You wouldn't know to look at it, but it’s actually the larger of two all-new compact SUVs launched by VW in 2020, measuring roughly 4.25m long, 1.82m wide and 1.57m tall.
If even that teensy footprint sounds too big for you, there’s the smaller (4.1m long, 1.76m wide and 1.58m tall), more affordable T-Cross on offer as well.
But while the T-Roc certainly makes for a charismatic middle child, wedged between the the popular Golf and Tiguan models, I'm here to find out whether the reality lives up to the expectation.
What kind of car is the Volkswagen T-Roc?
The car I'm testing here is the 2020 Volkswagen T-Roc 140TSI Sport, which launched as the sole variant available in Australia, but it has since been announced, will be joined by the less powerful, more affordable 110TSI Style variant.
This pocket rocket is capable of some spirited outputs by way of its four-cylinder, 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine producing a maximum of 140kW and 320Nm. That's more than any regular non-GTI or R Golf, in any trim level (110kW/132kW max).
The car has a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and boasts Volkswagen’s ‘4Motion’ all-wheel-drive system. By comparison, the base-spec 110TSI Style is front-wheel drive and has an eight-speed automatic transmission.
In a nutshell, this is a sporty compact car with added ride height and some all-terrain capabilities – bridging the gap between city slicker and getaway weekender.
How much is the Volkswagen T-Roc?
At $40,490 before on-road costs, the T-Roc isn’t exactly cheap for a car on the smaller side, but keep in mind this is the flagship variant.
If you’re on more of a budget, you could opt for the 110TSI Style, which is a more manageable $33,990 plus on-road costs, but you might be sacrificing some of the things that make the T-Roc stand out from the pack (more on that later).
Speaking of 'the pack', it's a big one. Because of Volkswagen's unique positioning in the market, its cars often compete simultaneously with both mass-market offerings and premium choices.
A top-of-the-range, all-wheel-drive small SUV from the likes of Mazda, Kia or Toyota is usually around $40,000 before on-road costs, while the premium brands are charging closer to $50,000 and even up to and over $60,000 for the same.
Based on this, the T-Roc appears bang on the money, and possibly even on the more affordable side. However (and it's an important 'however'), with options the car tested here was actually $46,590 plus on-road costs.
That $6100 hike on top of the base price consists mostly of a $3500 'Luxury' package providing heated front seats, a panoramic glass sunroof with electric adjustment and sunblind, an electric tailgate and Vienna leather-appointed seat upholstery (which VW points are "are not wholly leather").
There's also a $2000 'Sound + Style' package which adds adaptive chassis control, 19-inch alloy wheels and a Beats premium audio system with digital amplifier and subwoofer. 'White silver' metallic paint adds another $600.
A lot of these options – specifically heated seats, a sunroof, metallic paint and leather-appointed finishes – are things that come standard on most top-spec cars from Mazda, Honda and the like, making the T-Roc less of a competitive offering.
Of course, compared with some of its premium competitors, the T-Roc also comes with the added benefit of Volkswagen's five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
What’s the interior of the Volkswagen T-Roc like?
Despite being optioned up with a $3500 'luxury' package, the T-Roc's interior doesn't feel all that luxurious.
Seats are leather-appointed, rather than full leather, and the finish feels more synthetic than I'd have hoped for in a car at this price.
While I appreciated the retro appeal of the grey-hued tri-tone seats on my test model (they looked like something out of a Pan Am plane cabin from the ’60s), they clashed with the red stitching on the steering wheel, and the whole thing looked a little poorly thought out.
I liked the unique glossy grey plastic on the centre panel of the dash, but felt the grainy, rough black plastic used elsewhere on the dashboard cheapened the overall feel of the cabin.
The glovebox is pint-sized, with only room for knick-knacks, while the centre console is similarly tiny, but I appreciated the deep storage bin underneath the climate controls, which is perfect for your keys, wallet and phone.
Finally, the sunroof, which is part of the optional 'luxury' package, certainly brightens up the cabin and gives the illusion of being in a bigger car.
Does the Volkswagen T-Roc have a big back seat and boot?
While front-seat occupants will find the T-Roc comfortable, those in the back seat might not be as enthusiastic.
Despite some clever indents on the roof, head room for tall people is limited, and most adults will feel more like they're getting into a hatchback than an SUV.
The back seat is more a serviceable short-term solution than something that could be tolerated on longer road trips, and the same goes for the boot.
With 392L of space available, it's not tiny, but although the compartment is wide across, it's shallow and the parcel shelf – when in use – can prevent you from loading things that are slightly taller.
