By on September 4, 2013

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Two years ago, this bottom-of-the-podium position in the Intramurals was occupied by the Golf R. I slated the car for being both too slow to run with the Japanese rally-reps and too porky to match the FWD turbo Volkswagens on a back road.

The Scirocco R addresses both of these concerns: it’s FWD, light, and as we’ll discuss below, brutally quick. Compared to the Golf R… well, it barely compares. It’s Stilton to the Golf’s Velveeta. And yet it’s in third place, just like its Haldex-twisting cousin. What gives?

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In the previous Intramurals, a few people asked for hard performance numbers. Frankly, I don’t believe in the validity of a one-off G-meter or GPS run on a variable street surface, particularly not in FWD cars. Luckily for me, the nice people at Car and Driver had the car before I did and they say that

First, an apology to current Golf R owners: The Scirocco R solidly wipes the floor with your sophisticated Euro hatch. It hits 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, on its way to a 13.7-second quarter-mile sprint completed at 104 mph—0.7 second and 0.6 second quicker (and 5 mph faster) than the last Golf R we tested. Top speed is an equally impressive 157 mph, and thanks to its sticky summer tires, the Scirocco clung to our skidpad at 0.94 g. The Golf R, by comparison, tops out at 127 mph and was limited by its all-season tires to 0.86 g on the skidpad.

The review goes on to talk about how awesome Sciroccos have always been, perhaps forgetting that both generations of Scirocco were thoroughly and completely trashed by C/D when they debuted. The second-gen 8-valve car in particular was the subject of an extended diss track. Back in the day, the magazine always preferred the Rabbit or Golf. However, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of something or another.

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The numbers recorded by C/D are more or less exactly what you’d expect from a Porsche 993 or 986S. I have both of the aforementioned automobiles in my garage and have plenty of back-road time in both. In this case, numbers don’t tell the story. The Porsches make most of their power at the valvetrain-chewing end of the rev range and both of them require alert work to keep the revs up coming out of each turn. By contrast, the Scirocco is totally idiot-proof. The DSG snaps, crackles, and pops its way through instant shifts up and down, each one punctuated by some deliberately-generated touring-car exhaust noises. The 261-horsepower engine that feels overmatched in the long-geared manual-transmission Golf R is continually on the boil here, pulling the little coupe up hills with ferocity and somehow generating almost no torque steer whatsoever.

Grip, as you’d expect, is massive, and it’s properly served by a suspension that is not bump-sensitive yet keeps body roll firmly in check. The R feels like a single, well-engineered unit. Our drive route at the VW event was restricted to a very short loop but by requesting the car while the journosaurs were all at the sumptuous lunch, I was able to take it through a series of 15mph-marked deep hairpin bowls. Oh, how my tummy growled as I lift-throttled the little blue hatch again and again to generate the most benign and amusing tail motion possible, and how I dreamed of a nice sandwich as I floored the throttle on the way out and the engine snapped to attention, pulled the Scirocco straight, and brapppped its way into fourth gear before the next corner.

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My audio notes from the drive are rather breathlessly positive and I’d be embarrassed to give you the transcript. At some point, the phrase “Woo Hah! I got you all in check!” might have appeared. This is the fastest stock Volkswagen to ever touch these shores, even if it’s only for demonstration purposes. If you thought the Corrado VR6 was totes brill, this will be mos def your favorite car of all time. A NASA HPDE 1 student could rip the panties off a back road with it. Even the brakes are good enough, which is fair since I recognize the monster sliders from my V8 Phaetons. It’s more or less faultless and unlike the Golf R I’d say it would have a fighting chance at keeping an Evo X or last-gen STi in sight in a fast-road contest. On-track, surely the front wheels would eventually give up the battle, but make no mistake: this ain’t no Focus ST, cooking and roasting the rubber before succumbing to heat soak and the physics of considerable heft.

In a world without the Renault Megane RS265, which I reviewed for Road&Track here, this is the undisputed king of hot hatches, sitting on its throne of melted Mazdaspeed3 crankshafts in perfect serenity. In this world, the Megane still smokes it in every single way, from the powertrain (stronger and more exciting to drive) to the chassis (at least halfway towards a proper FWD club racer). The Megane’s more handsome inside and out as well.

