The T-Roc R Grid Edition briefly returns VW’s R division to a more affordable price point – but you’d need to be quick to score what could be the performance bargain of 2023
Volkswagen, like most carmakers, has been afflicted by debilitating semiconductor shortages in recent years.
But the German brand’s Australian division has been more nimble than most in dodging delays: by 2022, it settled a plan to create a broad range of special editions that avoided hard-to-come-by components, and wore a cheaper price tag to match.
Preserving its donor’s 221kW 2.0-litre turbo engine, it sheds equipment and $6000 from the price of a full-fat T-Roc R.
At $54,300 before on-road costs – or about $59K driveaway – the T-Roc R Grid Edition winds back the clock on the entry price of a true Volkswagen R division product, to a time before anybody had heard of COVID, and to a level not seen since 2019’s $54,990 Mk 7.5 Golf R hatch.
Speaking of the hallowed Mk 7.5 Golf R, that’s the car that is spiritually closest in nature to the T-Roc R. If you haven’t seen – or even heard of – the T-Roc R, you’d be forgiven: supply has been uber-tight since the model was introduced to Australia in late 2022.
Effectively, the T-Roc R takes the Mk 7.5 Golf R recipe and gives it a small ground clearance lift and an SUV-esque design.
Instead of using the new Mk 8 R’s 235kW engine, it pumps up the tune of the Mk 7.5 motor to a reasonable 221kW, while maintaining that car’s Haldex AWD system rather than VW’s new drift-inducing twin-clutch rear from the Mk 8 and Audi RS3.
So is this a throwback special? Well, not quite. The Mk 7.5 R wasn’t a hot hatch to sneeze at – we loved it at the time – and many buyers will prefer the T-Roc R’s straightforward interior design that retains dedicated climate controls, even if material quality is considerably more ‘honest’ than the always-plush Golf.
But the T-Roc R is also arguably a hot hatch for the times. General buyer preferences for SUVs are well-established and if, by clothing the barely-lifted T-Roc in tougher-looking cladding, it can ignite a new generation of fast-hatch lovers – so be it!
For what it’s worth, we think the styling is well-resolved.
And as for the Grid Edition? As well as lopping a considerable 10 percent from the price of the series T-Roc R, it ups the charm by giving Australians a look-in to a cheerfully entry-level R division product.
In place of nappa leather you’ll find lighter, manual cloth seats. Unnecessary luxuries like a power tailgate are dispensed with to avoid motor shortages.
Stylistically, the Grid Edition’s simpler and lighter matte-graphite 19-inch Pretoria alloys are a delight, and the mix a half-black pack and some remaining aluminium styling outside works remarkably well.
As for the name? It’s the badge coined back in 2017 when high demand for the Mk 7.5 Golf R spurred Volkswagen Australia to introduce a cheaper special edition that cost just $47,490 in manual-transmission form.
Those were good days, and in many ways, they have returned with the modern T-Roc Grid Edition. The performance bargain of 2023? It could be.
In recent years, a high proportion of car news stories have detailed price increases affecting models across the industry in Australia – so it’s good news when a carmaker can introduce a relatively well-equipped model at a lower price.
That’s part of the mission of the T-Roc R Grid Edition. It returns Volkswagen’s R division to a more affordable price point – $54,300 before on-road costs – while also dodging the fitment of complex components that have triggered semiconductor-related delays in the past.
But there are just 300 examples of the cut-price version of the T-Roc R on their way to Australia, so you’d have to be quick to secure one of the best performance bargains of 2023.
For that price tag, which equates to just about $59,000 driveaway in New South Wales, the T-Roc R Grid Edition includes the following features:
Each of the three paint colours for the Grid Edition are included in the price of the car: the classic R Lapiz blue, plus indium grey and deep black. Our test vehicle was painted in the latter, and presented smartly. A panoramic sunroof is the sole $2000 option.
While the T-Roc R Grid Edition was a shortage-busting special edition created only for Australia, supply is concurrently improving of the ‘full-fat’ T-Roc R model ($60,300 before on-road costs).
For an additional $6000 over the Grid’s price tag, the regular T-Roc R variant adds the following features:
The T-Roc R also allows buyers three additional paint options: pure white, pyrite silver, and kings red. Other options for the series T-Roc R include a panoramic sunroof ($2000), an extended black styling pack ($1200), a 300-watt Beats premium stereo ($800), and Lapiz blue interior trim ($250).
The T-Roc R Grid Edition manages quite a dynamic feat. It combines much of the light and agile feel of a front-wheel-drive Golf GTI with the instant corner-exit traction of a Golf R.
That’s a recipe that went down a treat on our extensive first sample drive of the variant, conducted mainly around the Lake Mountain area of Victoria’s Cathedral Ranges – a driver’s paradise consisting of linked routes of sinewy, technical spurs and hillclimbs.
It’s the right kind of environment for a car like this, which has generous but not overwhelming power – a pleasant turn of speed rather than frighteningly licence-risking pace.
Like the standard T-Roc R, the Grid Edition produces 221kW of power (296 horsepower) and 400Nm of torque from its ‘EA888’ 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder engine.
