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VW Scirocco R review: First drive

The Good

  • Still a beauty
  • More than ample pace
  • Predictable handling

The Bad

  • Bit outdated next to its rivals
  • Pricey, too
3.5

Ben Griffin reviews the crazy-fast new Volkswagen Scirocco R. Will the 267bhp ‘R’ version blow us away, or is it just a load of hot air?

The Scirocco, Volkswagen’s slightly niche coupe-cum-hatchback, has been wowing boy racers and confusing the rest of us since 1974. The sporty R edition, which first appeared some seven years ago, is now in its second incarnation and promises a healthy chunk more power and a few aesthetic changes. Prices start from £34,080.

Design

Love or hate the look of the Scirocco, there’s no denying it stands out like a sore thumb. The third generation model (on which this second-generation R version is based) gets new bi-xenon headlights, LED tail lights, daytime running lights and revised bumpers with aerodynamic ‘blades’ in the outer section, as on the latest-generation Golf GTI. In all, the car looks a bit fresher – like seeing a friend who’s had a haircut. 

The interior has undergone a spring clean, too. It’s nice enough, with Golf-esque build quality, fit and finish, but it’s not particularly sporty. Aside from some temperature and boost guagues atop the dashboard, there’s little to identify this as a performance brute. 

Practicality

In reality a Golf is more practical than the Scirocco. The sleek roof line sits low and, therefore, rear headroom is a problem for those taller than 6ft, while rear legroom is limited if you have two especially tall (or inconsiderate) front occupants. The two rear seats – there’s no middle one – let the Scirocco ferry up to four occupants in total.

“The car looks a bit fresher – like seeing a friend who’s had a haircut.”Boot space is a respectable 312 litres, 28 litres fewer than the Golf R. Neither can match the BMW M135i’s 360 litres. Seats can fold completely flat in the Scirocco R, adding to the practicality, but even then the 1,006-litre capacity is behind its rivals.

Inside, the cabin has various cubby holes so though it’s less able to cope with family life, the Scirocco R is still far from restrictive.

Performance & handling

This is the important bit because, let’s face it, you are buying the R model for its pace. A turbocharged 2.0 TSI provides 276bhp, giving a 0 to 62mph time of 5.5 seconds – 0.6 seconds slower than a 296bhp Golf R. 0 to 100mph takes less than 14 seconds. 

Slamming the accelerator into the floor never kicks you in the back, but it’s all too happy to help you lose your license should you get carried away. The engine noise, meanwhile, is less emotive than some of its competitors but it’s still obnoxiously loud when you want it to be. 

On the flip side, the engine is very rev-happy, so while peak torque happens between 2,500 and 5,000rpm, maximum power is achieved at 6,000rpm, making it rewarding for those willing to wring its neck.

Despite the front-wheel drive nature, the Scirocco R manages to put the power to the tarmac in the dry with impressive conviction. A Golf R and its all-wheel drive will always be faster, but the Scirocco R never feels like it’s tripping over itself during aggressive acceleration.

“Slamming the accelerator into the floor never kicks you in the back, but it’s all too happy to help you lose your license…”Our test car was equipped with the six-speed DSG, which is nice and lazy in the normal mode and much more aggressive in sport. We imagine the six-speed manual would be more involving, as is usually the case, but the DSG is extremely quick to change.

If there’s one thing the Scirocco R and Golf R suffer from, it’s a lack of fanfare. Sure, both are extremely rapid but both inherit the dependable Golf vibe and that means rarely do you feel afraid.

The grip is great so you can mess up a corner without killing yourself, while the brakes are potent enough to counteract all but the most stupid moments of eagerness. 

In slower situations, the Scirocco R is relatively quiet and easy to drive, with only the exhaust pop and turbo spooling up hinting this is no ordinary hatchback. It helps the cabin is very quiet, even at speed. 

Economy & environment

The Scirocco R can return 35.8mpg, according to VW, which for the performance is hardly to be sniffed at. We certainly saw mid-twenties without having to drive too slowly, no doubt thanks to Stop/Start and energy regeneration, the latter of which uses braking power to recharge the battery and alternator instead of relying on the engine to do so. 

CO2 emissions come in at 185g/km, which means a Golf R is cheaper to tax. A year in the Scirocco R is £225, compared with £180 in the Golf R. The latter is also better on fuel, coming in at 40.9mpg. An Audi S3 also narrowly comes in over the 40mpg-mark. 

What’s holding the Scirocco R back? It uses a tuned version of the 2.0-litre turbo found in the mk 5 Golf GTI from 2005, unlike the Golf R and its reworked engine borrowed from the current GTI.

Equipment & value

£30,000 for a hatchback seems like overkill, but the Scirocco R is at least well equipped. The infotainment system with sat nav is standard, as are front sport seats, two-zone climate control, bi-xenon headlights, LED tail lights, black ‘R’ brake calipers and Vienna leather for the interior. 

“But as pretty as it is, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the competition is just that bit better.”Just three extras were fitted to our test car, including a £955 Oryx paintjob. It also had VW’s RNS 510 touchscreen infotaimnent system with DVD navigation, 6.5-inch touchscreen and a SD card reader costing £1,125, and tinted glass costing £65, taking the total to £36,226.

A Golf R starts from £32,000, while the extremely potent but slightly boring Audi S3 starts from £30,980. A Peugeot RCZ R, which is another head-turner, better on fuel and cheaper to tax, starts from £32,250.

Safety

The Scirocco scored a five-star Euro NCAP rating, which means the R variant is almost certainly as safe. If anything, the extra bodykit might provide a touch more padding in the event of a crash. 

With that said, this is a fast car so you can easily push your luck and end up in a hedge, even with ABS, Hydraulic Brake Assist (HBS), Electronic Differential Lock (EDL) and Electronic Stabilisation Programme (ESP) doing their best to prevent that.

Conclusion

The Scirocco R offers a generous dose of performance hoonery in a refined package you’ll be proud to show off. Really, it does very little wrong. The problem is the competition is now doing more right.

In pre-Golf R times, the Scirocco was viable for anyone craving a runaround that was more sporty and less common than a Golf GTI, without being as loud as the ASBO-encouraging R32. But these are post Golf R times. Side by side with its stablemate, the Scirocco R is worse on fuel, less spacious, less practical, more expensive to tax, slower and more pricey.

Competition outside of VW only knocks the nails in deeper in the Scirocco’s coffin. A BMW M135i is better in all but the fuel economy department (although it is a bit bland to look at), and it’s more dynamic thanks to rear-wheel drive, while the Peugeot RCZ R is delightfully playful and arguably just as pretty, not to mention cheaper.

The Scirocco still has a place in hot-hatch land. If you desperately want to be noticed and definitely don’t want a Golf, then it’s worthy of consideration – especially in the eye-wateringly loud Viper Green finish.

But as pretty as it is, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the competition is just that bit better.

Specification

Engine2.0-litre TSI petrol
Power276bhp
Torque280ft/lb
Acceleration0 to 62mph in 5.5 seconds
Emissions185g/km of CO2
Economy35.8mpg
PriceFrom £34,080

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