8.0/10Score

Score breakdown

8.5

Safety, value and features

8.0

Comfort and space

8.0

Engine and gearbox

8.5

Ride and handling

8.0

Technology

Things we like

  • Capable dynamics
  • Limited compromise in daily driving
  • Cheaper Grid version coming

Not so much

  • Road noise
  • Uncommunicative steering
  • Less practical than a Golf R wagon

8.0/10Score

Score breakdown

8.5

Safety, value and features

8.0

Comfort and space

8.0

Engine and gearbox

8.5

Ride and handling

8.0

Technology

Things we like

  • Capable dynamics
  • Limited compromise in daily driving
  • Cheaper Grid version coming

Not so much

  • Road noise
  • Uncommunicative steering
  • Less practical than a Golf R wagon

The fastest version of VW’s small SUV has been on sale in Europe since 2019 but wasn’t offered in Australia when the T-Roc was introduced in 2020. Now it’s been installed at the top of a freshly updated T-Roc line-up.

It expands a range of R models that now comprise the Golf R hatch, Golf R wagon and Tiguan R medium SUV (with the Touareg R hybrid due in early 2023).

Quick compact SUVs potentially threaten the future of hot hatches, of course, as buyers – including petrolheads – continue to flock towards the high-riding body style.

Is the T-Roc R a vehicle that could sway keen drivers away from the cult Golf R?

JUMP AHEAD

  • How much is it, and what do you get?
  • How do rivals compare on value?
  • Interior comfort, space and storage
  • What is it like to drive?
  • How is it on fuel?
  • How safe is it?
  • Warranty and running costs
  • VERDICT

How much is it, and what do you get?

Priced from $59,300, the T-Roc R undercuts the Golf R hatch and wagon twins that are respectively priced at $65,990 and $68,990 (all before on-road costs).

That’s still a big jump over a 2018 Golf R Grid that was priced below $50,000, though that Grid badge has been reintroduced for a cheaper variant that drops some equipment to increase the chances of a speedier delivery to customers. The T-Roc Grid is priced from $54,300 before on-road costs.

Grid Editions, which are due in December, drop Premium LED tail-lights with dynamic indicators, side assist with rear traffic alert, and proactive passenger protection system from the regular T-Roc R.

They also replace Matrix LED headlights with Performance LED headlights and ditch Nappa leather seats for sports pews in cloth/microfleece. Finally, electric driver’s seat adjustment makes way for manual adjustment.

A regular T-Roc R costs $14,050 more than the mid-spec T-Roc 140 TSI R-Line but goes to some lengths to justify the extra spend.

Beyond its more powerful engine, the R’s additional standard equipment includes metallic paint, bigger (19-inch) wheels, adaptive dampers, Matrix LED headlights, LED tail-lights with sequential indicators, auto tailgate, and a larger infotainment display.

Options are simple: a panoramic sunroof ($2000), 300W Beats audio system ($700) and Lapiz Blue matte dash inserts ($200).

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How do rivals compare on value?

Hyundai’s Kona N is a compact performance SUV priced from below $50,000, though it’s front-wheel drive only and has a less powerful engine.

Closer rivals to the all-wheel drive T-Roc R are the $61,900 (plus on-road costs) Mini Countryman JCW Sport and the Formentor VZx from newly arrived Spanish VW Group brand Cupra (and shares the R’s mechanicals).

There’s also Audi’s close relative, the SQ2, which is priced from $66,900 plus on-road costs.

Luxury brands BMW and Mercedes ask more yet again for their takes on the compact performance SUV breed: $70,500 for the X2 M35i Pure and $90,859 for the AMG GLA45 (both before on-road costs).

The BMW is no faster; the Mercedes is slower. So, based purely on speed, the T-Roc R looks good value.

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Interior comfort, space and storage

Unless you have an aversion to azure or there’s an obvious clash with your preferred exterior colour (such as Kings Red), we’d recommend paying $200 for the Lapiz Blue matte dash inserts that bring some extra life to the T-Roc R’s cabin.

It also helps further distinguish the cabin from that of the T-Roc R-Line, though where that model comes with cloth/microfleece seats as standard the R gains Nappa leather-appointed upholstery with blue stitching.

R owners are also treated to heated front seats and steering wheel.

The T-Roc is based on the previous-generation Golf, in case you were wondering why it doesn’t have a similarly minimalist cabin to the Mk8. There’s still a regular gear selector rather than a transmission toggle on the centre console, for example, while the T-Roc has a dedicated climate control panel where it’s integrated into the Golf’s infotainment system.

Call that an ergonomic plus for T-Roc owners, as this makes temperature, fan speed and air recirculation adjustment much easier.

Volkswagen added a soft-touch dash top for the T-Roc’s update; more elsewhere would have helped it exude the same perception of high quality as the Golf R.

There’s an abundance of useful storage areas, not least the big door pockets. A wireless charging tray, joined by two USB-C ports, is an important contemporary inclusion.

Rear-seat space isn’t generous but there’s a decent amount of legroom for passengers, particularly those not troubling six foot. There’s plenty of head clearance and lots of toe room under the front seats.

