We drive the unobtainable 2018 Volkswagen T-Roc

The bad news is, we won’t get the new T-Roc in North America. Pity!

Published: November 23, 2017, 9:35 AM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:06 PM

2018 Volkswagen T-Roc - 2018 Volkswagen T-Roc - not coming to North America

LISBON, PORTUGAL — Let's address the bad news right up front. No – we won’t get the new T-Roc in North America, though it’ll be sold in most of the rest of the world. Volkswagen thinks it would just take away sales from the recently-introduced Golf Alltrack, the crossover that was named Canadian Car of the Year for 2017.

That’s too bad. The T-Roc is a lovely compact SUV, one size down from the Tiguan and so stylish it can be bought in dozens of different colour combinations. There are six different engines available here in Europe, three gasoline and three diesel, and it’s available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

It feels like a Golf and handles very well indeed on Portugal’s tight and tortuous roads. Back-seat passengers will be comfortable, with plenty of headroom and sufficient legroom – at least until the driver starts stretching the car’s own legs and switches the mode to Sport. In the back, there are 445 litres of cargo space, which is less than half the space of the new Tiguan but apparently leads its class in this smaller segment.

But no. We won’t get the T-Roc, which is itself a candidate for the 2018 World Car of the Year (the reason we got to drive it). We will, however, almost certainly get something very similar, and probably as soon as 2019. For Volkswagen North America, it’s all about pacing the frequency of the introductions for the biggest sales effect.

Perhaps the greatest advantage to skipping over this crossover in North America is that we won’t have to endure the silly name. T-Roc apparently comes from a combination of “T”, which prefaces VW’s most successful SUVs, the Tiguan and Touareg (but dismisses the just-introduced full-size Atlas) and “Roc”, which is taken from “rock” and is supposed to be a hip way of saying the T-Roc rocks. Somebody fire that marketing v-p, please.

There are a couple more SUVs coming down the pipe from Volkswagen, too. The next generation of the Tiguan is arriving now, but we’ll almost certainly never see the sub-compact T-Cross in North America because it will be just too small for our taste. As well, there’ll be the perplexingly-named I.D. Crozz, which will be VW’s first all-electric SUV and is slated for release in 2020. Whether it comes to Canada then is anyone’s guess.

Plenty of options and choices

For now, though, the rest of the world gets the T-Roc, which is intended as a young and sporty crossover for young and sporty people. It’s fully connected with your mobile phone, of course, and has a choice of brightly finished, highly styled interiors through three different trim levels. There’s a base level that can then be upgraded into one of two equipment options, either the funky Style or the zippy Sport, and those levels can be bumped up to “R-Line” packages that look a little sportier still.

In Germany, the base T-Roc starts at 20,390 euros. Given the way that German prices of existing VWs convert into Canadian prices for the vehicles here, that’s the equivalent of charging about $21,500, which would be a good deal for this level of technology. The standard T-Roc is equipped with such safety systems as Lane Assist and automatic emergency braking. More advanced systems are available as options, as you’d expect.

There will be six engines available, all turbocharged and with direct fuel injection, though only two gasoline engines and a diesel are being sold from the start – another two diesels and one more gasoline engine will be sold later. North American buyers will never accept the diesel engines after Volkswagen’s Dieselgate emissions-fixing scandal, so that would leave us today with either the 1.0-litre, 114 hp engine (which is too wimpy to be successful in Canada) or the 2.0-litre, 188 hp engine that we drove here. If we were to get the car, which we won’t.

The larger engine, which is good for 236 lb-ft of torque and is fitted with a 7-speed DSG transmission and AWD, could sell well in Canada. It’s only fitted to the Sport model and sells for 30,800 euros in Germany, which would suggest close to $33,000 in Canada. That’s less than the 170 hp Golf Alltrack, which sells for $35,745 when it’s equipped with the 6-speed DSG transmission. Guess which car almost everyone would choose…

The mid-sized gasoline engine that’s not yet on the market could also sell well for even less money. It makes 147 hp, 184 lb-ft, and is available in either FWD or AWD. Perhaps its lack of availability was just another nail in the T-Roc’s North American coffin.

European drive style

Despite its smaller size, the T-Roc is actually built on a version of the same MQB platform that underpins the new Tiguan and the Atlas. It’s designed for the kind of dynamic drive that Europeans love, though we often prefer a cushier ride in North America, with softer suspension for our potholes and a more relaxed steering feel for our wide-laned interstates.

Still, Canadian drivers choose Golfs for their European appeal and the T-Roc offers more of the same, with firm steering, precise cornering and responsive power out of the curves. The five selectable drive modes (Comfort, Normal, Sport, Eco and Individual) are standard with AWD but can be chosen as an option with FWD, and they adjust the transmission shift points, the steering feel and the adaptive chassis, as well as adaptive cruise control, and even the air-conditioning on the Eco setting.

AWD versions also include a snow setting and two off-road settings, just in case you find yourself off the beaten path, but this is no SUV. The T-Roc would get beaten up pretty quickly on anything more than a cottage road.

All things considered, there’s a remarkable amount of technology in the T-Roc for a reasonable price, but this is getting to be true for most new introductions. Technology is relatively inexpensive, after all – the cost comes in the research and development that’s usually debuted in pricier vehicles. After that, much of the expense is down to better sensors and more lines of computer code.

It’s too bad we won’t be getting the T-Roc in Canada. It’s a lovely little vehicle that handled itself admirably here in Portugal. We won’t be suffering, though, because we still have the capable Golf Alltrack, even if it is less powerful and perhaps more expensive. There’s also the new Tiguan to divert our attention.

But when we do get a new crossover in the smaller segment that the T-Roc’s now occupying, which Volkswagen says could well be in 2019, here’s hoping it has a different name. It deserves better, and something with a little less roc and a bit more roll would have to be an improvement.