Volkswagen claims a 4.9 sec 0-100km/h sprint, and in our testing, the series model returned 4.87 seconds.
It is handily quicker in our hands than a Golf GTI (6.17 sec) or Kona N (5.65 sec), while being slightly off the pace of a Cupra Formentor VZx (4.72 sec) or Golf R wagon (4.64 sec). In other words, the T-Roc R will respectably keep up with a bunch of solid performance cars.
Of particular note is the strength of the brakes, which are shared between the standard T-Roc R and the Grid Edition. The stoppers delivered the shortest 100-0km/h braking distance we’ve ever seen from a sports SUV, pulling up in just 33.87 metres – nearly two metres short of the Kona.
Punchy engine, great brakes … so far, so appropriate for a twisting mountain route. But while the straight-line performance in either direction is more than adequate, it is the T-Roc R’s delightful chassis that is allowed to sing in this environment.
The T-Roc R Grid Edition is one of those performance cars that truly breathes with the road, with impressive front-end zeal combining with the right steering ratio and controlled, sensible damping to create an intuitive and flowing driver’s car.
When there are as many corners as these Victorian spurs are throwing at us, you appreciate being in a car that makes joining apex to apex feel so natural.
It’s a remarkably rare quality, even in performance cars – it’s just that Volkswagen and its family brands have such a knack for achieving such balance.
We’ve got a hunch that it comes down to nailing grip levels, steering effort and damping. This car is grippy but not unnecessarily sticky, quick to turn in but not frenetic, and firm but not overly stiff. In other words: it can breathe.
They’re similar qualities to the Golf R, of course – but the precise mix present in the T-Roc R is most similar to the Mk 7.5 Golf, not the Mk 8.
The most recent Golf is a tremendous hot hatch (or wagon) with even deeper wells of talent, thanks to clever new rear diff tech. The Mk 7.5 R made you work a little harder as a driver to extract its best: same for the T-Roc R.
You can point and shoot this sports SUV and enjoy its traction and tractability just fine – but just like the old Golf R, the new T-Roc R Grid Edition handsomely rewards drivers willing to truly engage with its sophisticated chassis.
Add a little more turn-in mid-bend while deftly lifting the throttle, and its multi-link rear end pirouettes around subtly but safely, stability control remaining on, getting the car pointing more towards the straight ahead for rapid corner escape.
It is more than gratifying to get right, and once you find the balance point of the car’s centre of gravity, it becomes easy and satisfying to induce to make ascents or descents even quicker.
Of course, most drivers spend the vast majority of their time in considerably more banal environments. The T-Roc R handles these just fine: the 19-inch wheels and 235/40 R19 tyres offer adequate (if not generous) insulation from urban potholes and the adaptive dampers’ ‘normal’ mode is quite soft.
We do wish the adaptive steering had a lighter mode than ‘normal’, which is in fact quite heavy – as if it’s been engineered in to make the T-Roc R feel sportier. This is not necessary, as the Mk 8 Golf GTI’s less effort-inducing steering rack tune makes clear.
Like most Volkswagen models, the T-Roc remains a generation behind the brand’s newest products such as the latest Golf.
While that might sound like a bad thing, it actually means that the T-Roc R Grid Edition has clung to a more familiar interior layout that some drivers will prefer.
There is still a higher degree of technology in the T-Roc R’s cabin than nearly any small SUV rival – but in our view, it’s the right amount.
The tech that is in place works fairly intuitively and consistently, built around wireless smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Google software, and some redundant controls remain here.
That includes climate control, which has a dedicated (but touch-capacitive) panel near the T-Roc R Grid Edition’s illuminated gear shifter.
Our test drive took in moderate Melbourne temperatures but ascended quickly into the near-freezing mountains northeast of the city, so we needed to fiddle with the temperature from time to time: simply put, this is more quickly accomplished in the T-Roc R than in the Golf R, which locates its climate functions in the main touchscreen.
Syncing up your phone to the T-Roc R’s Discover Pro infotainment system is the work of a few moments, with the contents of your device then beamed to the central 9.2-inch touchscreen – while a full map, trip info, or media can be placed in the driver’s own 10-inch display.
The T-Roc R’s heated steering wheel did fall victim to a brief period where Volkswagen pursued change for change’s sake in this department: it has finicky touch-capacitive buttons that global VW boss Thomas Shafer has committed to removing, to be replaced with older-school mechanical buttons. But the current instrument is no deal-breaker.
What could be a deal-breaker for picky buyers is the seat fitted to the T-Roc R Grid Edition.
Firm yet supportive and comfortable, there’s nothing wrong with the shapeliness of the Grid’s sports pew – but they’re finished in black/blue cloth that may not be to all tastes, they lack seat heating, relevantly on our cold testing day, and they are manually-adjustable.
Keen drivers might look at that and think – that’s great! – but others, who want more than a modicum of luxury from their R product, will prefer to wait in line for a series-model T-Roc R, which swaps out these Grid specials for black nappa leather seats with front-seat heating, plus driver’s electric adjustment and memory.
