A thousand laps. That’s when Volkswagen test driver and racer Benjamin Leuchter stopped counting how many circuits of the Nürburgring he’d done. That was a few years ago, and he’s just added three more, in the new Volkswagen T-Roc R. The R brand, VW’s performance division, is expanding, adding a second branch to the family tree to join the hugely successful Golf R.
The T-Roc will add choice to the R line-up. R boss, Jost Capito, says that’s a good thing, saying the success of the Golf has been in no small part down to the base car’s ubiquity. R fits well as it’s not attached to a premium brand, Volkswagen’s upper mainstream position working in its favour.
Capito admits that a good portion of R customers also have super and sports cars, their brand loyalty to them means they don’t want to buy a rival’s product as a daily driver. They’ve done the research, and anecdotally, Capito says during his stint at McLaren cars, he noticed most of the directors drove the Golf R.
They, and everyone else, will have a choice later this year. The T-Roc R takes the Golf R’s formula and applies it to the loftier stance of the T-Roc compact SUV. That formula is big performance, with restrained styling, R, says Capito: “should show its performance but not scream about it.”
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Visually then, the T-Roc R will gain the usual identifiers. There will be larger air intakes in a re-styled front bumper, the hint of a diffuser under the rear bumper, it framed by a pair of sizeable exhaust pipes. Lower sills, 19-inch alloy wheels behind which will sit the Golf R’s performance brake option, giving the heavier T-Roc R the stopping power it needs.
Leuchter says they’ve spent a lot of time working on the brakes, he and Capito demanding a pedal that gives a strong initial bite and backs it with sustained stopping power. Capito says that R models might not be fastest outright against the competition, much of which comes from within the VW Group, but says they’re the least compromised as a result, with the emphasis on feel. The suspension is largely carried over from the standard T-Roc, but there’s a stiffer front roll bar and a sub frame borrowed from the GTI, though Capito says you need to feel some body movement for it to drive properly.
Riding here on the standard, passive dampers, a DCC adaptive set-up will be offered optionally, the ride is impressively composed, even on the rough roads that surround Germany’s most famous track. Capito has been hands-on with the car’s development, but running R increasingly takes him away from the set-up days. He trusts Leuchter’s opinion, both driver and boss having the same goals, that being to create a car that’s fun to drive.
That enjoyment has to be offered at all speeds, and Capito and Leuchter both continually talk about how the T-Roc R delivers feel. There’s understeer on the track when Leuchter is pushing hard in poor conditions, but a lift off the accelerator sees the R tuck its nose in, that chassis balance key to its appeal, and something Capito is adamant R has to offer. “If you have a proper car with a proper chassis you don’t need to mask it with electronics,” says Capito, adding: “electronics are for safety, not for making a better chassis.”
“If it works well in extreme situations then it’s good,” says Capito, Leuchter demonstrating that as the Nürburgring does its usual four-seasons in a day weather, the rain lashing down during our late fall visit for testing. The T-Roc R feels very much like its Golf relation, only a touch higher. Only marginally mind, the paradox of buying a performance SUV being that the height you gain with the base vehicles is robbed a touch when the output goes up. Here, in the T-Roc R there’s a 20mm drop in the suspension.
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Unsurprisingly, the powertrain is lifted in its entirety from the Golf R. That means a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol unit driving through a 4Motion four-wheel drive system. Like the Golf it’s producing 296bhp, enough in the hatch to allow a 4.6 sec 0-100kph time, Leuchter admitting that the T-Roc R’s additional weight impacts on that a little. It’ll be under 5 seconds, 4.7 or 4.8 seconds is the number the people from R are suggesting, with a top speed of 250kph.
Track lap times are irrelevant, but Leuchter says the T-Roc R is around eight seconds slower than the Golf R, not a huge gap he admits, the T-Roc’s greater surface area and weight slowing it on the longer straights around the Nürburgring where drag comes into play, the test driver saying it’d be a lot closer around a tighter circuit.
Agility then, as much as raw performance is key, the T-Roc R bringing the same breadth of bandwidth that the R brings to the Golf, in a package that taps into the buying zeitgeist. Options will include the DCC chassis control, an Akrapovic exhaust — which sounds sensational — though the T-Roc R will only be offered in DSG automatic guise. Due to be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show this March, the T-Roc R will be on sale in all markets the T-Roc is offered shortly after.
Capito says there’s more to come from the R brand, though wouldn’t be drawn into discussing what’s next, though he did admit that anything below Golf-sized is difficult to make a business case for.