VW Scirocco rich with flavour, history

“There is a lovely road which runs from Ixopo into the hills,” wrote Alan Paton in Cry the Beloved Country. Volkswagen South Africa took the man at his word and launched their very sporty Scirocco there. Gavin Foster went along to enjoy the experience.

It wasn’t Paton’s bumpy old road to Carrisbrooke that we took, of course, but the section of the gorgeous R56 that cuts through the Umkomaas valley from Ixopo to Richmond. The 40km stretch, recognised by motorcyclists as one of the finest in the country for fast, flowing riding, is wide, smooth, well maintained and full of gorgeous sweeping bends—just the business for a car that promises to provide as much fun as a motorcycle when driven hard over a great mountain pass.

The new VW Scirocco comes with a history of its own, because its roots go back to Volkswagen’s first 2+2 coupe, the Karmann Ghia, unveiled at the 1948 Paris Auto Show five years after Cry the Beloved Country hit the shelves. Just as the Ghia was based upon the VW Beetle platform, the first and second generation Sciroccos that replaced it leaned heavily on the relevant Golf GTI models when launched in 1974 and ‘82 respectively. This third Golf derived incarnation, with its all-new 147 kW two-litre turbocharged petrol engine, is claimed to reach 100km/h in a fraction over seven seconds and top out at 235km/h, which also makes it the liveliest of the lot, as well as a fair bit quicker than the current Golf V GTI. But straight-line performance isn’t what this car’s about. Volkswagen claims that the Scirocco was designed as an unashamed 21st century sports car, which means that it has to get around corners very quickly and very safely, even in the hands of a mediocre driver.

I’m not normally inclined to give much of an opinion on any new car’s styling, because every reader has his or her own ideas about what looks good and what doesn’t—if that weren’t the case, many of us would never get married. Looking at the Scirocco I’ll just say that the real thing looks even better than the photographs, and if I were in the market I’d take it before a Golf GTI. There are a couple of issues in terms of practicality, though—as with most other two-door cars you have to lean waaaaaay back and dislocate your spine to get at the seatbelt before driving off, there’s not too much room in the back seats, and it’s very easy to bang your head on the low roof when climbing in and out. The two bucket seats in the back also mean it’s difficult to squeeze in a third passenger but, quite frankly, I don’t care. You’re supposed to sort those issues out in your mind before you decide to buy a sports car. The instrumentation is classy, if a trifle understated, and the heated leather seats supportive.

The Scirocco 2.0 TSI DSG (the only model available at the moment) comes with most of the bells and whistles you need and expect, as well as a couple of additional driving aids over and above the usual traction control and ABS brakes. These include an electronic differential lock, hill-hold assist, and, for just over R10 000 more, active suspension that can be switched between comfort, normal, and sport modes—read “hard,” “harder” and “hardest”. In addition, the system uses body and wheel sensors to adjust damping in real time, taking into account accelerator, brake and steering inputs, helping you gallop through the twisties while looking like a much better driver than you actually are. It’s all thoroughly unobtrusive, but it works. I pedalled the Scirocco through the Umkomaas Valley much more aggressively than I’d normally dream of doing, and it didn’t put a foot wrong. The fat torque band of 280Nm from 1 700 to 5 000 rpm allowed the car to catapult out of one corner into the next without too many gearchanges, and the Sirocco stuck to road as if it was glued there. There was some torque steer, but not enough deter me, and the brakes were outstanding.

 

The six-speed DSG gearbox is a real honey, although I’d prefer it not to take control when it feels I’m doing something daft. If the driver can be trusted to use a manual gearbox without blowing the motor, why don’t the designers give him full manual override in a self-shifter with steering wheel paddles? The factory claims quicker acceleration to 100km/h (7,1 vs 7,2 seconds) from the auto than the six speed manual version that’ll be arriving here in the third quarter of this year, although top speed at 233km/h is 2km/h slower. Pricing is R336 500 for the DSG auto, and R322 000 for the manual.

There’ll also be a third version of the Sirocco coming our way later on in 2009. The 1,4 TSI manual comes with a 118 kW engine that delivers a hefty 240Nm of torque from just 1 500rpm right through to 4 500, thanks to a high-tech combination of both supercharging and turbocharging. The belt-driven Roots supercharger force-feeds the engine loads of oxygen at low revs, while the turbo, driven by exhaust waste gases, takes over as the engine spins faster. According to the factory, the 1,4 litre engine drives the Scirocco to a top speed of 218km/h, with the 100km/h yardstick coming up just eight seconds after launch. This version is provisionally priced at R282 000 (manual only).

I came away from the launch enormously impressed with the new VW. It looks quick and feels even quicker, it handles superbly and it’s fun to drive. The pricing is a little on the steep side, but for those who appreciate a car that’s almost as rewarding as a motorcycle to drive fast on a long and winding road it’s likely to appeal enormously. The VW Scirocco comes with a five year/90 000km service plan and a 3 year 120 000km warranty. Should the body rust through before 2021 and VW doesn’t repair it you can sue ‘em, because that’s the corrosion warranty they offer—12 years.

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