Bench comfort, particularly in the scalloped outboard seats, is excellent.

Boot space of 392 litres isn’t significantly more than the luggage volume of the Golf R hatch and is positively small when compared to the 611 litres of the Golf R wagon.

The seatbacks fold in a 60:40 split configuration, however, to provide some extra cargo flexibility, while there’s also a ski port.

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What is it like to drive?

Very much like a high-riding Golf R – though a Mk 7.5 to which it’s more closely related.

The T-Roc R misses out on the Mk8 Golf R’s torque vectoring rear diff that can apportion 100 per cent of power to one rear wheel, and the SUV lacks the hatch’s extra layer of agility.

Make no mistake, though, that the T-Roc R is still a highly capable and highly entertaining vehicle in the tight stuff, with understeer kept at bay impressively and excellent traction thanks to a fast-acting AWD system and an abundance of grip from the Continental ContiSportContact 5 rubber.

The R rides a touch lower than regular T-Rocs and, especially with the adaptive dampers in Race, body roll is more restrained.

A Race button on the steering wheel offers conveniently quick access to the T-Roc’s more aggressive modes, though the customisable Individual setting is also useful.

This allows the dampers to be set to a softer setting, for example, for bumpier country roads where the stiffer Race calibration can induce constant vertical movement – or sphincter-clenching moments on major dips.

Regular readers of VW product reviews won’t be surprised to learn the T-Roc R’s steering is lacking in meaningful feedback. It’s geared to provide quick turn-in, however, and there’s reassuring accuracy.

Strong, easily modulated brakes complete a set of controls that provide the driver with ample confidence.

There’s plenteous pace delivered by VW’s well-known 2.0-litre turbo, with no suggestion the T-Roc R wouldn’t match, or even better, its 4.9-second 0-100km/h claim in an owner’s hands.

Some extra aural drama is just missing. While the four-cylinder sounds suitably angry in Race mode, there are none of the pops and bangs you get from Hyundai’s Kona N.

Unlike other markets such as the UK, there’s no option to add an Akrapovic exhaust.

Importantly for what is still ostensibly a family SUV, the engine’s flexible nature and suspension’s adaptability combine to make the T-Roc R an easy vehicle to live with every day.

The ride is inevitably firmer and less compliant compared with the particularly plush base T-Roc, the 110 TSI Style, but the Comfort mode has a decent degree of suppleness and prevents any nasty jolts.

A drive from the far side of Canberra to Sydney also proved the R’s seats can provide hours of comfort as well as making the driver feel secure in corners.

The engine stays very much in the background when cruising, too, though road noise can spoil the peace – especially on coarser country roads. However, the level of tyre roar from our Continental-shod R was no worse than that from the 140 TSI R-Line we tested featuring Bridgestone Potenzas (also 19s, though optional).

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How is it on fuel?

The T-Roc R officially consumes 95 RON premium unleaded at a rate of 8.3 litres per 100km.

That’s an extra litre of fuel every 100 kilometres compared with the mid-range 140 TSI T-Roc, which isn’t a bad trade-off for the R’s noticeable extra performance.

We registered an average of 7.7L/100km on the trip computer for our drive from Canberra to Sydney. Expect an average in double figures for more typical everyday usage.

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How safe is it?

The VW T-Roc scored a maximum five-star ANCAP rating in 2017.

Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are two (related) features not found on other T-Roc variants owing to supply issues.

Otherwise, the R comes with the same driver aids, including fatigue detection, lane-keep assist and lane departure warning, low-speed auto-braking for parking, front and rear parking sensors, and adaptive cruise with semi-autonomous steering mode.

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Warranty and running costs

Volkswagen backs the T-Roc range with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Servicing plans for the R vary between $1600 (for three years) and $2800 (for five years); regular 110 TSI and 140 TSI T-Roc variants are slightly less expensive to maintain.

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VERDICT

With R-badged Golfs disappearing from affordable performance territory, the T-Roc R is a welcome addition to the range.

Although the Golf R wagon offers greater practicality, has a more advanced all-wheel-drive system, and a more powerful engine, it costs nearly $10,000 more.

Arriving with the benefits of the updated T-Roc range’s improved cabin materials and tech, the R variant is a very likeable, well-rounded compact performance SUV.

The upcoming, cheaper Grid version could be even more tempting.

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2023 Volkswagen T-Roc R specifications

Model Volkswagen T-Roc R
Body 5-door, 5-seat compact SUV
Drive All-wheel drive
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol
Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch auto
Power 221kW @ 5300-6600rpm
Torque 400Nm @ 2000-5300rpm
0-100km/h (claimed) 4.9 seconds
Fuel consumption (combined) 8.3 litres per 100km (95RON)
Weight 1519kg (tare)
Boot space 392 litres
Suspension Front strut / multilink rear
Length/Width/Height 4236/1819/1575mm
Wheelbase 2595mm
Turning circle 11.1m
Brakes Ventilated discs (f/r)
Tyres 235/40R19 
Wheels 19-inch alloy ‘Estoril’
Price From $59,300

COMMENTS

Keyword: 2023 Volkswagen T-Roc R review: Australian first drive

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