It’s been around for quite a while now, the VW Scirocco. After a 16-year hiatus, the Scirocco came storming back into the VW Range in 2008. We’re not in the habit of reviewing cars that have been on the market for four years, but – as our recent reviews of cars like the Toyota GT86, Astra VXR and Focus ST show – if you’ve about 25 grand to throw around on a new car, your choice is rich. And in previous reviews, we’ve always held up the Scirocco as a star at this level. But the point is, the game’s moved on. So, with all the new competition, can the Scirocco’s star still shine as brightly?
If you worked for another car company, you’d probably be envious of the guys working at VW. As one of the biggest car company’s in the world - VW Group owns Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Skoda, etc - it has massive economies of scale. In plain English, that means it can share under-the-skin components and expensive systems such as electric and air-con architectures, across multiple models, saving on development costs. Which allows it to play around and spend more money on the bits you can look at, feel and hear.
In the Scirocco’s case, this means that what’s basically a Golf GTi underneath gets transformed into a rather sleek, 3-door coupe-like hatchback, with a completely different body from the Golf. While the GTi has always been a favourite, it’s ultimately still just a Golf. The Scirocco feels different, a little bit special, a little more bespoke. The squat front end and thin grille and light arrangement aren’t really like other VW front ends. And there are neat little details, such as the slight bulges in the roofline which rise up to cover where the boot hinges to the roof.
Step inside and it’s a bit more of a mixed bag. The main dashboard’s out of a Golf - good quality, but it’s not going to set your pants on fire. But the unique door furniture, frankly lovely leather-covered seats and bespoke handles and switches make it feel just special and - crucially - different enough.
And while you’ll feel like you’re driving something a bit more fun than a regular 3-door hatch, part of the appeal of this car is that you can stuff two regular-sized people in the back seats and the boot’s big enough for a week’s clobber for two people, too.
As we’ve said before, VW is the king of non-annoying technology. Whereas other car manufacturers perplex with their interface layouts, confusing menus and lack of clarity, VW brings you simplicity and logic.
However, given our recent exposure to the latest system from BMW and Audi, this is an area in which the Scirocco’s star slips a little. There are three main areas of interest. High on the dash, our car came with VW’s optional RNS 510 Touchscreen navigation system. Much of what it can do is mirrored via a display in the centre of the instrument cluster – which you can control via voice and steering wheel controls. Finally, in the centre armrest there’s the auxiliary connector sockets.
You’ll be aware that we’re bigger fans of rotary controlled infotainment systems rather than touchscreens and on a bumpy ride across the Yorkshire Dales, the Scirocco’s touchscreen system once again illustrated how tricky these systems can be to program accurately on the move. But get over that, and it’s primarily good news.
Sensibly, VW’s laid out a series of hard shortcut buttons either side of the screen for everything you’ll ever need - radio, nav, map, media, phone etc. This means you can skip straight to where you want to go in the system easily. And the display and information are accurate and easy on the eye. Only the Qwerty keyboard layout for Sat Nav destination input and a slightly odd logic to accepting post codes caused real frustration. But otherwise, this is a system we wholeheartedly recommend you get option box ticking on. For £585 it seems excellent value, bringing you a 6.5 inch colour screen, navigation, an SD card reader, the ability to play MP3 and WMA files directly and perhaps best of all, incorporating a 30GB hard drive on which to story your media directly in the car.
But even if you don’t opt for it, you get the aforementioned media connector socket in the centre armrest, which comes complete with a dedicated iPod chord. Our only issue with this is that when connecting an iPhone 4 and then shutting the armrest, it was such a snug fit that the connector kept popping off the phone. Bluetooth phone connectivity and the ability to play music via it is standard too, along with a 12v socket in the front under dash area and one in the luggage bay.
It’s on the road that the Scirocco has always excelled. In the range, you can choose from a lower-power 1.4 TSi petrol, a Bluemotion diesel - which you’ll want if economy and CO2 efficiency are your top priority - or the bonkers quick R model. We, however, tested what’s probably the sweet spot of the range – the 2.0 TSi petrol – which has 210 horsepower and shares its powertrain with, you guessed it, the Golf GTi.
If you’ve driven any of the VW Group 2.0 turbo petrol engines you’ll be used to the ease with which you can make progress. But our memories don’t recall them feeling as potent as this unit in the Scirocco. If it’s your thing, 0-60 comes up in a little over 6 seconds. But it’s not in a drag-race where you’ll really notice the Scirocco’s ability to move – it’s when you’re rolling along in second or third and need a burst of power to overtake someone. Then it really goes. And unlike many turbo units, it pulls all the way round to about 6500 rpm without feeling like it’s running out of breath.
It’s got a fruity exhaust note too, although this happily settles down on a motorway cruise. Overall however, it’s still a little noisier car to travel in out on the road than its cousin the Audi TT.
It rides and handles really well too. One of the reasons you might choose a Scirocco over a Golf GTi is that adaptive chassis control is standard on this car, whereas it costs extra on the Golf. It gives you the usual option of a lovely compliant ride in comfort, or firming it up and having much better control of the body roll in sport. We left it in comfort most of the time, but over that moorland road, in sport it felt very hunkered down without getting crashy and uncomfortable.
For the performance on offer, CO2 emissions of 172 g/km aren’t bad and while we got only 30mpg during our test, we’d expect that to go up as this car has less than a 1000 miles on the clock, and we only spent 10 miles on the motorway. Our only advice is to try the DSG auto option. Our test car’s manual gearbox is fine, but the DSG suits this engine.
It’s easy to see why there are so many Scirocco’s out there on the road. It’s a testament to what a good car it is that, despite lots of new opposition, it’s still not just easy to recommend but very covetable too.
Whether it’s the one for you, only a test drive will tell. It doesn’t feel as rabidly fast as an Astra VXR, isn’t quite as sharp a steer as a Focus ST and won’t go round roundabouts sideways like a Toyota GT86.
But it’s the kind of car that allows you to take three mates from work out for lunch in your car. The kind of car you’d not be embarrassed to rock up at country estate in and the kind of car your mother-in-law isn’t going to pull faces at you for making her ride in the back of.
It’s a great, practical all-rounder, but the trick up its sleeve is that, when the road’s right and you’re on your own, it’s still a great drive. All this together with a technology package that’s unlikely to get on your nerves like some of the opposition’s will.
It lacks that last degree of true wow and excitement factor, which is why it misses out on the final half a star, but it’s still a very strong contender. And if you’re thinking of ordering one, right now VW’s offering a £1000 deposit contribution and low-rate finance deals, which might just sway your decision the Scirocco’s way. Just make sure you test drive the opposition before plumping for what is, quite rightly, the default choice in this class.