FIRST DRIVE | The 2020 Volkswagen T-Roc is an old Golf in a new costume
South African taxpayers are used to case studies of aviation business interventions.
Here is an old anecdote from the world of flying enterprises that might amuse and enlighten.
According to Forbes, nearly 40 years ago, American Airlines learned it could save as much as $40,000 ($126,401.94, or R1,954,109.53 in 2020 money) by removing just one olive from each salad in its in-flight meals.
How is this relevant to the Volkswagen T-Roc, launched on SA shores last week? For starters, my inner theorist wants to postulate that the adoption of a new corporate logo is part of a greater cost-cutting strategy.
Hear me out. Compared to the three-dimensional, chrome-faced device being phased out, the flat new emblem looks as if it were printed using Microsoft Clip Art. You can imagine how much is being saved over the great volumes for which the carmaker is responsible.
Then, after performing the customary hand-over-the-doors-and-dashboard test, the coarseness of things struck me as uncharacteristic for the brand – well-regarded for its usual plushness.
Frankly (and you can try this for yourself) even the Polo Vivo has a squishier, softer dashboard than that of the T-Roc. In a product costing upwards of R489,500 to R593,600 before options, this is a disappointment.
Where does the newcomer sit?
According to its makers, it slots above the T-Cross (from R345,700) and below the Tiguan (from R503,400). Even though Volkswagen bills the car as a bona fide member of its sport-utility vehicle range, you would not be remiss for thinking of it as a crossover – a Golf in a light hiking outfit.
“Fine by me,” you say, before discussing the excitement of tasting the Golf 8 underpinnings ahead of its official launch next year. On that account, you would be a little bit wrong.
The T-Roc is underpinned by the MQB A1 architecture of the outgoing, seventh-generation car, not the revised and latest evolution of the platform.
This is not a terrible thing, in any case, as the Golf 7 (and related ilk) were always acclaimed for their accomplished road manners and all-round sense of solidity.
Our launch drive through the Western Cape saw severe thunderstorms and gale force winds, all of which the T-Roc took comfortably in stride without so much as a flicker of the stability control warning light. Two engine and transmission choices are on offer, both turbocharged and petrol.
The first is the 1.4 TSI (110kW and 250Nm), paired with an eight-speed, torque-converter automatic. Next up is the 2.0 TSI (140kW and 320Nm), with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic and the 4MOTION all-wheel drive system.
After stepping out of the more powerful vehicle, we had anticipated the 1.4 TSI would perform flaccidly by comparison. That was not the case – since the rear axle of the 2.0 TSI is encumbered with transmitting drive to the wheels, some might even say it felt less sprightly than its counterpart.
Volkswagen believes the design language of the T-Roc will hook potential shoppers. They do have a point because it is a handsome vehicle, more so when equipped with the R-Line package, an addition so ubiquitous on our roads when it comes to virtually all models from the Volkswagen stable.
An interesting marketing campaign also accompanies proceedings. It centres around the idea of “driving to defy” and features commercials showcasing triumphs such as that of Kitty Phetla, the first black ballerina to perform in Russia’s The Dying Swan, and Major Mandisa Mfeka, SA’s first black female combat pilot.
Powerful advertising aside, Volkswagen customers will have to unpack the conundrum of spending decent money on a vehicle that, while it looks the part, really skimps in one rather important area: tactile quality.
For similar pricing, you can hop into alternatives that better evince a premium character, including the Mini Countryman (from R574,624), Volvo XC40 (from R609,700) or even the related Q2 from Audi (from R504,000).