Nearly thirty-four years after the debut of the original, a brand-new Volkswagen Scirocco is set to revive the slumbering compact coupe segment. The project was initiated by former brand chief Wolfgang Bernhard, who was so good at cutting costs that the Scirocco isn't significantly more expensive than the corresponding Golf/Rabbit. In fact, in Europe, the top-of-the-line Scirocco costs about the same as the two-door GTI and uses its 200-hp turbocharged engine.
Two inches wider and three inches lower than the GTI, the Scirocco has quite a bit more presence and panache - it's chunky, wedge-shaped, and rather aggressive-looking for a VW. Its horizontal grille, large lower air intake in the bumper, and slightly slanted rectangular headlamps establish a look that will spread throughout the VW lineup. The car looks best with eighteen-inch wheels, the lowered sport suspension, dark tinted windows, and the viper-green livery carried over from the 1970s original.
Theoretically, the Scirocco is a four-seater, but access to the rear buckets is compromised by the low roofline. There's scant headroom, and the tapered body further constricts space. The driver and the front-seat passenger, however, enjoy generous seat travel, plenty of lateral support, and ergonomics that make you feel at home. The bland dashboard is borrowed from the Eos, but the unique door panels and the excellent sport seats give the Scirocco cockpit a dynamic identity of its own. Unfortunately, the view out is compromised by fat A-pillars, and the view behind is obstructed by fixed head restraints and wide C-pillars.
In Europe, Scirocco fans can choose among three gasoline and two diesel engines, all turbocharged, direct-injection units. We tried the 160-hp 1.4-liter and the 200-hp 2.0-liter gasoline four-cylinders. Apart from the obvious difference in performance (factory figures of 8.0 seconds versus 7.2 seconds for 0-to-62-mph acceleration; a top speed of 136 mph versus 146 mph) and economy (about 15 percent better with the 1.4-liter), the two models also feature different chassis setups. Optional DCC (dynamic chassis control) modulates the damper and steering calibration but not the throttle response or the shift patterns of the optional DSG dual-clutch transmission. In a full-out assault over challenging back roads, there isn't much that separates a VW GTI and a 2.0-liter Scirocco, but at the end of the day, the new coupe has the advantage thanks to its wider track, lower center of gravity, and marginally lighter weight.
That said, the 1.4-liter Scirocco might be more endearing. In relaxed driving, it's quiet, refined, and composed. When pushed hard, it instantly shows its sports car genes, its considerable handling prowess, and its strong roadholding talents. The 2.0-liter Scirocco is more energetic, but it's also noisier and a bit more coarse, as exhibited by torque steer, a tendency to follow grooves in the road, and almost overeager turn-in behavior.
Unfortunately, for American enthusiasts, choosing the best Scirocco is, at least for now, an academic exercise. Volkswagen of America still could jump on the Scirocco bandwagon, but so far, that's wishful thinking.
Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of the Volkswagen Group
Why are you reluctant to bring the Scirocco to North America?
Because of the unfavorable exchange rate. We'd lose money at the proposed price of $17,000.
How about the 2.0 TSI Highline, which could command a premium price?
We're thinking about it. But the business case needs to be watertight - which it may be once American customers are prepared to pay more money for cars offering a lot of content in a compact package.
When will you make a decision on the proposed North American assembly plant, and which products would VW build there?
We are in the final decision-making phase. The first car to roll off the line would be the new mid-size sedan.
Where will the new compact sedan - the Jetta replacement - be produced? And doesn't VW of America also need an even smaller offering?
It may make sense to consider a second plant in Mexico. It may also make sense to import the Polo sedan from South America.
What are your strategies for the key green issues?
A U.S.-bound Jetta diesel that meets all nationwide emissions standards is on its way. There also will be a Jetta plug-in hybrid. The new small-vehicle family may include a hybrid commuter model or a ZEV electric vehicle.