Review

Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet review: is this convertible SUV as pointless as it sounds?

3/5

Taking a popular family car and chopping off its roof is not a new idea, but can the modish T-Roc take over the mantle of the drop-top Golf?

2020 Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet - tested July 2020
Open season: Britain loves a convertible, come rain or shine, so VW might be on to something

This is the Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet, and yes, you did read that right – a convertible version of the T-Roc, Volkswagen’s small SUV rival to the Nissan Juke and all the other supermini-based crossovers.

If you’re still feeling a little suspicious about the rise and rise of the SUV, this might sound like opportunism at best and complete poppycock at worst. But there is method to Volkswagen’s madness. After all, the Range Rover Evoque Convertible, a similar but slightly more upmarket idea, sold like hot cakes – for the limited time it was available. 

Taking a popular family car and chopping off its roof is not a new idea. In fact, Volkswagen has a long history of doing it, first with the Beetle, and later with the Golf. Indeed, there’s an argument for this T-Roc being the natural successor to the Golf Cabriolet; in those terms, perhaps it doesn’t seem quite so outlandish an idea. 

Whether you like it as a concept or not is neither here nor there, really, because Volkswagen’s made it – so it’s time for us to try and establish whether it’s a good car or not. Read on to find out what we’ve discovered – don’t forget to register or login to find out our decisive verdict on the new Volkswagen T-Roc Cabriolet.

Pros: Reasonably practical, comfortable ride, quiet at speed.

Cons: Cheap-feeling interior, not very exciting to drive, expensive.

What’s under the skin?

Only two engines are available in the convertible version of the T-Roc; a 1.0-litre and 1.5-litre, both petrol turbos, and the latter is available with a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox as an optional extra; both get a six-speed manual as standard, and there’s no four-wheel-drive option.

The T-Roc we’ve got here is the second most expensive of the lot, with the 1.5-litre engine and six-speed manual gearbox; it’s the pricier R-Line version, which gets 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, virtual dials and lowered sports suspension over and above the lesser Design version, which comes with dual-zone climate control, an electric hood, automatic lights and wipers,and adaptive cruise control as standard. 

What’s it like day to day?

You can specify an adaptive suspension system on the T-Roc; our test car had this fitted, but were we spending our own money, we’d probably baulk at the £1,085 additional cost. 

That said, it does result in a particularly plush ride. Only over the harshest of scars in the tarmac do the big wheels clatter; the rest of the time the body stays composed, and whisks you along serenely. In our experience, that isn’t always the case with bigger-wheeled T-Rocs. Of course, you could always save yourself some cash and achieve much the same effect by downgrading to the Design model, with its 17-inch wheels. 

Doing so might also get rid of some of the vibration through the steering column that plagued our test car. This is a symptom of the removal of the roof – and the structural stiffness it brings with it – that you often get with convertibles, but it feels particularly noticeable in the T-Roc.

However, once you get up to speed, the T-Roc does feel pretty polished in other ways. With the roof up, you’ll get a little bit of rustle from the wind – as you would in most convertibles – but on the whole, it feels pretty quiet; the engine in particular is hushed, and despite the big wheels, tyre noise isn’t intrusive. 

The central screen features Volkswagen’s standard software system which is pretty decent to use, though it is hamstrung by odd niggles like the need to hit ‘OK’ on the welcome screen before you can actually use the touchscreen.

Will it fit into your life? 

One of the advantages of SUVs over conventional hatchbacks is that they offer more space in a smaller footprint – and so it goes with the T-Roc. 

Inside, its more vertical seating position means there’s a decent amount of space in the front. And while they’ll hardly have acres to play with, two adults can nevertheless sit comfortably side-by-side in the back – a rarity in a convertible. 

The boot is obviously much smaller than the standard T-Roc’s, but it’s about the same size as those of the Audi A3 Cabriolet and BMW 2 Series. And as with the Audi, although not the BMW, the rear seats can split in half and fold down so that you can load larger items.

On the outside, the T-Roc’s shorter but wider than the Audi and BMW, and of course, it’s taller than either of them. That extra height results in a good view out, and the stubby tail end means the T-Roc is easy to park. 

How much will it set you back?

If you’re considering the T-Roc as a fashionable alternative to a Mini Cabriolet, you’ll have to stump up quite a bit extra, though of course, for that additional cash, you get a lot more space into the bargain too. 

What’s more surprising is that the T-Roc will cost you as much to buy as a BMW 2-Series Convertible, and almost as much as an Audi A3 Cabriolet, like-for-like – and while both of those cars are nearing the ends of their lives, they’re still premium options with better resale values than the T-Roc.

With that in mind, the T-Roc doesn’t feel like a bargain. However, it does fight back with decent economy figures; maintenance should be a little cheaper than on either of those rivals, too.   

Is it fun to drive?

Four-seat convertibles are not usually renowned for their entertaining handling characteristics, and neither are SUVs. Put the two together, and the signs aren’t promising for the T-Roc Cabriolet. 

