Volkswagen has a long history of fielding cars in what was once referred to as the “small and sporty” segment. Cars that lacked the pedigree and/or the credentials of bona fide sports cars were slotted into a category dominated by cars that looked sporty, but didn’t have the capabilities of true sports cars. An old rancher in Texas might call them “all hat and no cattle.”
VW’s first real entry in this segment may have in fact started the segment. The Karmann Ghia
of the 1950’s was a very sporty, sexy looking car that had the same underpinnings as the Beetle. And Disney movies aside, the Beetle was never much of an enthusiast’s car, with 0-60 times being measured with the minute hand and not the second hand. When the last Karmann Ghia rolled off the assembly line in Osnabruck, Germany, VW was all ready to bring out a new kind of car – more capable, but still based on the pedestrian car, though this time one with much more performance potential. The first Scirocco was a front-wheel drive 2-plus-2 coupe that used the underpinnings of the revolutionary Rabbit
, or Golf as it was known in Europe.
Fast forward about 30 years and VW has gone through two distinct versions of the Scirocco, and even had the gall to replace it with a car called the Corrado; look it up, it was a nice looking if not terribly exciting car, with incredible handling and driving performance, limited by a supercharged engine VW called the “G-Lader” which was powerful, but sounded like the Worlds’ biggest Hoover vacuum cleaner. It also suffered very high failure rates, further driving down the reputation of VW quality. The overpriced Corrado was short lived not just in America but in Europe as well, and when its production ended in 1995 VW took a long hiatus on fielding a car in this segment.
VW chose the occasion of the Geneva Motor Show in March of 2008 to show the newest Scirocco, the same show used to launch the original Scirocco 34 years before. Stylistically, the new Scirocco is aerodynamically sleek and yet also defined by a number of vertical elements that give it an obviously substantial presence, partly due to a very wide track. The car looks hunkered down to the road, like it’s not just riding on it, but prowling on it - especially from the rear. When you approach from behind you get the idea that the car in front of you is a much more expensive and respectable car than you might surmise from its logo.
Unlike some of the cars in the class of the past, this wide track gives the new Scirroco road hugging and handling abilities that seem more fairly be compared with something from the animal kingdom than the automotive world. Think of a cheetah chasing a gazelle and you get the idea. It’s downright spunky in its character, tossable without ever feeling cheap or unrefined.
Power in our test car came from the 140 horsepower TDI diesel four-cylinder engine with 236 lb-ft of torque, which VW claims can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 9.3 seconds, all the while delivering 44 mpg. In our run from Hamburg to Amsterdam and back, driving at typical German speeds (read: fast) before crossing the Dutch border, we averaged 38 mpg. We feel we could have done better with a manual transmission over the six-speed DSG automatic transmission, which occasionally seemed a little confused as to which gear it would like to use.
There’s a gas engine that’s currently offered in the VW GTI that pumps out 200 horsepower, enough to propel the Scirocco to 60 mph in only 7 seconds. While this engine would most likely be the choice for American drivers, I’d personally take the TDI with all its low-end torque.
On the long drive, the seats felt comfortable while providing the kind of support necessary to keep you in position during hard cornering and quick direction changes. Everyone inside can expect a quiet and enjoyable ride, thanks in part to the fact that this is a modern Volkswagen replete with what has become the industry standard for interior materials, quality and design. Of course, by “everyone” we mean the driver and one other person – the back seat exists seemingly for the sole purpose of transporting children or pets.
Would the Scirocco look good on a road near you, in your driveway or garage? It certainly would. Further, it’s a blast to drive, well built, solid, and still has the driving position that made the original Scirocco so special. The steering wheel is in the perfect position in relation to the seat, and the gear selector is just a few inches to the right of your knee.
Why don’t we get the new Scirocco in America? I think that’s a great question, one I hope a lot of people ask the smart folks in marketing at Volkswagen of America (2200 Ferdinand Porsche Dr., Herndon, VA 20171). Tell them you think America’s roads would be improved with the looks of the occasional Scirocco – they don’t seem to think anyone would buy one.