Car group tests

Volkswagen T-Roc vs Audi Q2 vs MINI Countryman

The new Volkswagen T-Roc aims to see off the Audi Q2 and MINI Countryman to claim the premium small SUV crown

The rise of the small SUV continues unabated, as seen by the recent crop of mainstream models from Citroen, Hyundai, Kia and SEAT. However, the cars we’re testing here are a little different, because they all trade on their slightly more upmarket images thanks to the badges they wear.

The newest is the Volkswagen T-Roc, which shares many components with the mainstream Golf hatchback. Still, VW’s more premium image means the T-Roc has to face some stiff competition in the form of the Audi Q2 and MINI Countryman crossovers here.

Best crossovers and small SUVs

All three are powered by downsized three-cylinder turbocharged petrol engines, as is rapidly becoming the norm for cars like this in order to boost economy as diesel continues to attract bad press. Yet these supermini-based SUVs will have to do more than just slash your running costs – they need to offer comfort, cutting-edge tech, practicality and performance, all at an affordable price. So which carves out a clear win in this rapidly growing sector?

Volkswagen T-Roc

Model:Volkswagen T-Roc 1.0 TSI Design
Price:£21,125
Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl turbo, 113bhp 
0-60mph:10.4 seconds
Test economy:41.9mpg/9.2mpl
CO2:117g/km
Annual road tax:£140

The T-Roc is Volkswagen’s first attempt at an SUV to sit below its larger Tiguan. With sharp, typically VW styling, decent practicality and an efficient 1.0-litre TSI petrol turbo engine, in £21,125 Design trim we’re testing here, is it a contender?

The VW’s MQB underpinnings are instantly recognisable from behind the wheel, which is a good thing. The car rides well, steers sweetly, offers plenty of grip for an SUV, and real composure from the chassis, plus a good level of refinement.

It’s still not as good to drive as the MINI, though. The steering is precise but lifeless, while the chassis set-up doesn’t give a particularly strong connection to what’s going on at the front wheels.

Comfort is arguably more important, however, given that this is a small SUV that will be used as a family car. Here, the VW scores well. You don’t really need to spend the extra on adaptive dampers because the standard set-up on our car’s 17-inch wheels is composed and compliant over most roads. As bumps become more severe, intrusions are felt more sharply, but it’s still never horrendously harsh.

This refinement extends to the powertrain, because the 113bhp 1.0-litre turbo pulls smoothly with little in the way of audible histrionics. It was the slowest car of the three on test from 0-60mph, taking 10.4 seconds, but this was only half a second behind the Audi and six tenths down on the MINI, so is more than acceptable. It made up for this deficit with comparable in-gear performance. Between 50 and 70mph in fifth it was one second faster than the more powerful MINI, taking 9.0 seconds (just one tenth slower than the Audi), plus it matched the Q2 in the lower gears and was able to extend its advantage over the Countryman.

While it’s punchy, it’s definitely neither as alert nor as responsive as the MINI, and the Audi feels slightly sharper too. Nevertheless, the VW’s blend of unobtrusive performance, comfort and refinement ensures it nails the brief for this class of car. 

Testers’ notes: “If you want four-wheel drive or an automatic box, you’ll have to go for a top-spec T-Roc SEL; the 2.0 TSI 4MOTION petrol gets a seven-speed DSG, while the 2.0 TDI 4MOTION is manual.” 

Audi Q2 

Model:Audi Q2 1.0 TFSI SE
Price:£21,660
Engine: 1.0-litre 3cyl turbo, 114bhp 
0-60mph: 9.9 seconds
Test economy: 39.4mpg/8.7mpl 
CO2:117g/km
Annual road tax:£140

Audi’s quest to pursue as many SUV markets as possible was bolstered by the Q2. It’s a compact crossover that’s at its best when fitted with the firm’s 1.0-litre TFSI petrol turbo engine, which is the model we’re testing here. In SE trim (our images show a mid-spec Sport) it costs from £21,660.

the Audi pretty much matched the VW for performance at the track, although the newer T-Roc’s tighter engine had only a few hundred miles on the clock, which may partly explain the half-second 0-60mph deficit.

