While it could be seen as strange to apply the “perception changer” tag to Volkswagen’s recently refreshed T-Roc, the flamboyant sibling of the Tiguan deserves the denominator for a number of reasons.
Although present on local soil for the past two years, the T-Roc debuted in Europe as long ago as 2017 as a more aesthetically pleasing, coupe-like version of the Tiguan based on the same MQB platform.
Slamming the perception
Hamstrung from premiering locally for a variety of reasons, its eventual confirmation was thought to be a mistake and an imminent looming problem for Wolfsburg in the mind of this writer.
The perception was that the T-Roc would eat into the pricier Tiguan’s sales and eventually cause Volkswagen South Africa to discontinue it entirely whilst leaving the seven-seat Tiguan Allspace as the sole derivative for buyers wanting practically over style.
As it turned out, the thought never came to realisation in spite of the T-Roc having proved popular than the Tiguan on more than one occasion over the last 24 months as per the Naamsa sales figures.
The second perception was that the T-Roc would be all show and no go as a result of the flagship model being motivated by a detuned version of the familiar 2.0 TSI engine.
More than just the show
While admittedly a disappointment, but also understandable from a cost and product standpoint as it would likely impact Tiguan R as well as Golf R sales, the sportiest T-Roc proved to be surprise during the recent seven-day stay.
Refreshed towards the end of last year, but availed to South Africa four months ago, the respective tweaks see the T-Roc bearing a closer resemblance to the T-Cross instead of the Tiguan, which could be argued won’t be everyone’s liking as the pre-facelift model, in this writer’s opinion, appeared noticeably more stylish.
Like the rest of the three model T-Roc line-up, the R-Line becomes the beneficiary of a new grille lifted from the Taigo/Nivus, restyled T-Cross inspired headlights and a redesigned front bumper, complete with vertical LED daytime running lamps
At the rear, the light clusters have been refreshed, the bumper restyled and the sealed air intakes on the flanks of the bumper reshaped from circular to round.
Unsurprisingly, the inclusion of the R-Line bumpers and door sills, chrome highlights, chrome tipped faux quad exhaust outlets and stunning 19-inch Misano alloy wheels changes everything.
Aside from the must-have that is the Golf GTI derived Kings Red paint option, the sporty applique results in an aggressive looking but still stylish SUV seemingly capable of going as fast as its looks suggest. More about this later.
Improved interior still has niggles
One of the biggest alterations Wolfsburg has made is to be found inside. At its launch, the T-Roc copped extensive flak for the fit-and-feel of some materials branded as uncharacteristically Volkswagen cheap and below par.
As part of the updates, most of the plastics, especially on the doors, have been improved, though some still feel a bit clunky despite being a big step up from those previously used.
Carried over from the Polo, Tiguan and T-Cross is the new gear lever and multi-function steering wheel, the touch-sensitive display for the dual-zone climate panel and, bespoke to the R-Line, snug heated and electric seats trimmed in Nappa leather with R branded headrests.
Equally as big a change is the optional Discover Pro infotainment system, now no longer integrated into dash, but freestanding while still measuring 9.2-inches and inclusive of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, App-Connect and embedded satellite navigation.
Still easy to use if not visually appealing, the infotainment system is flanked by customisable the 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit Pro instrument cluster that comes as standard across the T-Roc range.
Altogether a welcoming and cosy environment contrasted well by the still fingerprint smug prone Lava Stone inserts, the overall functionality is logical in practice, but annoying as a result of the less than sorted touchpads also found on the steering wheel.
Question of space
More understandable is the T-Roc’s comparatively limited practically levels versus those of the Tiguan. While not lacking up front, taller folk will scoff at rear headroom impacted by the optional panoramic sunroof our tester came equipped with.
As a reference, my 1.84 m frame had enough margin, but by the tiniest of gaps possible, without touching the roof. The flip side is slightly better legroom, but again, nowhere as good as that of the Tiguan.
The same applies the boot that swallows a still more than acceptable 392-litres or 1 237-litres with the 60/40 split rear seat folded down.
What about a lack of power?
In a case of saving the best for last, though, the T-Roc excels on the move. While the need for a smidgen more grunt prevails, the 140kW/320Nm offered by the 2.0 TSI mill propels the T-Roc forward with scant regard for the 1 407 kg mass or the fact that its tuning is the least of any current Volkswagen using the same engine.
Engaging to drive and with unrelenting grip as a result of the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, switching the Dynamic Chassis Control system from Normal to Sport and sticking Road Test Editor Mark Jones behind the wheel resulted in the R-Line sprinting from 0-100 km/h in 7.6 seconds, a scant 0.4 seconds slower than Volkswagen’s claim.
Besides the relentless pull and body-hugging seats, the steering offers useable feedback and the ride an acceptable balance between sporty firm and supple comfortable. Care is, however, required on more brittle surfaces.
Backing the engine up is a seven-speed DSG that is slick and largely devoid of the dragging sensation on pull away or abrupt downshifts recent double-clutch equipped Volkswagens have become known for.
As an alternative, opting for the paddle shifters eliminates any of the DSG’s apparent foibles, which in turn makes for a better experience as the shifts are a bit faster and crisper.
Admittedly, the T-Roc R-Line is not the most frugal as the weeklong stay and 431 km netted a best of 8.9 L/100 km, which consisted not only of the bout at Gerotek, but also the everyday commute, highway driving and, it has to be said, prolonged spells in Sport mode.
Besides the chassis control system, which also comprises Eco, Comfort and Individual modes, the presence of the 4Motion system means three additional off-road settings; Snow, Off-Road and Off-Road not many users are likely to select.
More often than not, many scribes are accused of misusing the “surprise factor” adage when the vehicle in question is bound to impress for whatever reason. The Volkswagen T-Roc R-Line though deserves being called a surprise.
Besides its much-needed improvements, it feels quick, looks fantastic and shrugs off its inherent power defect compared to the Tiguan by feeling more substantial and tauter in spite of being nowhere as practical.
The only caveat is it’s price. While indeed cheaper than the Tiguan 2.0 TSI R-Line at R660 400, the R-Line is still pricey, not helped by the R106 900 worth of options our tester sported such as the blazing white Matrix I.Q. LED headlights, wireless charger and thumping Beats sound system.
However, even fully kitted-out, it is still cheaper than the Tiguan and can, therefore, be argued as being a trifle better from a value and certainly from dynamic perspective.