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Road Test: Volkswagen’s T-Roc is a gravel travel ‘Golf’

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Aside from the Beetle, no car is more synonymous with Volkswagen’s (VW) success than the Golf.

Now into its eighth-generation, VW’s large hatchback has set new standards for family car motoring refinement, safety and cabin design. But the Golf’s position of importance in VW’s product hierarchy is changing.

VW T-Roc’s crossover appeal

As the demand for crossover configuration vehicles increase, Volkswagen has adapted its product strategy to reflect customer preferences. The result is that Volkswagen is in a period of transition between Golf and T-Roc.

For South African VW customers, the introduction of T-Roc late last year, partly completed the brand’s transition from traditional hatchbacks to crossovers, as the core part of its premium model offering.

With the T-Roc you get all those design elements that have made crossovers popular. It looks more daring and boldly styled than an equivalent Golf, although both vehicles share the same platform.

Image: Lance Branquinho

SMALLER THAN TIGUAN – AND A SMARTER BUY?

But is the T-Roc really a better family vehicle, than Golf? After a week of commuting and traveling some gravel roads, we are ready to venture an opinion.

Our test unit was a T-Roc 2.0 TSI R-Line, with a base price of R593 600. There is no disputing the design appeal of this crossover vehicle. VW’s engineers have been able to perfectly execute the vision of their design colleague, shaping and stamping metal body panels with intricate styling creases – the like of which would have been impossible a few years ago.

The T-Roc has a 117mm higher roofline than VW’s latest Golf8 and that influences its centre of gravity. You get the benefit of slightly more ground clearance, which delivers greater ride comfort on gravel roads, but it is not much.

Despite its adventurous appearance T-Roc only has 16mm more ground clearance than a Golf8, and although it tracks with wonderful stability on gravel roads, it is definitely more of a crossover than SUV.

Do you feel the debit of that higher centre of gravity in corners? At very high speeds, yes, but under normal driving conditions, at commuting speeds, the T-Roc feels very much like any MQB platform vehicle from VW.

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Image: Lance Branquinho

BIGGER AND BETTER, THAN GOLF?

Automotive marketing people often justify the modern crossover vehicle, by quoting increased luggage space figures, crediting the notion of greater practicality. The T-Roc has 445-litres of luggage space, compared to a Golf’s 380-litres.

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There is a peculiar truth the VW’s T-Roc: has effectively replaced the Golf range in South Africa. VW will only be offering the high-performance Golf8 GTi and R variants, which means if you want a mid-sized VW family vehicle in the legacy of Golf, your default choice is not T-Roc.

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That should not be viewed as a compromise, as the T-Roc is excellently suited to local conditions. With a touch more ground clearance and suspension travel, it copes better when roads get worse.

Excellent drivetrain

The drivetrain is excellent, too. Volkswagen’s two-litre turbo-petrol engine is good for 140kW and 320Nm paired to the brand’s seven-speed DSG transmission, it is highly intuitive. When you are rolling along slowly in stop-start traffic, the DSG transmission is smooth and efficient, but once traffic conditions ease and your average speed increases, gearshifts become purposefully immediate.

VW T-Roc is South Africa’s Golf8

For Volkswagen’s legacy Golf customers, the reality is that without Golf8 becoming locally available, T-Roc has is now your alternative. With a bit more luggage space and marginally better gravel road driving dynamics, it is an ideal production evolution, for South African customers. A crossover vehicle that actually makes sense.

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