New Volkswagen T-Roc R vs Cupra Ateca

Volkswagen’s new T-Roc R shares much with our 2019 Sports SUV of the Year, the Cupra Ateca. Let’s see which one can put a bigger grin on our faces...

Volkswagen T-Roc R vs Cupra Ateca

The contenders

Cupra Ateca 2.0 TSI 300 4Drive

  • List price - £36,695
  • Target Price - £35,973

Last year’s Sports SUV of the Year is enjoyable to drive, practical and well equipped.

Volkswagen T-Roc R 2.0 TSI 300 4Motion

  • List price - £38,450
  • Target Price - £36,236

Smaller than the Ateca, but with the same engine. Is it worth its slightly higher price?

From Cain and Abel to Liam and Noel, there are plenty of examples of sibling rivalries getting heated. And here we have another one that’s reached boiling point.

Since its launch in 2018, the Cupra Ateca has been the best sports SUV available for less than £40,000. In fact, it’s so good that a year ago it saw off machines costing twice as much to win our inaugural Sports SUV of the Year award. Now, though, it faces its toughest challenger yet: sister brand Volkswagen’s T-Roc R.

Thanks to those family ties, Volkswagen has been able to use the same 296bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, four-wheel drive system and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox as Cupra. But the T-Roc is a smaller car, so it could potentially be even more agile.

Potential is one thing, though; living up to it is another. Time to find out if it really puts a bigger grin on your face while remaining usable for the everyday grind.

Cupra Ateca front


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Given that these two produce the same amount of power, it’s no surprise that their 0-60mph times are separated by the slimmest of margins, with the heavier Ateca falling just 0.1sec short of the T-Roc’s scintillating time of 4.7sec.

On the road, the difference isn’t even noticeable. After a small pause while the turbocharger spins up, each SUV accelerates with the kind of ferocity that would put many a two-seat sports car to shame. And because maximum pull is available from 2000rpm all the way through to 5200rpm, their gearboxes don’t even have to shift up or down that often for you to make rapid progress. True, the T-Roc sounds much more exciting when building speed, parping theatrically. However, we suspect this is largely down to the £3000 sports exhaust fitted to our car.

The T-Roc has a more decisive advantage when it comes to handling. From its quicker-reacting, more precise steering to its vice-like grip on the road, it feels more like a hot hatch than an SUV. What’s more, that grip is spread evenly front to rear, and you can really feel the power being sent to the back wheels when exiting corners, helping to prevent the nose from running wide.

Our car benefitted from £695 worth of adaptive dampers, which allow you to stiffen of soften the suspension on demand. But no matter which mode you’re in, you get less body lean than you do in the Ateca.

Volkswagen T-Roc R nose - blue with German plates

Don’t go thinking that the Ateca is a sloppy barge, because it absolutely isn’t. It’s just that its limits are quite a bit lower, both in terms of front-end grip and because its rear end is less controlled. It skips slightly through fast, sweeping bends and slides less predictably if you lift off the accelerator to adjust your line mid-corner.

The Ateca also thumps a bit more than the T-Roc over bigger bumps, even when its standard adaptive suspension is in the softest setting. However, this is less annoying than the constant patter you feel in the T-Roc, so overall the Ateca is the more comfortable car, whether you’re pottering around town or cruising at higher speeds.

Similarly, the Ateca lets in more wind noise and the T-Roc more road noise, but it’s the latter that’s more wearing on a long drive. 

Next: Behind the wheel >>

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