I tried to stow a rear-facing child seat in the boot and had to get a little creative, because the proportions of the cargo space didn't really allow much room to move. There's also a space-saver spare wheel under the floor.
What standard safety, driver assistance and infotainment features does the Volkswagen T-Roc get?
The T-Roc offers a comprehensive list of standard driver assistance, safety and infotainment features.
The only key things that were missing were a head-up display, wireless phone charger, electronically adjustable seats, and a 360-degree monitor – but none of those are essentials.
The central 8.0-inch touchscreen is on the smaller side, particularly when considered next to the sweeping 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, which looks far more impressive by comparison.
Although there's no head-up display, the impressive digital instrument cluster makes up for it and allows a range of different display options.
Otherwise, you'll get a reverse camera (which pops out of the VW logo at the back to creep out people driving behind you), parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, auto headlights and wipers, adaptive cruise, AEB, rear cross-traffic alert, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
A power tailgate, heated seats and a premium Beats sound system are all options.
The icing on the cake is a solid cruise-control set-up with active lane-keep assist that manages the monotony of freeway driving quite nicely, plus a parking assistant that steers the car into tricky parallel parks.
The T-Roc received a five-star ANCAP but carries a 2017 test stamp, based on data gathered from European crash crash results when the T-Roc was new.
What is the Volkswagen T-Roc like to drive?
Where this mighty little SUV starts to earn its stripes is once you get out on the road.
‘Zippy’ is an overused description in automotive journalism, but I'll employ it here because it’s perhaps the most apt description of how the T-Roc feels behind the wheel.
The engine is gutsy with peak output at 6000rpm, and hitting the throttle can deliver a surprisingly confident acceleration push (and engine drone!) that's almost incongruous with the car's size. More importantly, the power response is ample and immediate, with peak torque available from 1500-4800rpm. It feels genuinely sporty to drive and sets the T-Roc apart from the litany of other cars that call themselves compact 'Sport' Utility Vehicles.
Additionally, it’s got all-wheel-drive capabilities and traction settings that can be applied for snow or off-road tracks, providing extra peace of mind for people tackling rural roads on the regular. This makes it remarkably surefooted in wet weather and, given the wide track and compact nature, there's none of that wafty, wobbly feel you can sometimes experience when going around corners or over speed bumps in larger SUVs.
You will sense a bit of the road's roughness through the car, but it's just the right amount to keep things bouncy and exciting, while still removing any harshness or vibrations. The steering in the T-Roc is light and receptive too – it's not particularly weighty, but it pairs nicely with the car's overall sporty feel.
Along with the off-road options, there's a sport driving mode, a comfort mode, and an eco mode for fuel-saving measures, along with an idle-stop system. Versatility for all occasions!
Those expecting an all-out SUV will likely find that while the ride height provides good forward visibility, you sit quite low which makes the T-Roc feel more like a hatchback than some other small SUVs. That said, and despite the windscreen and side windows being well sized, the rear-vision mirror and side mirrors are small and can compromise your side and rearward vision ever so slightly.
The compact size of the T-Roc is an added bonus when driving down narrow streets, but I was a little let down by the turning circle – it's 11.1m and, while that's by no means big, it feels broader than I'd have hoped for a car with inner-city driving in mind.
Having driven a handful of small SUVs at this point, I can safely say the T-Roc has far more bite to its bark than some of its competitors and wisely refuses to compromise on fun factor. It drives like a hot hatch that's had a growth spurt.
Is the Volkswagen T-Roc a fuel-efficient car?
VW claims 7.2L/100km of combined fuel consumption in the T-Roc, but my short-term figure was 10.9L/100km for mostly urban commutes in moderate traffic.
The long-term figure recorded on the trip computer over the brief life of the car, however, was closer to the quoted number at 7.7L/100km. I feel 10.9L/100km is on the high side for a smaller car, but anecdotally I didn't notice a big dent in the fuel reserves after a week of very typical city and suburban driving.
Should you buy the Volkswagen T-Roc?
The T-Roc hits a sweet spot that's been missing in the Volkswagen line-up, and the arrival of a more affordable offering in the 110TSI Style should make the range an even more compelling option for lifestyle buyers.
While some of its competitors will likely serve you better if you're looking for standard equipment or cabin space, the welcome surprise with the T-Roc is how much fun it is to drive. It's got a real kick to it that's unexpected, and certainly livens up everyday commuting.
Lifestyle and family buyers should probably browse around before taking the plunge, because this is a category with plenty to offer. But if power and pep are your priorities, this pint-sized, highly capable all-wheel-drive SUV might just T-Roc your socks off.