There was a moment when driving the little Volkswagen T-Roc when it occurred to me that this car could easily have been built to spec for the UAE’s roads.
A short wheelbase giving it the manoeuvrability of a small car to tackle confined shopping mall car parks mixed with an SUV-like high driving position and raised ground clearance for speed bumps – plus the occasional sandy, roadworks detour – sounds like the result of a car designer who has studied our driving habits and found a solution.
Of course, the T-Roc is a global car, made by VW in Portugal and China, and exported to most corners of the world, but the genre of the compact crossover hatch, where this car resides, continues to gain relevance among the sprawling suburbs of the UAE as a car that does a little bit of everything.
Priced from Dh75,544 ($20,570) for the Trend, Dh84,129 for the Style and Dh90,507 for the Sport, it’s priced favourably against its German competitors, the Audi Q2, BMW X2 and Mini Countryman.
The 1.4-litre model tested comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission in place of Volkswagen’s usual dual-clutch DSG box. From a driving perspective, it was nice to have the auto back and not have to factor in the twin clutches from the DSG with the lurchiness they sometimes deliver at parking speeds. However, the new transmission is geared for maximum efficiency, so it has a tendency to upshift too early into top gear to save fuel. You can set off from the lights, and in no time the dash indicator tells you the car is in sixth gear at barely 60 kilometres per hour.
Thankfully, while the turbocharged 1.4-litre TSI engine may be small in capacity, the T-Roc is not short on power with 148 brake horsepower at 5,000rpm and, more importantly, 250Nm of torque from only 1,500rpm that allows it to rip through those gears seamlessly, using its torque to get to motorway speeds in no time. It provides more torque than any of its front-wheel drive competitors and sprints to 100kph in 8.6 seconds with a top speed quoted at 200kph.
Its steering is light, accurate and direct around town, and even on open roads, the T-Roc provides reassuring feedback with enough grip and balance to feel confident with planting it through a few corners or tackling a mountain pass. A drive across to the east coast of Sharjah to Khor Fakkan and Fujairah shows it to be more than capable on the mountain passes and generally encouraging when it’s stirred along.
That relatively high driving position, combined with slim windscreen pillars, lets you have a great view of the road ahead. There are also front and rear parking sensors as standard along with a reversing camera that pops out from behind the badge on the tailgate.
In the cabin
An 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is positioned usefully high up on the dash and responds quickly to screen prods and voice commands, providing well-structured menus that are easy to navigate. Together with a wireless phone charging pad, keyless entry and sparingly deployed strips of ambient lighting through the cabin, this feels discreetly high-tech and like a car worth far more than the sub-100k price.
There is nice fabric trim on the seats as well as fabric cushioned armrests on the front doors and front centre console, and the premium feel is rounded out with dual-zone climate air conditioning and electric park brake.
Surprisingly for a car in this class, the rear seats are roomy enough for a pair of adults with plenty of shoulder room, storage bins and rear air-con vents. Rear headroom is generous and there’s enough legroom even with two adults in the front. Those with young families will also appreciate the Isofix outboard seat anchors and three top-tether points for child restraints.
The rear seat folds 60:40 into the boot space that offers 445 litres with the seats upright, but expands to 1,290 litres when folded flat. A neat false floor in the boot allows room to store tall items such as long-stemmed plants in the well, adding to its all-round versatility.
Externally, it’s difficult to mistake the T-Roc for anything other than a Volkswagen as it shares the low, wide grille styling familiar on the new Golf and Tiguan. As with almost all medium-sized Volkswagen Group products, the T-Roc makes use of the familiar MQB architecture, using the same underpinnings as the Golf and Audi’s small cars.
At 4,234 millimetres long, it’s 252mm shorter than the Tiguan, but is the widest in its class, hence the good shoulder room inside. It is tall at 1,573mm, yet somehow hides its boxiness very well. VW has done an outstanding job to pack so much into its small footprint.
LED headlights and integrated daytime running lights that double as indicators add to the premium look and feel of the T-Roc, as do the gloss black roof and side mirror finish, chrome-accented exterior and the gloss black 18-inch alloy wheels fitted to the test car.
All T-Rocs have automatic emergency braking that operates between 5kph and 150kph and incorporates pedestrian detection from 5kph to 65kph. Other safety features include lane-keeping assistance, driver fatigue alert (that sounds a warning tone if the driver gets tired and advises them to take a break), blind-spot monitoring along with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and park assist, as well as six airbags.
The VW T-Roc could be the one-size-fits-all solution for many as it combines a fuel-efficient package with a high driving position, long distance cruising comfort and nimble manoeuvrability in the city, wrapped in an edgy, coupe-like package with hints of off-road overtones for a bit of muscle.
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo
Transmission: eight-speed auto
Price: from Dh75,544