By Jonathan Crouch
Levelling criticism at the Volkswagen Golf isn't an easy thing to do. There have been ups and downs through the years and different generations but little to leave a serious stain on its pedigree. If you absolutely had to pick fault with this family hatchback icon, you might focus on the fact that, for all the buttoned-down competence, it isn't the most exciting thing to look at. Waiting in the wings to cut off any such an angle of attack is the Scirocco coupe. It's a Golf with added attitude.
Golf coupes were by no means a new idea when this Scirocco was launched in 2008. The first car to carry the Scirocco name (derived from Sirocco, the Italian for wind, if you're interested) was launched in 1974 and based around mk1 Golf mechanicals. It was superseded in 1982 by a heavily revamped Scirocco mk2 which shared the same platform. The Scirocco didn't disappear from the Volkswagen range until 1988 when the Corrado arrived on the mk2 Golf platform to replace it but when production of that car ceased in 1996, so did the burgeoning dynasty of cars combining Golf basics with coupe bodywork.
Though the Golf GTI models were on hand to satisfy Volkswagen customers looking for something sporty, they have never been cars with the power to transform pedestrians into gawping fools with a simple drive past. Volkswagen went without a real head-turner for more than a decade before the long-awaited revival of the Scirocco in 2008.
This Scirocco is based on the oily bits of the Golf mk5 which aren't a million miles away from those employed in the mk6 car. It was unveiled to much appreciation at the 2008 Geneva Motorshow, having been strongly hinted at by the IROC concept car which starred at Paris two years earlier.
Launched with the Golf GTI's 2.0-litre TSI turbocharged petrol engine and the option of standard or GT trim, the Scirocco was soon bolstered by the arrival of a 2.0-litre TDI powerplant in 140 and 170bhp guises. The engine range grew further with the inclusion of the 160bhp twin-charge petrol engine which made up for a smallish 1.4-litre capacity by bolting on turbocharger and supercharger. The flagship 2.0 TSI unit was upgraded from 200bhp to 210bhp in 2009.
In 2010, an entry-level 1.4 TSI petrol engine was introduced with a turbocharger and 122bhp. At the opposite end of things, Volkswagen launched the Scirocco R high performance model. This used the 265bhp version of the 2.0 TSI engine that was previously seen in the Audi S3 but unlike the four-wheel-drive Golf R which debuted around the same time, it stuck with the front-wheel-drive layout of the standard Sciroccos.
What You Get
The styling is a big part of the Scirocco's attraction. The car is poised, shapely, modern and suitably far removed from the Golf it shares its platform with. The powerful rear haunches and the dramatic roofline that drops to meet them still stand out while the thin grille serves to visually widen the car. Volkswagen isn't known for its stylistic innovation but this is one model where the marque hit the nail on the head.
The Scirocco cabin cocoons its occupants in familiar Volkswagen design cues and build quality. The cocoon will be on the tight side for adults in the rear seats but the two front berths provide comfort, space and a well judged driving position for the person behind the three-spoke sports steering wheel. The interior is airy and light, and the optional panoramic sunroof further emphasises the feeling of spaciousness.
The Scirocco is quite practical for a sports coupe but a good few notches less so than a three-door Golf. There's a reasonably wide boot aperture which opens up 292 litres of luggage space. Fold the split rear seats down and you've got 755 litres. The Scirocco features four, individual sculpted seats finished in either cloth or leather. The sports seats aren't just restricted to those up front - the contoured rear seats feature integrated headrests to offer plenty of support. Proportions for this car are classically short, low and wide although the dimensions betray its reliance on Golf mechanicals. The vehicle measures 4,256mm long, 1,404mm high and 1,810mm in width.
What to Look For
Keep a look out for cars that have been flogged by overenthusiastic owners and ensure that servicing has been attended to diligently. Otherwise the Scirocco has a strong reputation for reliability. If the car has been equipped with the optional DSG paddle-shift gearchange, check that all ratios engage smoothly and cleanly, especially reverse. DSG problems are a very costly fix.
(approx based on a 2008 Scirocco 2.0TSI GT ex Vat) A clutch assembly will be around £150 and an alternator should be close to £200. Brake pads front and rear are about £65 and £55 respectively.
On the Road
With a zingy turbocharged petrol engine installed, the Scirocco is nothing short of infectious. The underpinnings, as we've said, are purloined from the mk5 Golf but VW's engineering trickery has succeeding in making the little coupe feel more than the sum of its parts - and the Golf itself is no slouch in the driving enjoyment stakes. In many cases, drivers will be predisposed to bond with the Scirocco, having been seduced by its pert and beautifully detailed exterior prior to lowering themselves inside.
The TDI diesel definitely removes a little of this sheen. It isn't as sweet-sounding with a power delivery less linear than the petrol options and a less than thrilling 0-60mph acceleration time of 9.3s in 140bhp form but the essential vitality of the Scirocco remains. The 2.0-litre TDI might lag behind in a straight foot race to 60mph but with 320Nm of torque output even in 140PS guise, it has a mid-range surge of power that puts even the 2.0-litre TFSI petrol unit in the shade and it makes a surprisingly capable long-distance car. There's also the little matter of 55mpg economy to factor in.
The 2.0-litre turbo is the engine to have with its smooth power delivery and involving engine note. 0-60mph takes 7.2s in the 200bhp version and economy will still come close to 40mpg. The 160bhp 1.4-litre TSI unit, if anything, is even more effervescent with an 8s 0-60mph time and 42mpg making it a decent substitute for the range-topper.
The key to the advances made by the Scirocco's handling over the equivalent Golf centre around its dynamic aids. Most models feature advanced Adaptive Chassis Control offering three driver-selected settings - comfort, normal and sport. The system's influence extends to the steering system: should 'sport' be selected, the steering firms up to provide more feel while 'comfort' mode makes the steering lighter and easier to operate at low speeds or around town. The standard six-speed manual gearbox is light and slick but Volkswagen's excellent 6-speed DSG twin-clutch gearbox is well worth seeking out. It lets you select automatic mode or flick between ratios with the paddle shifters.
A thoroughly well-executed small coupe, the Volkswagen Scirocco is tailor made for buyers who find a three-door Golf a little dull. Based on the excellent Golf mk5 chassis with some of that car's best engines, the Scirocco looks and feels special while turning in a highly polished performance on the road. Practicality is down on what you'd expect in a three-door hatchback but a reasonable boot and usable rear seats put the car well ahead of most compact sportscars you care to mention.