2016 Volkswagen Scirocco R Review

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While petrolheads can sleep easy in the comfort that they’ll awake to new dawn with yet another go-fast Golf available in Volkswagen showrooms, the same certainly can’t be made for its more flamboyant small-sized stablemate, the Scirocco R. No, there’s no imminent plan (that we know of) for the stylised three-door to fall off Dodo Cliff, but a cursory glance at Scirocco R’s patchy relationship with the Aussie market suggests that, if keen, a buyer should get in while the going is, well, still going.

Australia missed out on a quarter century and two generations of Scirocco, and it took three years after its 2008 debut in Europe for the current third-gen version to finally say “G’day”. Three years into its Aussie patronisation, it looked sketchy as to whether the then-updated 2014 version would get a green and gold gurnsey. But it did, arriving in late 2014 sat neatly in price between the ‘regular’ Golf GTI and Golf R, surgically positioned on power, performance and specification to split the five-doors as the left-field Mister Alternative. That said, the MY15 Scirocco R loaded in a host of updates and, starting at $45,990 before on-roads for the manual version, was $2000 more affordable than its forebear, earning it a decent eight out of 10 in review.

There’s been yet another update since the Scirocco R last passed through the CarAdvice garage, though a fairly minor update at that: a lift to Discover Media-spec for the infotainment system, the introduction of App-Connect smartphone connectivity (Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Mirrorlink compatibility), and standard-fit reverse-view camera. And with no lift in price.

So, is the gracefully ageing-if-seven-year-old sports hatch its ripest for picking? And is now the prime time for the procrastinating performance buyer to grab one… when Volkswagen Australia has been in the mood of late to axe other outlying models such as Up, Eos and (new-new) The Beetle?

Testament to how far designers hit Scirocco out of the ballpark is just how contemporary its styling still remains. There’s enough drama in its shape, proportions and lines that it makes the logical Golf alternatives seem dull – which is entirely the point – and it takes vivid imagination to visualise where designers could possibly take the ‘Scirocco look’ to in its next and fourth generation that shouldn’t be too far off on the horizon.

Often overlooked (usually in context of relative performance to go-fast Golfs) is that, outside of perhaps Mazda MX-5 and the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ twins, it’s tough to get into such a dynamic looking two- or three-door sport-infused car for its mid-forties price tag. Nissan’s 370Z? Ten grand more. Audi’s TT? It starts from $73K. Alfa Romeo’s 4C or BMW’s M2 are both nudging twice the Scirocco R’s price tag, and Porsche’s Cayman then some. Almost anything else you can name is, styling wise, a mundane car festooned with wings, vents and stickers.

The Scirocco R’s well-weathered appearance masks its age well, though its age is becoming increasingly conspicuous with the march of time. In reviews past, its last-generation-Golf-derived powertrain and underpinnings felt a little ‘transitional’ compared with what was, at the time, a shiny and new Mk7 Golf. But now that Volkswagen’s current five-door hatchback crop is nearly (globally) four years old, and extremely familiar, the Scirocco R’s ‘maturity’ is more apparent than ever in the driving experience.

That’s not necessarily bad news. The Scirocco R has a sort of blunt, mechanically connected feel that Volkswagen seems to have engineered out of its latest MQB platform-based small-car crop in the quest for a holistically more rounded and refined experience. There’s a little less isolation between the driver’s hips and hands and what’s going on between the tyres and the Tarmac. It’s particularly evident in the quality of the steering, which is clear and progressive, offering the driver a high degree of accuracy in corners.

But neither is it all good news. The Scirocco R’s body movements are tied a little too assertively to the road surface when it comes to suspension damping. It’s a three-mode, supposedly adaptive system that switches between Comfort, Normal and Sport tuning, though in effect this correlates to states of ride best described as Firm, Harsh and Spine-Fusing. The absence of compliance which can be heard as much as felt, doesn’t improve with the weight of four adults on board, and second-row comfort, in particular, is pretty average for longer trips across Sydney’s third-world urban road surfaces. That said, ride is comparable and no worse than Audi’s TT or BMW’s M2.

So even at a cruise, the Scirocco lays on bona-fide sporting vibe. And, no, it doesn’t quite feel like a Golf GTI in drag. While derived from the same toy box as Mk6 Golf GTI, the wider tracked, more prodigiously rubbered, uniquely tuned Scirocco chassis channels driver input into cornering accuracy more assertively than its old five-door kin and perhaps more so than the latest Golf R stock (though the jury is out on this one). Such is its ability to sit flat and dig in to the hotmix through corners.

As a dynamic package, it really plies its prodigious cornering abilities through fantastic front end accuracy. With its taut suspension and flat stance, the amount of grip channeled through those 235mm Continental tyres is remarkable, at least on smooth surfaces. Without much compliance on hand, mid-corner bump can shift the Scirocco R’s nose off line, and given that on-rails capability the tyres usually unhinge suddenly and alarmingly.

It is, though, a very composed device pedalled hard from one apex to another. While the good, old sense of mechanical connection and communication heightens its driver friendliess, there’s a gamut of active trickery fitted to the front axle – Electronic Diff Lock, Extended Electronic Diff Lock, Anti-Slip Regulation – in play to conspire corner exit drive without unnecessary histrionics, and the tail end is benign enough not to give inexperienced drivers a scare should they need to lift off the throttle or jump on the brakes during inopportune moments.