At 9.9 seconds for this benchmark sprint, the Audi was just one tenth behind the MINI, yet its in-gear performance was stronger.

There was little to separate the Audi and VW in the in-gear acceleration tests; the Q2 was five tenths faster from 50 to 70mph in sixth, posting a time of 12.0 seconds. The MINI took 12.2 seconds.

The 1.0 TFSI unit revs cleanly, just as it does in the VW, but it’s marginally gruffer. Still, this doesn’t impact refinement too much.

With ‘dynamic suspension’ as standard the Audi feels slightly sharper than the VW, but the steering has a similar level of precision, as well as a similar shortage of feel through the wheel rim. The damping feels tauter and the body control more rigid, which means that while the level of comfort on the motorway or over broken surfaces might not be quite as good as in the VW (it trails only slightly), you gain some composure when driving faster.

It’s still neither as involving nor as fun as the MINI, but the Audi treads a nice line between comfort and performance, only a little more focused on the latter. The VW errs towards the former. 

Testers’ notes: “The Q2 gets Audi’s Virtual Cockpit as an option here. It’s a great hi-tech upgrade that really lifts the feel of the cabin. It’s also versatile and functional.”

MINI Countryman 

Model:MINI Countryman Cooper
Price:£23,035
Engine: 1.5-litre 3cyl turbo, 134bhp 
0-60mph: 9.8 seconds
Test economy: 41.1mpg/9.0mpl 
CO2:126g/km
Annual road tax:£140

Purists might not like it, but the modern MINI brand has spawned a host of models underpinning its future beyond the regular hatch – and this Countryman is one of the most popular. It’s a great compact SUV that, in entry-level £23,035 Cooper guise, will give the VW a challenge.

The extra 500cc under the bonnet means more power and torque, at 134bhp and 220Nm respectively. Yet the larger, heavier 1,365kg Countryman was unable to translate this into an overall performance advantage.

It’s by no means slow, and delivers decent speed plus a likeable gruff thrum. At our track it covered 0-60mph in 9.8 seconds, making it the fastest model over this test, but it trailed the other cars for in-gear flexibility. Between 30 and 50mph in third it was around a second slower than both rivals, while this deficit was roughly the same from 50-70mph in fifth. But if you work the six-speed manual box from 30 to 70mph the MINI matches the Q2, taking 9.4 seconds.

On the road, the Countryman’s strongest point is its involving handling. The steering is accurate and offers the nicest weight and responses.

The suspension set-up is also firmer, so at lower speed the MINI might be less forgiving, but as you start to move faster the plush damping has a lovely ability to smother the initial harshness of cracks and crevices in the road surface. It feels more subtly adjustable and fun as a result, but there’s still a good deal of comfort and refinement on offer. The balance of ride quality between the front and rear feels the best-matched here thanks to that sophisticated suspension layout and high-quality damping.

It’s a thoroughly usable SUV that’ll bring a smile to your face when you want it to, and it won’t cause you to grimace the rest of the time.

Testers’ notes: “As with the VW and Audi, adaptive dampers are available on the MINI for £450. These broaden its ability and improve comfort in the softer setting, but also give it more focus in sportier modes.”

Verdict

First place: MINI Countryman

For not much more a month than either rival, the MINI offers more kit, more space and more fun without sacrificing too much comfort. The brand’s DNA is tangible in the Countryman, and it boosts these traits with a big boot and a roomy cabin. Standard sat-nav helps, too. You might have to budget a bit more to run it (especially as a business buyer), but we think the extra outlay is worth it. 

Second place: Volkswagen T-Roc

The T-Roc is a solid entry into this SUV class. It offers what buyers want, with decent practicality, strong performance and refinement, and good smartphone connectivity at an affordable price. However, it’s not quite as spacious as the MINI, and it trails on quality, too. Running costs are low, but it doesn’t feel as rounded as the Countryman.