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Since we can’t have either of the cars in the United States, it’s kind of sadly irrelevant which is better. But if you care, it’s the Megane, and here’s the primary reason: Unlike the Megane, and unlike the Porsches, the squat VW hatch is just a bit too point-and-shoot. It’s too easy to get 95% out of the car and the remaining 5% isn’t all that useful. It’s very, very quick but it’s also a bit sterile. That’s the kind of phrase that always infuriates me when I see it in EVO so I’ll try to explain further. Your first run up a road in the Scirocco will be almost as fast as the tenth. Just stomp the throttle and let the DSG work. Then stomp the brakes into ABS. Then turn into you hear it squeal. That’s the most efficient way to do it and it’s the fastest and it’s also the only way the Scirocco will really permit. If you try to trail-brake too much the DSG and electronic throttle will stop playing. If you attempt to adjust with the throttle in mid-turn you’ll just slow the exit. It’s fast, but it never feels furious.

If you want fury, you can just consider the price. C/D says it’s cheaper than the Golf R in Europe. If that translated to a $34K sticker here in the United States, it would render the Golf R completely irrelevant. Still: that’s Mustang GT money. The Scirocco isn’t a match for the 5.0 on paper or asphalt. Where the Scirocco’s driver is DSGing and FWD-stabilizing his way up the road in rapid but bland fashion, the Mustang is rip-snorting along sideways.

Ah, but this is the Intramurals and we’re supposed to be limiting the comparison to the Wolfsburg badge. Okay. In 2011, the Golf R didn’t deliver the joyful exuberance of the GLI and GTI but it cost a fair bit more. The Scirocco R is better, but in 2013 it finds itself in the same position as the cyclist who trained all winter but found in April that the guys who beat him last year have been training as well. Great car, just not as great as the stuff ahead of it. As a novelty piece, as a trophy for a lifelong VW loyalist, the R is unbeatable. As a real-world, pay-your-own-money proposition, it’s third.

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41 Comments on “2013 Volkswagen Intramural League, Third Place: Scirocco R...”

  • avatar

    Ahh yes, Good old VW, as usual showing off their Euro wares that never get to the USA. Not sure what their point is, but their flouting superior Euro products doesn’t entice this viewer to consider their USA products. VW might learn something from Audi which, by actually sending some Euro-class product to the USA and improving customer service, is increasing sales.

  • avatar

    I want to love the Rs, but the GTI styling is so much better. Maybe I just hate the blue?

  • avatar

    I really wish we would open up our markets more. I’d love to have a Scirocco, Megane or even better a Citroen DS3 or DS5. Danm those stupid, antiquated Federal Motor Vehicle Codes!

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not about government regulations per se, it’s about a lack of regulatory reciprocity between markets that are otherwise largely compatible. Ford is lobbying for harmonizing of standards:

      Except in the case of the French hot hatches you listed — those aren’t here because apparently Citroen and Renault can’t hack it on these shores.

      But, yeah, if it were available in the U.S., I’d do a Megane RS265 every day of the weeek.

    • 0 avatar

      This is a case of people thinking the grass is always greener on the other side. Honestly one of the main reason people want them is because they can’t have them. But most Citroens and Renaults and Peugeots and other Euro only cars/brands are just your typical garden variety car. With a few exceptions they are not amazing gems that Americans are completely missing out on.

      • 0 avatar

        But they have a sterling reputation for hot-hatchery. And, some of them are just plain cool…we don’t have anything on our shores that looks like a Citroen DS3 Racing.

        • 0 avatar

          “But they have a sterling reputation for hot-hatchery.”

          There are about twelve Americans on the interwebs who are nodding their heads in agreement.

          The other 310 million of then couldn’t care less. The sporty coupe market in the United States is dead. Most Americans want a door between them and the back seat, and the few who don’t are cross-shopping Mustangs with Camaros.

      • 0 avatar

        These cars wouldn’t sell here in any number. Americans prefer CUVs. They didn’t start buying the A4 wagon until they slapped plastic on the sides, raised the ride height and labeled it the Allroad (as though the typical American buyer of these pricey things goes on anything but a paved road!). Cars like this though, they really make me want that stupid trend to go away.

  • avatar

    Taunting like this by manufacturers always feels like a “because we can” moment. I rarely (if ever) read reviews of products I’ll never likely see let alone drive but I read this one because Jack wrote it.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. If I can’t buy it at my local dealership, I kinda don’t care. But as a life-long VW loyalist (or sucker, depending on your perspective), I’ll make an exception for this one. Plus, anything that Jack writes gets an audience from me.