Another interior element that will not appeal to those with an eye for detail is the use of some harsher plastics in the T-Roc when compared to the more plush Golf. A recent facelift of the SUV fixed the dashboard, which is now covered in attractive stitched soft material…
…but the door tops remain rock-hard front and back, a bit like in a Hyundai Kona N.
Curiously, the traditional hot hatch segment, including the Golf R, i30 N and GR Corolla, has generally retained more premium interiors with higher-quality materials, whereas the SUVs seem to have gone down a cheaper route for now.
Still, practicality up front is excellent. The door bins, though unflocked, take a large water bottle and there’s storage aplenty for odds and ends, plus the fitment of Volkswagen’s thoughtfully-adjustable centre armrest.
Move to the back seats and it’s clear the T-Roc R is a small, sporty SUV: great for dynamics, but space is at a premium. If you have your driving position set relatively forward, as keen drivers should, second-row kneeroom won’t be an issue.
You do get air vents back there, and a flip-down armrest with a ski pass-through – but if you plan on fitting child seats, especially if they are rearward-facing, you should try out fitment at the dealership first.
It’s a similar story in the boot, which is adequate rather than generous. Behind the Grid’s manual tailgate – still low and light enough to be easy to close – sits a 392-litre cargo space.
Big prams will be a no-go – you’d need the larger Tiguan R Grid Edition – but for those without smaller children, this is a useful space for stowing a few bags.
Plus, Australians hoping to use the T-Roc R Grid Edition on the kind of remote driving roads where it can really shine will have some peace of mind in the inclusion of a space-saver spare beneath the boot floor.
The Volkswagen T-Roc has been rated by Australian crash and safety body ANCAP, who awarded the model a five-star rating based on a 2017 Euro NCAP test procedure. Based on ANCAP policies, this rating will expire in December 2023.
However, this rating specifically does not apply to the R models, ANCAP says.
ANCAP’s assessment details the following safety test results for the standard, non-R version of the T-Roc:
Again, these results are said to apply only to the non-R version of the T-Roc.
That said, the T-Roc R Grid Edition is fitted with most of the safety and autonomy features we expect in 2023, but not all. Standard on the car are:
However, because of a shortage affecting a number of Volkswagen models, all T-Roc Rs currently on the way to Australia are not fitted with blind spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert, and this may not return to the model before it is replaced with a new generation later.
What we can say is that the lane-keeping assistance system fitted to the T-Roc R Grid Edition works very well at keeping the car centred in its lane – a boon for reducing highway fatigue.
However, the technology can be turned off with two buttons near the driver to reduce intrusion on a country road.
Performance cars are rarely cheap to run, but the T-Roc counters this in part by being remarkably fuel efficient – even when driven hard.
Our test loop included some motorway sections leaving Melbourne while heading towards the Cathedral Ranges, where the pace and effort grew to take in properly sporty driving.
On the highway, we managed to get the T-Roc R Grid Edition down to about 7.0L/100km, which is impressive – and even after an extended 200 km stint of sporty driving, our trip computer read 10.0L/100km, which is 30 percent more frugal than a recent spirited go in the equally-powerful Toyota GR Corolla ($62,300).
In the past, we’ve returned around 9.0L/100km driving the T-Roc R sensibly in town environments like commuting.
The fitment of a 55-litre fuel tank means touring range in the T-Roc R Grid Edition is remarkably flexible. On the highway you can expect about 785 km of driving range, dropping to 550 km on a faster blast, or 611 km in town.
Volkswagen fits all T-Roc Rs for Australia with a petrol particulate filter for better local air quality, so the use of 98-octane premium petrol is absolutely essential to prevent clogging said filter with sulphur-heavy fuel. This pricey juice does increase running costs.
Servicing is most affordably completed if you purchase a Volkswagen Care Plan when you take delivery of the car. Priced at $2950, this buys five annual services (or 75,000 km) thanks to the T-Roc R’s 12-month/75,000km maintenance intervals.
An average of $590 per visit is acceptable given the complexity involved with this sporty AWD SUV.
A cynical eye could chalk up the Volkswagen T-Roc R Grid Edition as an opportunistic special edition: chuck out some troublesome and delayed equipment, slash the price and get some cars into the sales charts.
Well, the Grid Edition does all those things – but to see this as an unremarkable release from Volkswagen Australia would be quite wrong indeed.
We actually think this is one of the most consequential Volkswagen R products to hit Australia in the last five years. And 300 fortunate Australian buyers will scoop up a genuinely sophisticated and special performance car at a price unseen since 2019.
Sure, you have to leave heated, power, leather seats and an electric tailgate on the table to secure that sub-$60K driveaway price, but that’s a fine trade-off in our opinion. Somewhat less comfortable is the lack of rear cross-traffic alert.
The Volkswagen T-Roc R Grid Edition could well be the performance bargain of 2023: strong engine, very strong brakes, and a high-end chassis with engineering excellence that goes well beyond what some rivals offer once you scratch the surface. Not bad, if you ask us.
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Key specs (as tested)
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