Driven – 2012 Volkswagen Scirocco R

Volkswagen Scirocco’s have always been very pretty cars. Based on the Golf chassis, in its three generations since 1974 the Scirocco has always taken the sportiest mechanical components from the Golf lineup and repackaged them in an attractive three door body. Except this time for the Scirocco R, Volkswagen has taken it one step further. The 2.0-litre turbo is the same as you’ll find in the much more expensive Audi S3, and the car we drove was fitted with Volkswagens excellent DSG semi automatic dual clutch transmission. With 261hp being delivered through the front wheels you’d expect it would be an entertaining drive, so a trip into the Adelaide Hills was the only true way to answer this question. Although Scirocco’s have only just landed in Australia and this car is one of the very first in Adelaide, it’s actually not a new design. Volkswagen first teased the world with its IROC concept car back in 2006. The IROC (which was actually badged scIROCco) featured a slightly different grille and the trademark oversized concept car wheels, but it was essentially the production version in thin disguise. Not a lot else was said until early 2008 when Volkswagen entered the Nurburgring 24hr with a pair of unreleased but production ready Scirocco GT24’s driven by, amongst others, Hans Stuck and Carlos Sainz. The Scirocco officially went on sale in 2008 in Europe, and despite a few grey imports we are only just getting the Scirocco R now, some 4 years later. But it’s worth the wait. I think it looks stunning, and it really stands out in traffic as it’s piercing headlights, rounded quarters and tiny greenhouse cut through the urban noise. I think its made the transition from concept car to production car well, as it still feels like you’re driving around in something a little bit special. Lack of visibility is the price you pay for that to some extent – you sit low, and the tiny rear window and thick C pillars do obstruct your view through the rear vision mirror. But that’s alright – if you don’t like it, be like everyone else and buy a Golf. So if you’re sitting parked at the bottom of Montacute Road with the keys to a new Scirocco R in your hand, you shouldn’t really be talking about lack of rearward visibility – there are a lot of other things you could be doing. Sitting behind the wheel for the first time, I looked out the windscreen to see the twisty ribbon of tarmac unfolding in front of me. I was a little concerned that I hadn’t even driven this thing around the streets yet, but I needn’t have worried. As soon as I started driving everything just clicked, and it only took about three corners to discover the rhythm of the Scirocco. Within a kilometre it felt like a well used glove as the Scirocco and I bonded like old mates who hadn’t seen each other in a little while. It felt strangely familiar, which is odd because I’d never driven a car like this, like that, before. For driving at a pace consistent with speed limits, the Scirocco is definitely a point and squirt type of car. I found it tricky to carry much of a rhythm, like you would in an MX5, because the speeds otherwise would just be too high. As you come into a corner you give a couple of quick flicks to the left hand paddle to change down a few gears, turn in, feather the throttle and then flatten it on exit. The traction controls fights the wheelspin caused by the broad range of torque from about 2-5500rpm, but it doesn’t feel like it really wants to rev a lot more than this. But there’s no real reason too – to some extent the turbo feels as if it begins to run out of useable boost at these higher rpm’s, so you might as well grab the next gear and send the engine back down to the lower rpm’s where it’s producing the most power, anyway. It’s an addictive set of actions, and on a road like Montacute you really feel like you’re driving an S2000 rally car in Europe somewhere. The DSG works brilliantly for these types of roads where you’re constantly swapping between second, third and fourth. Volkswagen’s DSG really is the cutting edge of modern gearbox technology, and it actually predicts what gear you’ll need next and preselects it for you. This means lightening fast upshifts that sound almost erotic. Unless you’ve heard a DSG under hard acceleration (especially from outside), it’s hard to explain what it sounds like. When combined with the muted tones of the turbo it’s quite an unnatural, almost scary sound but yet strangely addictive. It almost sounds like antilag would if you could silence it down to acceptable levels. The DSG also blips the throttle nicely on downshifts, too. A hidden feature, one that I’m sure most owners wouldn’t even know about, is the Scirocco’s launch control. It is activated by slipping the shift lever into sport mode, and then holding the traction control button down until it turns off. When the little red light on the dash is on you hold the car on the brakes, and when you apply full throttle the Scirocco holds the revs at 3500rpm. It’s then just a matter of releasing the brakes and changing up into second when the needle hits the red. For such a small car the acceleration is very rapid – it will do 0-100 in just under 6 seconds, which isn’t messing about. But as far as I’m concerned the Scirocco R’s one major fault is probably also its one major strength for most people. For me, it’s just too easy and too competent. You can just jump in and drive it fast, no questions asked. It’s the kind of car that only takes a couple of corners to master, and from then on it’s really just about exciting yourself with how fast you can go. That’s still a whole lot of fun, but it’s the kind of fun that’s likely to end up in a whole lot of trouble, be it with the police or when you put someone else’s $47,490 Scirocco upside down into that famous creek on Montacute like Weeks and Tony Quinn did to their Porsche and R35 GTR. Its limits are very high, but I get the feeling that you’d discover them all in an instant and you’d find you have greatly overdrawn your talent account right at that moment when you need it the most. Like most new cars these days, the fun in the Scirocco is what you can do with it – the actual process of driving doesn’t rate that highly. But it would make the perfect daily driver – for the most part you could enjoy it’s elegant good looks around town, safe in the knowledge that it does have the capability for those times when you find yourself on a deserted hills road. For comparison purposes, after my Scirocco drive I went and re-drove all the same roads in my NA6 MX5 just an hour or so later. The MX5 was quite a bit slower, that’s a given, but it was actually a lot more fun. Proper sports cars should flow, should not be easy to master but should give an incredible satisfaction when you do get it right. The Scirocco gives me the impression that, should she feel the need, my mother could get in it and drive it quickly. It doesn’t give me that same sense of satisfaction and reward for perfect driving, and for that reason I don’t quite feel I’m getting the full experience.

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