Car reviews - Volkswagen - Scirocco - R coupe
Looks, cabin feel, engine responsiveness, nimble handling, grip levels in the wet, super-quick DSG auto, characterful disposition
Room for improvement
Low roofline and fat pillars hinder visibility, occasional steering kickback, rear seat headroom, no spare wheel/tyre, thirsty when really pushed
1 Feb 2012
IT IS early afternoon in the Victorian Alps and, although it’s high summer, our press convoy is enduring an unseasonal storm of frightening proportions.
Helicopters have been grounded and debris litters the bitumen. Flashing lights in the distance reveal a giant tree blocking the road, felled by the lashing winds. Cue the police.
It’s raining buckets – at times horizontally – while a thick layer of pea soup fog comes to settle across our bonnets, limiting forward visibility to no more than a few car lengths.
We should feel alarmed and a little on edge. We are, after all, traversing twisting and mountainous roads that demand to be treated with respect at the best of times, and doubly so in conditions such as these.
Furthermore, we’re doing so in the front-drive Volkswagen Scirocco R coupe – a car that shares its high-powered turbo engine with the Golf R hatchback but not its surefooted all-wheel drive configuration.
But as several journalists – including yours truly – remark, such conditions prove to be a blessing in disguise, because they allowed us to more easily explore and push the slinky Volkswagen’s limits and behind the chunky leather steering wheel we found very little to dislike.
Much of this can be chalked up to the Extended Electronic Differential Lock (XDL) system which, as in the Golf GTI, applies braking pressure to whichever front wheel is on the inside of the curve whenever loss of traction is detected.
The brand claims this system negates the understeer that often accompanies high-powered FWD vehicles, and in most situations it works a treat.
Through most of the twisty stuff the car remains agile and accurate, with only the very slipperiest of corners able to unnerve the tricky diff enough to briefly relax its tenacious hold on the road.
While all these electronics may seem to some to be an unnecessarily complicated solution to the lack of AWD, the simpler rear axle has helped to render the Scirocco 140kg lighter than its Golf cousin.
Back-to-back laps at Winton Raceway in both cars revealed the Scirocco to be appreciably more nimble, with the car practically begging to be thrown into corners with abandon.
The Scirocco’s track-day appeal is also heightened by its fully switchable stability control (ESP), which for the first time in a VW can be turned completely off.
Volkswagen Australia was at pains to point out that it does not encourage this feature outside of closed circuits.
The brand’s sporting intent with the Scirocco is further evidenced in its uniquely tuned electro-mechanical power steering, which in most instances proved to be communicative and pleasantly weighted.
However, corrugations were able to occasionally unnerve the system enough to provoke some unfortunate kickback.
This was exacerbated by the Scirocco’s firm ride on its 19-inch wheels (shod with 235/35 Bridgestones). Mercifully, the car also comes standard with VW’s Adaptive Chassis Control system, which softens the dampers when set to ‘Comfort Mode’ via a switch in the fascia.
This setting improved the ride quality enough to make the Scirocco a comfortable enough highway cruiser. No doubt this was helped by the cloth racing-style seats, which provided plenty of support in corners without being too firm or narrow for the average occupant.
Push the button into ‘Sport’ mode and the car becomes a noticeably different beast, with that distinctively low body staying wonderfully flat and balanced when pushed through the bends.
Volkswagen claims the Scirocco can dash to 100km/h in six seconds dead in DSG guise, but it may be selling itself a bit short with that figure. We recorded a 5.8-second time on just our second try, courtesy of the motorsport-inspired launch control system.
As in the Golf, the 188kW/330Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine (slightly detuned from European versions due to the Aussie heat) pulls strongly and responds sharply from most parts of the rev range without any noticeable lag.
While the six-speed manual gearbox is the slick and pleasant choice for driving purists, it’s hard to go past the six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic in the real world.
Not only is it quicker off the mark, lighting-fast between the cogs and fitted with wheel-mounted paddles conducive to rapid driving, it also sends a distinctive meaty burble out through the dual exhausts on every shift.
The large vented disc brakes (355/30mm at the front and 310/22mm at the rear), meanwhile, helped the car scrub off speed as well as it picked it up.
VW lists a combined fuel consumption figure of 8.1 litres per 100km, which seems a reasonable enough claim when pottering around. Lead-footed moments will see this figure skyrocket, however, with our test car having nudged an alarming 20L/100km at times.
Inside the cabin it’s all typical Volkswagen. Soft-touch leather adorns the dash and doors, while everything is set out logically with Germanic precision.
What the Scirocco interior misses in flair (with the possible exception of glossy black dash highlights and cool triangular door-handles) it makes up for with function.
While that low roofline and high waist gives the car a distinctive and head-turning appearance (especially in optional lurid green paint), the downside is a lack of rear headroom and fairly awful rear visibility.
Surprisingly, a reversing camera is not available – even as an option – and the Scirocco makes do with sensors instead. The fat A-pillars also obscure forward visibility, diminishing driver confidence on challenging roads.
The long pillar-less doors do, however, enable comfortable entry and egress for front seat passengers, and the boot is quite deep and commodious for this sort of vehicle.
Pleasingly, the Scirocco does without the often absurdly-long options list found on some other Volkswagens, with only a premium stereo, satellite-navigation and panoramic sunroof available.
While there was no test car available with the glass roof, we suspect it may eat into the already tight headroom for taller drivers, so tread with care.
Suffice to say, then, that the Scirocco proved a pleasant surprise. Fast, composed and supremely chuckable on the road and unique and sexy to look at.
Some may feel it lacks the abrasive mongrel edge and French character of the slightly cheaper (and equally superb) Renault Megane RS250 coupe, but we think the Scirocco more than makes up for this in its own eminently Germanic kind of way.
As a fitting new sports flagship for Volkswagen’s Australian range, the hugely competent Scirocco has most certainly been worth waiting for.
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