Volkswagen has a knack for going with the weirdest names in the automotive business. Its fellow German companies typically adhere to alphanumeric nomenclatures, think 3 Series, S-Class and A6. But not Volkswagen; they prefer a totally different strategy, which results in products like Touareg, Passat and Tiguan.
|1. Scirocco R’s are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 265 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
2. Two different six-speed transmissions are available, either a traditional manual or a lightning-fast dual-clutch automatic.
3. The 2013 Volkswagen Scirocco R is available with an optional Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) system that allows the driver to change how the car behaves on the road.
4. Base price for an entry level Scirocco is about 24,000 €, though the one provided to AutoGuide for testing cost roughly $51,000!
Thankfully for the folks in Wolfsburg a good vehicle can nullify a strange name, and one of their most exciting products carries a Duesy of a title. The Scirocco is a sporty two-door hatchback that’s named after a desert wind of all things, a sultry breeze that blusters its way out of the Sahara. Is this VW as hot as the air current it’s named after or is it just another wannabe sports car?
The Scirocco is an entertaining small car with a killer body and performance to match, especially in “R” guise. It features a scowling face, low roofline and tinted back windows, but those rear fenders are probably its signature feature. They’re shapely and pronounced, sticking out like a couple of elbows. The Scirocco’s exterior design is tighter than Jessica Alba’s clenched butt cheeks and every bit as eye catching.
The current car was introduced to European customers back in 2009, where it’s still on sale today. Decades ago the boxy second-generation Scirocco was offered in North America but that’s no longer the case. The test model provided to AutoGuide was a straight-up Euro model registered in Germany.
Comparisons between Volkswagen’s other performance stalwart, the GTI, are obvious. In reality there’s no comparison because the Scirocco wins by a mile when it comes to coolness. ‘Roccos are almost 3 inches lower, 1.3 inches longer and nearly 2 inches wider than a U.S.-spec GTI. Regrettably they’re also about 90 pounds heavier, but you can’t win ‘em all.
The Scirocco’s design flair fades slightly once you slide inside, if only just. The overall layout is similar to other people’s car models like the GTI hatchback and Eos hardtop convertible. In many ways this is an asset because passengers are treated to premium materials and high-quality switchgear. But still, something slightly different might have been nice, especially since the ‘Rocco’s exterior is so exuberant.
Low-gloss, squishy-soft plastics abound. The headliner is of the woven variety and is unusually plush to the touch. Textured aluminum trim dresses up the dashboard while shiny black accents add some pizzazz to the door panels.
Aiding the driver is a simple instrument cluster. All the numbers are clearly printed in a highly legible font, while standout blue pointers indicate what’s going on. If this test car’s German front license plate didn’t betray its heritage the gauges surely did. The speedometer is in kilometers per hour. Thankfully good ole’ MPH is shown in the centrally mounted digital display, which prevents distracting mental math while underway.
The seats are trimmed in cool-looking cloth. The two-tone setup features a light-gray suede-like material as well as grippy “Kyalami” fabric that holds you in place like an eagle’s talons.
Against all odds the Scirocco actually has a usable back seat; real adults can ride in real comfort. There are surprising amounts of head and legroom with seating for two passengers. Another nice touch is the aft noggin-rests, which are open in the middle, maximizing the view out the small rear window.
Beneath the Scirocco’s low, sloping hood rests a familiar piece of hardware. Volkswagen’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is an impressive little engine. In one form or another it powers everything from the GTI hatchback to the Tiguan crossover to Audi’s luxurious A4 sedan, delivering a splendid combination of performance and fuel economy. Exemplary refinement is an added benefit and the engine is creamier than Reddi-Whip straight out of the can. But like any good story there’s a twist.
Scirocco R’s get a special version of this 1,984-cc powerplant. Naturally the EA211 variant features direct fuel injection and an exhaust-driven blower, but engineers really cranked up the burner and now the pot is about to boil over. Horsepower clocks in at an imposing 265 while the abundance of torque threatens to convert the drivetrain’s innards from functioning components into metallic confetti. A total of 258 lb-ft of twist are on tap from just 2,500 RPM. These are hefty increases compared to the 200 ponies available in VW’s standard-issue GTI.
