Getting Down With Da Kidz, Heide Style

Volkswagen’s T-Roc compact recreational SUV is not some belated attempt at jumping on the bandwagon. It’s worse than that. 

Livin’ the urban spirit of Photoshopolis, photo (c)

Despite decades of commentators claiming the opposite, being a designer at VW never was an easy job. One needs to be within spitting distance to current fashion, but still keep the technocratic aloofness that’s characterised the brand’s best products intact. Which is no mean feat under any circumstances.

But having to come up with a Lower-Saxonian answer to the success of the Nissan Juke and Toyota C-HR is an altogether different kind of challenge. For how can the supposedly sober, sensible spirit of a Volkswagen be combined with the, at the very least, frivolous concept of a style-over-substance ‘lifestyle’ SUV?

The answer to this contradictory question is the very muddled VW T-Roc.

Its name is good enough in itself to drive the message home that ‘this ain’t your dad’s Vee-Dub’. Anyone who ever considered the Tiguan monicker too po-faced will unquestionably applaud the sound of a name like a second-rate rapper’s.

Even the lettering is ever so slightly naff, photo (c)

The T-Roc’s styling is equally forced. The typical tropes of VW’s current Heidedesign 2.0 are present, as is the odd whiff of Walter de’ Silva’s almost, but not quite forgotten reign in charge of Wolfsburg’s stylistic fortunes.

But on top of that, there is almost half of all current fads that should be below a marque that, until very recently, claimed to be tasked with building not just any car, but Das Auto.

So, in random order, we’ve got:

  • conspicuous DLO/roof chrome bar sloping towards the rear
  • oversized grille with attention-grabbing graphical patterns (although not matrix-shaped)
  • fake grilles
  • fake exhaust tips
  • staked lights, fake grilles & exhaust tips combined
  • ‘aluminium’ accents that are obviously painted plastic
  • busy rear light graphics
  • kink above the rear wheel arch

The T-Roc is as convincing an off-roader as its patterned black plastic masks are functioning air vents. In that sense, one could even argue that there’s a certain honourable honesty to the VW. But that would give it far too much credit.

As it stands, the T-Roc is a laughable renunciation of a great many German design values. That it isn’t even confident enough to abandon them altogether and go for a fresh stylistic approach only adds insult to injury.

Something’s definitely rotten in the state of Lower Saxony.


The author of this piece runs an obscure motoring site of his own, which you may or may not choose to visit at

Author: Christopher Butt

car design critic // runs // contributes to The Road Rat magazine // writes a column for Octane France //

21 thoughts on “Getting Down With Da Kidz, Heide Style”

  1. It definitely suffers from being neither one thing nor another. I’m particularly disappointed by the rear haunch treatment and, more generally, overwrought details. It’s as sure an indicator that VW has lost its confidence post the cheat-device fiasco as anything else.

  2. Anders Warming of Borgward explained that he didn’t want to put a grille onto the Isabella concept, because an electric car obviously wouldn’t require one. And incorporating one nonetheless wouldn’t be in keeping with the German design ethos. I guess VW designers wouldn’t agree with this assessment, judging by the number of fake this and faux that on the T-Roc.

  3. I like VW’s current silly names.
    Just go to your nearest VW dealer and ask for information on the ‘you pee exclamation mark’. Or, now, for sales brochures of the trock.

  4. Fake grilles blight many new cars. Adding fake chicken-wire effect just draws attention to them, which is not good when you are trying to pass off fake as real.

    There must be a better solution, surely?

    1. Sorry, should have given some reference. I remember that quote from when he left VW for Ford and was criticized for the gigantic Ford Five-Hundred looking too much like Audi A6. Apparently, he thought Audi as some sort of ideal car.

  5. Presenting at least one new SUV each week seems to be the main task of the Volkswagen Group currently. But by doing this they are forgetting their main virtues : offering cars without big faults, that are always better and more beautiful than older Volkswagens – but still with a modern, but timeless design.
    After the Arteon and the Polo, this is the next VW which does not manage to achieve this VW-standard. The Troc has the same theme as the Q2 : both are wanting to look fresh and a bit quirky, but this effect will disappear pretty soon…

    The interior of the Troc is even worse. A dashboard without any soft-touch plastics and door panels without cloth are not VW-like at all.

    What surprises me most, is that VW could not manage to create a group of distinctive SUVs. Each new SUV has its greatest rival in its own family. The troc is cannibalizing mainly the Q2, both seems to be just different pieces of the same cake. And all of these new SUVs seems to be at the same quality level and of the same character.

    1. The Q2 and the Troc aren’t even the worst ones. At least the Q2 is somewhat edgy while the T has those swooping lines above the wheels. What really bothers me is the class above: Who can distinguish all those Tiguans, Kodiaqs, Karoqs and Atecas? They look like badge-engineered although they aren’t. (By the way, I had to look up the names, too, this mishmash of Ks and Qs is as unremarkable as the cars themselves.)

    2. Simon: that’s a terrific roll call of names and if I was running a car quiz I’d challenge the teams to match the names to the vehicle.
      The Q2 is the one with the coloured C-D pillar, is it not? Audi has done very well artistically and commercially from non-edginess. Grounds for them to attempt this kind of styling are not evident to me.

    3. You’re right with the Q2 and the pillar.
      For me it’s equally unclear how this car fits into their range. Not only is it untypically edgy, it’s also the only 4/5 door Audi without a third side window. Does it want to say “hey, we can also do something different, more FUN” (I thought this was supposed to be the French’s strength)? Or is it rather showing a new design direction for Audi SUVs? The recent Q7 has also become more boxy than its predecessor.

    4. The Q2 is silly and utterly un-Audi-like. I guess it’s a typical interim design, in that it was mostly styled when Wolfgang Egger was on the way out, with some detailing courtesy of his successor, Marc Lichte.

      They probably realised halfway through the styling process that their ‘edgy’ concept didn’t work out, but didn’t have a convincing alternative at hand, so they went ahead regardless. This may have helped Audi management to decided that it’d be wisest to part ways with Mr Egger.

      My assumption – or more of a wild guess – is that something similar happened at BMW recently. There’s simply no other excuse for that hideous X7.

    1. Agreed. But I still fail to understand your initial statement.

    2. I’m sorry. I just mean that a Q2 is a slightly new approach to VAG design, a bit more modern, less ornate. T-Roc is the exact same shape, covered in baroque detailing. The way I read the entire VAG design language is that moving upwards, from SEAT, Skoda, VW all the way to Audi, simplicity in details is what marks the upmarket status of the car. The overall shape is quite often practically the same. With the extreme curves and details of T-Roc I am confused. It looks like it’s at the other side of the luxury spectrum from Q2.

  6. Bee tee double-u: the Troc isn’t recreational, it’s a hatchback which’ll be used like any 5-door midsized car: commuting, shopping, chores. Let’s be clear the folks who want a vehicle for recreation will buy an old Transporter or Connect or any cheap estate car. If they really want off-road talent a Suzuki does this or else any old Subaru or perhaps Discovery. VW buyers don’t want dirt in their new car.

    1. Audi Q2 and T-Roc has less ground clearance than for example a DS4 Crossback. So they are not made for offroad-purposes. they are made for streets.

    2. I remember a test report in one of the German car magazines where the Citroën C3 Aircross (another silly name…) was criticised for its ground clearance of only 17.5 cm. One reader pointed out that all the comparable VAG offerings, which in the same magazine were highly lauded, have clearances between 15 and 17 cm.
      The problem for the PSA products is that they don’t offer 4WD. Intended use nonwithstanding, in Switzerland this means that they miss out more than half of the market.

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