Third place: Audi Q2

While the Q2 feels a bit more upmarket than the T-Roc, the class has moved on and its older standard infotainment lets it down. It’s also less usable, even though the mechanical components are identical. Performance is good and it handles well, but you lose some comfort as a result. On top of all that, it’s pricier and more costly to run than the VW. The shortage of boot space seals its fate.

Is it worth waiting for this model?

DS 3 Crossback

DS 3 Crossback - front (watermarked)

Due: 2019 Price: £20k (est.)Engine: 1.2-litre 3cyl, 118bhp

The DS 3 Crossback will join this class next year with an all-new chassis. Previewed by our exclusive images, the car is set to offer a smart interior and should use the familiar 128bhp 1.2-litre turbo. 

Figures

 MINI Countryman CooperVolkswagen T-Roc 1.0 TSI Design Audi 1.0 TFSI SE
On the road price/total as tested£23,035/£29,875£21,125/£24,385£21,660/£21,660
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£11,025/47.9%£10,949/51.8%£10,395/48.0%
Depreciation£12,010£10,176£11,265
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£1,095/£2,191£920/£1,840£944/£1,887
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,621/£2,701£1,590/£2,649£1,691/£2,818
Ins. group/quote/road tax cost18/£439/£14011/£463/£14013/£361/£140
Servicing costs£299 (3yrs)£288 (2 services)TBC
    
Length/wheelbase4,299/2,670mm4,234/2,590mm4,191/2,601mm
Height/width1,557/1,822mm1,573/1,819mm1,508/1,794mm
Engine3cyl in-line/1,499cc3cyl in-line/999cc3cyl in-line/999cc
Peak power/revs 134/4,400 bhp/rpm113/5,000 bhp/rpm114/5,000 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs 220/1,400 Nm/rpm200/2,000 Nm/rpm200/2,000 Nm/rpm
Transmission 6-spd man/fwd6-spd man/fwd6-spd man/fwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel51 litres/£12050 litres/space saver50 litres/£100
Boot capacity (seats up/down)450/1,390 litres445/1,290 litres405/1,050 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,365/585/1,500kg1,270/585/1,300kg1,205/560/1,500kg
Turning circle11.4 metres11.1 metres11.1 metres
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/3yrs3yrs (60,000)/1yr3yrs (60,000)/3yrs
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos8th/8th14th/20th18th/15th
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/stars90/80/64/51/596/87/79/71/593/86/70/60/5
    
0-60/30-70mph9.8/9.4 secs10.4/9.7 secs9.9/9.4 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th5.4/6.8 secs4.5/6.2 secs4.5/6.3 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th10.0/12.2 secs9.0/12.5 secs8.9/12.0 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 126mph/2,500rpm116mph/2,500rpm122mph/2,500rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 52.6/40.0/10.4m53.2/41.3/10.1m50.1/39.6/9.3m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph70/44/62/70dB68/42/60/70dB70/43/61/71dB
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range41.1/9.0/461 miles41.9/9.2/461 miles39.4/8.7/433 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 41.5/58.9/51.4mpg46.3/62.8/55.4mpg45.6/62.8/55.4mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 9.1/13.0/11.3mpl10.2/13.8/12.2mpl10.0/13.8/12.2mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket159/126g/km/24%156/117g/km/22%166/117g/km/22%
    
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraEight/yes/yes/£310Six/yes/yes/£175Six/yes/yes/£350
Auto box/stability/cruise control/AEB£1,495/yes/yes/yesNo/yes/adaptive/yesNo/yes/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seats£460/£900/£270Yes/£2,200/£285*£525/no/£300
Metallic paint/LED lights/keyless go£550/£1,100/£350£575/£880/no£550/£975/£350
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yes£1,130/yes/yes/yes£600/yes/yes/yes
W’less charging/CarPlay/Android Auto£1,100*/£1,100*/no£380/yes/yes£325/yes/yes

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