This is the sort of car that doesn’t just encourage delinquent behavior; it demands it. If you’re not paying attention you’ll find yourself doing 50 miles an hour in a 35-zone, on-duty constabulary be-damned. The Scirocco R keeps nudging you to go a little bit faster, a little bit faster; it wants to run and you constantly have to keep it in check.
The exhaust system only exacerbates the temptation to bolt like a fugitive. During throttle-laden up-shifts it thumps like a potato launcher, barking through the car’s duet of generously portioned outlets punctuating the rear valence. Their shiny steel is mildly discolored from heat.
When it comes to sprinting it’s estimated the car will rocket from zero to 100 kilometers an hour (62 miles an hour) in just 5.8 seconds. Top speed is 155 MPH.
The car is offered with one of two six-speed transmissions. A proper manual is available, as is a technologically advanced dual-clutch automatic. The tester provided to AutoGuide features Volkswagen’s instantaneous DSG self-shifter. It’s like warp-drive from Star Trek, changing gears faster than a woman changes her mind. All that’s missing is Captain Picard saying “Engage!”
All told something like eight different engines and three separate transmissions are on offer to Scirocco customers. The lineup included thrifty, small-displacement gasoline powerplants and torque-rich diesels.
When it comes to efficiency we didn’t do too badly with the R model. Driven with enthusiasm, or as much enthusiasm as we dared, the car averaged more than 24 miles per gallon; handled sensibly that figure grew to 27.
Harnessing the engine’s prodigious power is an equally capable chassis. The ‘Rocco is still a front driver and there are some inherent issues with that configuration but in spite of this it’s still pretty excellent.
Our tester was equipped with Volkswagen’s optional dynamic chassis control, a feature that at the touch of a button dramatically changes how the car behaves. It offers drivers three modes: comfort, normal and sport.
The comfort setting allows the car’s suspension to absorb and digest Michigan’s broken, frost-heaved pavement like a luxury sedan. The difference between it and sport is quite dramatic. As one might expect the latter mode hones everything to a razor-sharp edge, from the throttle response to gear-changes to the ride quality; even the stability control’s threshold goes up. This setting really makes the car want to run. Normal mode is rather pointless; who wants to be stuck in the middle?
Since the Scirocco R is a high-power front-driver there’s a touch of torque steer during heavy acceleration; the tiller quivers in your hands a small amount as the 18-inch Continental tires (Conti Sport Contact 5P, 235/40 ZR18) scratch at the pavement in search of traction. There’s also a touch of wheel-spin, though the electronically controlled locking differential helps manage any unwanted rubber roasting. It’s curious that the all-wheel-drive system from the high-power Golf R didn’t find its way under the Scirocco.
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When it comes to driving dynamics the only thing worth complaining about is the braking system. The binders are a bit on the touchy side and it’s easy to apply too much stopping force resulting in mini whiplash as your head goes flying forward; they can also make a nasty squealing sound when cold, though the noise quickly goes away after one or two stops. The 13.6-inch front rotors are augmented by 12.2-inchers out back. The arrangement is probably ideal for neutralizing Autobahn speed.
The Scirocco R is a treat for the eyes and a delight to drive. It’s fast, fun and uniquely beautiful, but now for some bad news. It’s expensive and you can’t have one, so put your change purse away. In Germany, base price for an entry-level version is about 24,000 €, including the country’s 19 percent value-added tax. The R model we tested cost around 38,500 €, also including Mehrwertsteuer. In ‘Murican money that’s almost $51,000! Obviously that’s serious money for a small car, and at that price it seems unlike this stylish coupe will ever make the trans-Atlantic trip again… unlikely but not impossible.
We reached out to Volkswagen’s North American public-relations department to find out if they possibly, might, potentially be thinking about selling the car to U.S. customers. Mark Gillies, Manager of Product and Technology communications at the company said “We don’t have any plans to offer this current generation Scirocco R in the U.S.… but we are open to looking at future versions of the vehicle for this market.”
That unfortunate decision has more to do with the vehicle itself than typical automaker politics. Canned responses to questions like this are usually something like “we don’t discuss future vehicle plans” or “we don’t want (product one) to cannibalize sales of (product two).” Apparently the Scirocco has some nuts and bolts issues. Gillies said “It’s just not engineered for this market; it never was.” Oh well; maybe we’ll get treated to the car next time around. It’s a vehicle we’ll be anxiously waiting for.