In fairness, and somewhat against expectations, it isn’t a bad car to drive. Bimble along at a moderate pace, and while the body leans over a bit, it isn’t entirely uncontrolled; there’s a decent amount of grip, too, and the front end responds to the nose faithfully. 

With this uprated suspension, you can switch the car into ‘Sport’ mode and firm up the dampers, but we’d advise against it; all it seems to do is to causes the T-Roc to crash and shudder through bumps that didn’t trouble it before. Somehow, despite this extra stiffness, the body lean is still there. 

Either way, if you do try to push the T-Roc hard, you’ll start to come up against the boundaries of its limited ability. There’s very little feel through the light steering, the chassis feels unresponsive and wooden, and the nose washes wide of the corner if you get too exuberant. 

What’s more, thanks to all the extra stiffening Volkswagen has had to install, the T-Roc Cabriolet weighs about as much as a Skoda Kodiaq – an SUV two sizes larger. So it’s no wonder that even the 1.5-litre engine feels somewhat lethargic. You really need to hold it in gear and thrash it to extract its best performance, and while – thankfully – it doesn’t become too vocal when you do so, what little noise it does make isn’t particularly sporting. 

No doubt about it, then: the T-Roc Cabriolet is a cruiser, through and through. And indeed, it feels much more at home driven sedately; even at motorway speeds, you can ride along with both roof and windows lowered without enduring the sort of buffeting you might get in other convertibles. You can even hear your music, and have a conversation with your passenger without raising your voice too far.

Does it have the feel-good factor?

The interior doesn’t do much to lift your spirits. You can specify a big splash of blue or yellow plastic across the dash, and while this does make a change from the rest of the drab, dark materials, it also manages to look rather cheap. Indeed, that’s how many of the rest of the plastics look and feel; at least everything’s laid out where you’d hope to find it. 

From the outside, meanwhile, the trouble with the T-Roc Cabriolet is that it looks a little, well, silly. When you’re driving it, you feel as though you’re sitting high up, perched almost on top of it, as if on display to the world. And indeed, that’s how you look to passers-by. It’s a car in which it’s hard to pose and easy to look just a little bit daft.

A convertible should make you relish the prospect of dropping the roof on a sunny day – but because it makes you feel a little self-conscious, the T-Roc Cabriolet doesn’t entirely succeed in that regard. So while making the most of the sunshine will undoubtedly make you feel good, doing so in a different convertible will almost certainly make you feel better. 

The Telegraph verdict

Objectively, the T-Roc Cabriolet isn’t bad at what it sets out to do. It suits the current SUV-loving zeitgeist perfectly, providing an open-top alternative that’s unique in the market – for the moment, at least. It’s also a decent enough convertible – quiet, comfortable and easy-going on the move, especially with the roof down, and more practical than most cabrios thanks to its SUV roots. 

Of course, it isn’t much fun to drive, but we’ll let that slide given most convertibles of this type are rarely at their best when driven hard. Less easy to forgive are the tacky interior and the rather high price; the T-Roc Cabriolet’s biggest problem is that you can buy a much classier cabrio which you feel as though you’re sitting in, rather than on, for barely any extra cash. We’d be tempted to do just that. 

Telegraph rating: Three stars out of five

The facts

On test: Volkswagen T-Roc 1.5 TSI R-Line Cabriolet

How much? £32,905 on the road

How fast? 127mph, 0-62mph in 9.6sec

How economical? 42.2mpg (WLTP Combined)

Engine/gearbox: 1,498cc four-cylinder petrol engine, 148bhp, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive

The electric bits: N/A

Electric range: N/A

CO2 emissions: 152g/km

VED: £540 first year, then £145/year

Warranty: 3 years / 60,000 miles

Boot size: 280 litres

Spare wheel: Optional 

The rivals

Audi A3 S line 35 TFSI Cabriolet 148bhp, 42.2mpg, £33,615 on the road

It might be getting on a bit now but the A3 Cabriolet is still a class act. It weighs more than 100kg less, too, in this form, so despite sharing the same engine, it gets to 62mph half a second faster, and handles much more sweetly. The interior’s much slicker, too. Yes, it’ll cost you £700 more, but it’s undoubtedly worth it.

BMW 218i M Sport Convertible 134bhp, 35.3mpg, £32,820 on the road

It can be no coincidence that the 2-Series, now one of BMW’s oldest cars, is also one of its best-looking. It’s down on power compared with the T-Roc, but it’s still faster; it’ll handle better, too, and again, the interior’s much nicer. The single-piece folding rear seat is less practical, for sure, but will you care?

Mini Convertible Cooper S Exclusive 189bhp, 41.5mpg, £26,905 on the road

Want a drop-top that truly is a fashion statement? Look no further than this Mini. Of course, it’s much more cramped inside and the boot’s tiny, but that punchy engine means it’s quick, and like all Minis, it’s great fun to drive. It’s considerably cheaper, too. Still want that SUV?

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