It’s properly quick yet thoroughly driver friendly. And its great party trick is that you can stick it into a corner really hard – perhaps harder than a Golf R – and it doesn’t demand mitigating understeer. Add robust power delivery and the Scirocco can cover twisty back roads at an amazing clip.

The Aussie Scirocco R remains at a ‘hot climate’ tune of 188kW/330Nm rather than the more liberated 206kW/350Nm available in Europe, and it’s doubtful its old-gen EA113 turbocharged 2.0-litre four will match the heights of Golf GTI 40 Years (195kW/380Nm) or Golf R (206kW/380Nm) that use the newer-gen ‘EA888’ engine. And perhaps for reasons of ‘positioning’ as it is due to technical limitations.

Still, the Scirocco R doesn’t feel to lack for energy, much of it the sensation of the strong, mid-range torque hump of the older engine that threatens to explode into wheelspin during full-throttle acceleration, a characteristic tuned out of the current engine with its much flatter delivery across the rev range.

Our six-speed dual-clutch equipped test car ($48,490 plus on-roads) has no switchable drive modes, per se, but doesn’t really want for such functionality. Instead, and given the chassis’ permanent sporting state, the powertrain can be pushed to Sport mode from its default Drive using the console shifter, though ‘S’ gets its own notched position and it lacks the nifty ‘tap back’ function of fast Golfs allowing to quickly toggle between Sport and Normal modes.

Volkswagen claims 6.0 seconds for the 0-100km/h sprint for the DSG version (6.2sec for the conventional six-speed manual) and, in S powertrain mode and with just 1381kg to push, it feels every bit as quick. But S holds onto ratios too aggressively for around town driving, and if there’s a shortcoming it’s that, in regular D mode, there’s a pause in the kickdown after you put the boot in, and once the engine comes on boil it piles on a little too much torque. In short, it’s a little tricky to drive a brisk clip through traffic around the urban jungle.

Most annoying, though, is the boomy drone of the exhaust note during normal driving, as the DSG climbs for top gear in the quest for maximum fuel economy while hovering engine rpm around the 1500rpm mark. Between the droning and fidgety ride, it’s not the most pleasant commuter. At least, that is, for city driving. If the trip to work is via the Snowy Mountains, the Great Ocean Road or the Old Pacific Highway north of Sydney, the Scirocco R becomes a much more desirable prospect.

It’s not an uncomfortable cabin space to spend time in, at least in the first row. The front seats are superbly contoured, balancing support ideal for either long haul or spirited driving, or both at the same time. From seat positioning to the placement of the controls, it’s really driver focused and friendly. Visibility is pretty decent, though the A pillars are quite thick and tough to see past, and vision through the rear-view mirrors is quite limited. Thankfully, the Scirocco R now gets a reverse-view camera as well as adaptive guided front and rear parking sensors.

The 6.5-inch touchscreen-controlled Discover Media infotainment system is beaut, offering proprietary CD/radio/SD music and sat-nav functionality while giving you the option to let your smartphone do the heavy lifting via App Connect (Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Mirrorlink) or using Bluetooth. And there are plenty of rival carmakers who can learn a trick or three on clarity form the driver’s instrumentation and binnacle screen, which are among the easiest to read in the biz.

Functionality takes a, erm, back seat to form when it comes to the second row. It requires deft flexibility to climb into or out of the rear seats, a difficulty compounded by those impossibly long doors that only allow shallow opening in most perpendicular parking spaces. The ‘plus two’ rear seats are set quite inboard, limiting shoulder room, and they don’t line up with the concave seat backs up front, which limits knee room. Headroom is merely adequate and there are no creature comforts in back – no air vents, no USB points, the windows don’t open to allow fresh air into the rear of cabin… You do get ISOFIX and conventional child seat tether points, though loading toddlers in and out might prove a back-breaking exercise.

Cabin materials, too, are adequate rather than upmarket. The plastics, mostly in lower areas out of the direct line of sight, are hard and shiny. And the fabric on the centres of the seats is, as one colleague describes it, “scratchy”. Leather appointed (though not wholly leather trimmed) and heated seats with electric lumbar adjustment are available, but they’ll cost you an extra $2850.

At 312 litres, the boot space is hardly massive but its dimensions are quite useable. It does expand to a little over a 1000 litres once the 50:50 split-fold rear seats are stowed, though the load through aperture isn’t huge and you’ll struggle to fit bulky objects that most regular hatchbacks might otherwise easily swallow.

Ownership? The Scirocco R is covered by Volkswagen’s three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with a matching roadside assistance program. The car is covered by a capped-price servicing schedule with 12-month/15,000km intervals for a total of 72 months/90,000km ($3732 total cost without maintenance items, $4314 including periodic pollen filter and brake fluid maintenance). Volkswagen claims combined fuel consumption of 8.0L per 100kms, though we dove well into double figures during our mostly urban testing.

Has our opinions of Scirocco R changed given its added age and its extra infotainment fruit? Not really. If anything, some of its more ageing elements – the engine character and chassis – are those that reinforce its charm, and certainly don’t outdate the three-door in any meaningful way.

Importantly, it’s still the valid counterpoint, rather than substitute, to go-fast Golfs. It mightn’t have the same level of refinement, or necessarily the same outright pace in the case of the Golf R, but if the Scirocco R appeals primarily because it’s not a Golf, that’s  as good as a reason as any to give it a closer look.