keen to pull from low revs. The Australian T-Roc will get the 140TSI at launch, which backs up its warm power outputs with a handy 320Nm of torque, with the potential for a lower-grade front-wheel-drive 110TSI to follow in its wheel tracks post-launch.
Flicking into Sport Mode adds more weight to the steering, gives the engine a shot of adrenaline, and forces the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to hold a lower gear, all of which are good things on the track. The DSG is typically quick to shift on the fly, responding promptly to inputs from the paddles, but we spent exactly zero time with the car in traffic, so it's tough to comment on its low-speed manners.
Although it wouldn't be drawn on a firm price, Volkswagen has its sights set on a niche around the $40K mark with the T-Roc. It wants to nick sales from the top-end Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR with a larger offering and more upmarket feel, all the while nipping at the heels of the Audi Q2 by undercutting it on price and offering a near-premium drive.
Buyers will be offered three trim grades: Sport, Style and R-Line, each with a distinct cabin finish and exterior treatment to set it apart.
Although our first spin was limited, the T-Roc seems every bit the polished Volkswagen product. It's far more substantial, more grown-up than any of the high-grade compact acronyms (CX-3, HR-V, C-HR) it wants to tackle, although whether buyers will consider it against the 'premium' BMW X1 and Audi Q2 will hinge on the quality and spec of local vehicles.
Whatever the case, the T-Roc can't come soon enough for Volkswagen. And we can't wait to see how it stacks up in, you know, the real world.