New models - Volkswagen - Scirocco - R
First drive: Scirocco pricing sets scorching pace
VW stirs sports car market with value four-seater performance coupe
12 Sep 2011
By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in SWITZERLAND
THE Volkswagen Scirocco is finally on sale in Australia from an unexpectedly keen $47,490 for the all-encompassing flagship R manual – or $49,990 with the self-shifting DSG dual-clutch transmission.
Volkswagen has positioned the Portuguese-built three-door four-seater coupe $2500 below the equivalently specified Golf R five-door hatch.
However, to help make room and reduce range complexity, the Golf R three-door model has vanished.
While you can order a Scirocco R today, customers will not see their vehicles before December at the earliest, while the Australian press launch will not even occur until February 2012.
Volkswagen has also confirmed that its sleek newcomer includes 19-inch alloys shod with 235/35 R19 Pirelli rubber, a specially tuned sports chassis, Extended Electronic Differential Lock cross-axle traction control and automatically adjustable adaptive dampers.
Golf R fans will recognise the 2.0-litre TSI turbocharged direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engine that delivers an identical 188kW of power at 6000rpm and 330Nm of torque between 2500 and 5000rpm.
A key difference with Scirocco R is that power is delivered only to the front wheels whereas the Golf R gets a Haldex part-time all-wheel drive system.
In an ocean of Golfs, the Scirocco certainly stands out with its low-slung, shark-nosed, broad-shouldered and stubby-butted coupe styling, which the body kit and striking Talladega wheels only enhance.
Being a coupe, stepping inside is made easy by long doors, but the low roofline and bulky standard ‘sports’ bolstered front seats (with a matching pair of high-backed rear items) necessitate a spot of yoga-esque manoeuvrability.
Using the remote to power down the side windows beforehand means the doors become pillarless when opened for slightly better access.
Once inside, three things immediately spring to mind: roomy front seat environment, typical VW solidity and sensibility, and a rather dull and derivative dashboard presentation.
Sure, the stylists have tried to inject some R-specific frippery like a thick-rimmed and flat-bottomed wheel, unique blue-needled dials, high-gloss and aluminium trim accents, and seat material that looks like it was supplied by Nike. But the brand-generic console says ‘sedan’ when the outside styling shouts ‘sexy coupe’. This fascia would not look out of place in a Passat.
But the Scirocco scores with excellent ergonomics, great front seats and real-world practicality. If you don’t mind ducking your head every so often or occasionally having somebody tall struggle to clamber into the rear seats, you would definitely consider this over an everyday hatchback.
There is sufficient space in the back for an adult to spend an hour or so without pain or misery, but the seat cushion does feel a little flat after that. And there are no grab handles, map pockets, centre armrest or cupholders, while the tapering window line conspires to make seeing out a frustrating experience for driver and rear occupants alike.
At least the VW offers a sizeable luggage space complete with split-folding rear backrests for those bulkier loads, so as a four-seater runabout the Scirocco stands tall.
Turn the key and the throaty, burbly 2.0-litre TSI turbo four-pot screamer sounds the business, setting the scene for some rapid and spirited performance.
The manual version’s first gear is so high that step-off acceleration is strong but hardly electrifying, and not helped by turbo lag. As the official 0-100km/h time of 6.2 seconds suggests, Porsche 911 owners will not lose sleep.
The real action begins from 2800rpm, when the Scirocco R suddenly thrusts forward pretty much all the way up to about 240km/h (on German autobahns) before it feels like it is going to run out of steam.
Light, long and slick gearshifts, accompanied by a desire to rev past the 6500rpm redline to a 6800rpm cut-out, means that the Scirocco R is a genuinely involving and rewarding grand tourer.
There is also a docile side to explore as the car cruises quietly at 100km/h with the engine barely ticking past 2400rpm.
Over a period of mostly flooring the throttle, punctuated by times of lazy freeway cruising, we averaged a creditable 9.5L/100km – not a far cry from the official combined figure of 8.2.
The DSG has the disadvantage of a moment’s hesitation when jackrabbit acceleration is all you want from low speeds, but the power comes on just as effortlessly once you’re in the RPM sweet spot, while the exhaust blip during the lightning-quick shifts adds to the drama of speed.
Even when using the DSG’s wheel-mounted paddle shifts to hold gears manually, though, the electronics will not allow you to hit the rev limiter, but the nanny electronics at least provide a useful hill-holder device that keeps the car from rolling back when the brakes are released on an incline.
Putting all that performance through the front wheels during a tight corner is no problem, either, for the Scirocco’s honed chassis responds with a measured, flat and controlled attitude.
More steering feedback would be welcome, but the reaction times are sharp without feeling nervous, and the amount of grip from the fat low-profile tyres seemed immense on the dry summer roads between Milan and Frankfurt via the breathtaking Stelvio Pass, Swiss Alps, French countryside and German autobahns.
While the mountainous passes put pressure on all of the Volkswagen’s systems, the chassis remained composed while the brakes hauled up with precision and vigour.
VW’s Australian product planners should be congratulated for standardising the adaptive damper system – with Normal, Comfort and Sport settings – since its bump and rough-road absorbency characteristics belie the 19-inch wheels.
While you would not call the Scirocco R supple, it has sufficient pliancy for most people not to feel the need to extend their health insurance policy to include a chiropractor – unlike Euro-spec car without the trick shockers.
Driving-related gripes include road roar from the tyres on certain surfaces, the turning circle isn’t brilliant in tight spots, fat pillars and a low roof header conspire to make you feel like you are peering out of the car and there is a short but intense exhaust resonance at particular speeds and revs that is barely noticeable in the front but can really annoy back-seat passengers.
But people who would be attracted to the Scirocco R would probably care more about how good the drive makes them feel than about refinement and some occasional noise intrusion.
This is a sporty car with hot-hatch levels of performance, handling and grip in a handsome – almost sensual – package that happens to pass muster on practicality as well.
More astonishingly, given that VW is not renowned for its generous pricing, we are amazed at the value proposition that the sportiest Scirocco offers.
While we suspect a Renault Megane RS 250 Cup is the more visceral and rewarding driving experience, the R would seem to have the edge on the everyday comfort and refinement front – while still being a big old blast.
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