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Volkswagon Scirocco GTi MkIII

Putting to one side an assortment of somewhat unsavoury memories surrounding his original Mk 1 Scirocco GTi, Anthony ffrench-Constant gets to grips with the new model.

It isn't just old songs by popular beat combos of a bygone era that are capable of rekindling particularly vivid memories; a house, a holiday, a bust-up, a protracted bout of highly satisfactory tonsil-hockey...

Cars have always had the same effect on me. So it's perhaps a little unfortunate that the overriding recollection which invariably surfaces in the context of the Scirocco is, in my case, that of vomit.

Don't get me wrong, I loved my MK 1 Scirocco GTi far more than the future ex-Mrs ff-C in the passenger seat. It's just I that was sharing a house with a fellow motoring writer and Scirocco owner at the time, and the place was absolutely disgusting. The carpets were so sticky that you could lean over at impossible, comedy angles without the slightest risk of falling over, dead things filled the sofa crevices to reeking capacity, everything in the fridge moved under its own steam and the kitchen sink habitually brimmed with the unwashed crockery of last month's curry... We called it, not without a certain affection, The Vomitorium.

Given a home this revolting, it's hardly surprising that we spent an inordinate amount of time in our cars, which smelled a good deal better, and were both tidier and infinitely better looking. At least, the MK 1 was. My colleague's ironing-board bland MK II was a poor effort by comparison, and I've always thought of the elegant Corrado as the true spiritual successor to Italian designer Giorgetto Giugiaro's epically pretty, 1974 efforts.

Clearly, then, a good deal of history, emotional baggage and staining of indeterminate origin accompanies my first encounter with Volkswagen's new Scirocco, even if it is some 15 years since the MK I surfaced.

Sharing the Golf's long, 2578mm wheelbase, the new Volkswagen is 40mm longer, 41mm wider and a whopping 97mm lower than its tubbier sibling. More significantly, it boasts 35mm and 59mm wider front and rear tracks respectively and weighs in at some 30 bags of sugar less than the Golf.
In terms of external couture at least, a surprising amount of the Iroc concept car on which the new Scirocco is based has survived. Mercifully, one element which hasn't is the Audi group Big Grille. The alternative, gaping lower jaw and gently lidded headlamps vaguely reminiscent of a cruising tiger shark, is far better looking despite the unfortunate, waxed moustache gloss finish to the thin upper grille.

That slippery profile is enhanced by faux pillarless glazing and a thick black rubbing strip underscoring the door, whilst the severely tapering glasshouse allied to a rear light cluster design flowing inboard over pronounced wheel arches emphasises broad, matronly hips and makes for a particularly muscular stance. In all it's an extremely good looking car which proves surprisingly colour sensitive. White, the new black, highlights the trim details nicely but loses the folds in metalwork almost completely, whereas the blue I drove has exactly the opposite effect.

Like the curry that looks and smells the part but simply fails to deliver on flavour, the interior rather lets the side down. Despite dials now backlit in white, there's no disguising the Eos convertible-sourced dashboard. All perfectly wholesome, though the semi-circular instrument binnacle hood doesn't exactly ooze sport and the soft touch pachyderm dash-top finish is too shiny, hogging the view out quite dramatically in bright sunshine. A few extra pennies spent on, say, Alcantara would have made it nicely unique, more sporting and less reflective. The steering wheel, squared off at the base, is bespoke Scirocco, and a perfect fit to boot.

The car I'm driving at the East German launch is something of a hybrid in terms of intended UK spec for the GT, but we should expect to see the seats finished in a meld of leather, Alcantara and cloth make an appearance, with standard equipment including air-conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, and a touch screen CD stereo.

