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Driven: Volkswagen Scirocco R

Riggers takes Wolfsburg's hottest Scirocco for a blast down some British B-roads

By Riggers / Thursday, November 12, 2009

R. It's a letter that Volkswagen has been attaching to the bodywork of its sportiest offerings for some time, but up until now has only offered in conjunction with a two-digit number numbers and a hefty six-cylinder lump up front (think Golf R32 or Passat R36).

No longer. For VW's latest R offerings, the numbers have been dropped, as have two cylinders for the engines, leaving us with simply the Golf R and Scirocco R.

10mph? Not bleedin' likely... let's find a better road

10mph? Not bleedin' likely... let's find a better road

Both models use the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder EA113 motor from the old Mk5 Golf GTi rather than the latest EA888 motor from the current Golf GTi, but the Golf R gets 266bhp and four-wheel drive, while the Scirocco R must 'make do' with 261bhp and front-wheel drive. As a result the Golf R is the fastest-accelerating production VW ever, with a 0-62mph time of 5.5sec in DSG guise.

Deep front spoiler and DLRs mark out 'R' version

Deep front spoiler and DLRs mark out 'R' version

But it's the Scirocco R that we're interested in today. For now, this is the only full-production Scirocco R in the world (although more will be beginning to trundle off the production line as I write this), but despite this it feels like a fully finished, series-production car. It looks the part, too. The smoked rear light lenses, subtly chunkier front and rear bumpers, 18-inch alloys, roof spoiler, gloss-black finish on the grille, wing mirrors and bottom of the rear bumper may not exactly amount to an outrageous performance bodykit, but the overall effect gives the car undeniable presence without making it shout too loudly about its performance intent.

Inside, there is very little to tell the Scirocco R apart from the regular car, aside from a smattering of blink-and-you'll-miss-'em 'R' logos and some gloss-black trim. It's still a very pleasant place in which to spend your time though, and the optional ribbed leather seats (which remind me of Mk1 Golf GTi chairs) are particularly comfortable and supportive. I'd still want a few more bespoke bits and bobs if I was spending £4500 more than the cost of a standard 2.0 TSI GT, mind...

Twin pipes and smoked rear lights distinguish the rear

Twin pipes and smoked rear lights distinguish the rear

Despite the slight power and driven-wheel disadvantage compared with its Golf sibling, the Scirocco R doesn't feel short-changed when it comes to performance. In fact, VW's excellent XDS traction control system - which does a passable electronic impression of a mechanical limited-slip differential - makes you wonder whether there's any real worth in all that heavy all-wheel-drive gubbins.

The 0-62mph time of 5.8secs in the DSG-equipped version we tested is also more than quick enough - it trails the Golf R by a scant 0.3secs, and gives you a tenth of a second's worth of pub bragging rights against the much more powerful Ford Focus RS.

Talking of the Focus RS, that car bears interesting comparison with the Scirocco in several other ways. Especially since it's only fifty quid dearer that the £26,945 manual version of the Scirocco R (although DSG will cost you an extra £1300). It might only have 261bhp and 258lb ft to play with versus the Focus's 300bhp 324lb ft but, crucially, it spreads its peak torque between 1700rpm and 5000rpm, while the Focus gets maximum twist only between 2400rpm and 4500rpm. The result is, of course, that you can use more of the Scirocco's power, for more of the time.

Absence of four-wheel drive is no hindrance to handling

Absence of four-wheel drive is no hindrance to handling

The Scirocco R is a very different animal from the Focus RS on the road, however. As we've come to expect of 21st-century VWs - even one as performance-focused as this - driving the Scirocco R is not a raw, visceral experience in the way the He-Man Focus can be. Instead, It is refined, measured and controlled.

Don't confuse that with being dull, however, because the Scirocco R is anything but. You see, where the Focus RS, with its heavy five-cylinder lump, can occasionally feel a teensy bit ponderous when it comes to turning in to a corner or a rapid direction change, the Scirocco always feels agile and light on its toes.

Get it on a really tough B-road - the kind with long, bumpy straights, off-camber corners and poorly patched potholes - and the Scirocco R genuinely relishes the challenge. Flick the ACC adaptive dampers to 'normal' ('sport' is fine for smooth roads, but the ride gets fidgety on bumpy B-roads) and the MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension set-up keeps the body well controlled over the harshest lumps and bumps. The combination of that super-flat torque curve and the quick-shifting twin-clutch gearbox (which, just as in most VW-group applications, makes a satisfying soft popping noise out of the exhaust during fast upchanges) allows you to cover ground between corners pretty much as rapidly as you could want, while the brakes do a decent job of hauling you back from the brink when you arrive at the next corner much faster than you were expecting.

Sleek looks save you £2k on equivalent Golf

Sleek looks save you Β£2k on equivalent Golf

As with almost every car on sale today bar a Lotus Elise or Exige, the steering isn't the most feelsome of things, though it is accurate and reasonably well weighted - but every other aspect of the Scirocco's dynamic performance genuinely borders on superb.

Of course, the real trick to the Scirocco R's performance is that, once you've had your fun and arrived at a motorway, you can put the DSG into 'auto' mode, switch the adaptive damping to 'comfort' and cruise home in a car that's almost hilariously undemanding to drive. Sure, lots of cars have adaptive damping settings, but few that I can think of (and certainly no hot hatches) can play the often mutually exclusive roles of back-road terrier and relaxing commuter-mobile quite so well. That really is quite a party trick.


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