The driver's seat is entirely comfortable, with snug, perfectly positioned lateral support. Allied to height adjustment and armfuls of reach and rake adjust on the steering, the ideal driving position should be there for the asking. But I like to sit low in a car, and the wheel won't rake quite far enough south for my needs. Oh, and there's no seat belt feed, so creaking upper torso gymnastics are the order of the day.
Despite that low roofline, rear seating is set higher, and the bench is strongly sculpted for just two people. Despite locating the tailgate hinges under blisters on the roof, headroom is still a tad restricted, and though feet and knees prove quite unhindered sitting behind myself, this sub-six footer still has his barnet remorselessly rubbed by the roof lining. The attendant headrests are too low and, despite their hollowed out design, still seriously shackle rear visibility.

The Scirocco, badged GT, will be launched in September, armed with a 2.0 TSI turbocharged petrol engine differing from that of the Golf GTi only in a slight weight reduction and an increase in block stiffness. Via a six-speed manual gearbox or, at a £1,200 premium, the group's slick DSG transmission,197bhp at 6,000rpm and 206lb ft of torque at 1,700rpm propels the £20,500 Scirocco to 62mph in a respectable 7.2 seconds, and on to 146mph.

Hardly stabbed rat territory. But the powerplant is relentlessly eager, bellowing like a freshly branded heifer under full throttle and gathering momentum with a pleasing alacrity which speaks of unofficial in-gear 30-70mph acceleration of a scant 6.0 seconds. The DSG gearbox really shines in this application, slurring changes with greased eel smoothness despite the absence of flashy throttle blippings on down changes. Select paddle shift mode and you need not bother with changing up; the system does it for you on the red line, leaving you to simply tug the relevant paddle to change down whilst leaning on an entirely user-friendly brake pedal.

In a bizarre and mildly irritating, profit oriented marketing decision, the 2.0 litre Scirocco will only be available with VW's adaptive damping system (DCC, first seen on the Passat CC as, erm, ACC) ministering to a standard, MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension set-up. The system offers Comfort, Normal and Sport settings, with complimentary adjustment to throttle mapping and the weight of electro-mechanical steering assistance. As previously discussed, I'm no fan. Differences in ride quality between the three settings are largely hard to pinpoint, whilst, in Normal guise, the system offers continuous, active adjustment to the damping anyway.

Road surfaces that have not yet received the mirror-glass treatment in the 18 years since unification do, however, highlight the new VW's remarkable poise. The Scirocco monocoque boasts the sort of rigidity more usually associated with an arachnophobe smuggling tarantulas under his trilby and, even equipped with conventional dampers the car combines a consistently supple ride with the added composure you'd expect from the increase in front and rear track width. Though gently uncommunicative, the steering's pleasantly accurate, weights up nicely, displays a complete absence of torque steer under full throttle and delivers crisp turn-in.

Overall, then, the Scirocco's on-road behaviour is entirely laudable. And bullied mercilessly round a test track the VW offers lashings of traditional, front-wheel drive entertainment. Blunder over-fast into a corner and neatly controlled body roll accompanies the onset of predictable understeer. Backing off tightens the car's line with unflustered composure, whilst the back end shows absolutely no inclination to step out whatsoever, the best you can hope for being a benign semblance of drift incorporating rather too much lock dialled in for genuine elegance. Almost a pity.

If anything, the £18,000 Scirocco equipped with VW's tasty little super- and turbocharged 1.4 litre petrol unit – which goes on sale in early 2009 – provides an even more satisfactory hoon, and something of a bargain. Though bald, 0-62mph in 8.0 seconds statistics would disagree, 158bhp at 5,900rpm via a six-speed manual transmission on the same circuit doesn't feel a whole lot slower, whilst the lighter nose promotes slightly sharper turn in, an eagerness to hold its line fractionally longer than the 2.0 litre variant and slightly better overall balance to boot. Fun.

Combining the impeccable manners of a gentleman's gentleman with a surprising reserve of sporting prowess and a respectable eye-candy quotient, the third generation Scirocco artfully recaptures the appeal of my cherished MK I, lacking only an interior worthy of that pretty bodywork. The version I'd opt for is the 2.0 litre car with conventional suspension and the DSG box which, of course, won't be available in the UK this September. But it will be at a later date. You may care to wait.

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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