    • 0 avatar

      Very well put. I’m curious if VW even pretended to provide a rationale for bringing the Scirocco to our shores? Was it just an F.U. move or will we be suitably consoled by Jacks next two installments?

      • 0 avatar

        I think we’re about to learn that VW’s A5 (PQ35) platform is thoroughly out-classed by their new MQB platform.

      • 0 avatar

        Unofficially, they’re afraid the Scirocco would cannibalize GTI sales. Because it totally would.

        Based on this write-up, I’m not only predisposed to believe the Scirocco R is not only the best car Vee-Dub has ever built, I’m convinced it’s presently the finest small car…in the WOOOORRRRRRRRLLLLLD.

  • avatar

    Oh, Jack, how I wish you could drive a Golf R with an APR Stage 1 tune and some decent summer tires. I’ve never experienced another car that can be so transformed by such a light sprinkling of mods. To put it another way, I’ve never driven a car that came so annoyingly stifled from the factory.

    Strange question: Which is a better drive, this Scirocco or a North American-spec E36 M3?

  • avatar

    Sure it’s got nannys and perhaps it drives a bit blandly, but just look at the thing.

  • avatar

    I just wish that VW wasn’t so stingy, they sold the first series of Sciroccos here in the US so why not these?

  • avatar

    In a nutshell, you are saying VW makes some GREAT cars. I agree. My son’s 2011 GTI Autobahn with DSG can only be described as magical on back roads and I have many days of driving BMWs at Spartanburg, exotics in Vegas, etc because of my job.

    IMO, VW hot hatches are the world’s best overall vehicles. The combo of performance, utility, efficiency while still having street cred is simply unsurpassed. I can assume the 1st and 2nd place order from here but I won’t be a spoiler.

  • avatar

    When the original Scirocco arrived in 1974, it immediately made obese, indistinct blobs like this car look ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar

      Giorgetto Giugiaro … so many classic designs, even during the malaise era. He only designed three cars for the Volkswagen brand, but they set the direction for a long time to come: Passat, Golf, Scirocco.

      Alfa, Audi, Fiat, Lancia, SEAT and many others benefited from his vision, too.

  • avatar

    Jack races the 1G Neon, so he probably knows that the suspension for that car was designed by Erich Heischulle, who was a racer himself. BTW, the Ali Khan, who penned his one and only TTAC article on the topic of suspensions, was one of the 4 co-founders of Bay Area Neon Enthusiasts before he went RWD with Miata. Neon is a good school. Anyhow Erich gave an interview on the subject, which addressed torqus steer. And his view was, torque steer is caused by the arm between the center of the contact patch and the projection of the knuckle axis, or, rather, the balance between such on the sides. In a turn, the balance is disrupted due to the weight transfer, but if the car isn’t sliding yet, it’s not much. In Neon, Eirich made a provision for very small “arm” for this moment, as long as the tires had recommended sizes and mounted on recommended offsets.

    I imagine WV engineers could easily duplicate that techniques, if they wanted. Or, they could try and compensate with the electric power steering. Neon was almost 20 years back.

  • avatar

    Maybe VM thought that the three door GTI was a close enough match for the Scirocco to justify not bringing it to the US but I still mourn that decision. There are not many VW vehicles that would tempt me to want to brave the VW ownership and dealer experience but the Scirocco is definitely one of them.

    Given how positive this review was, the 2015 GTI must be really something.

  • avatar

    I am curious as to how this car compares to the current gen GTI in terms of driving experience. Granted there is a big power deficit in the GTI. The Scirocco I believe has a slight difference in rear suspension setup thats supposed to be more Passat(CC?) derived vs the control-blade style on the Golf. The R brakes will probably have a bit more capacity and power than the ones on the GTI. Power actually can be made pretty close pretty easily with a flash on the GTI.

    Interesting too on the way to more effectively drive the Scirocco. Last few autoX I notice that when I try to be smooth it always ends up being slower than just lean on the car and let the ABS and the tire squeal do their thing. The VW’s XDS while not really LSD is pretty effective in pulling the front end out…

  • avatar

    As work and family life consume more and more of my waking hours, I am attracted to thoroughly competent cars that are easy to drive in anger and don’t beat you up in the process. This site’s founder described the G37 as just such a car (even more so with the updated tranny) and it sounds like this Scirroco is the same. I will leave the rear engine 911s, Evos, and AE86s to the boy racers who have time and energy to master those machines. Or at least pose them for pimp shots.

    I had a more pedestrian version in Germany as a rental – great looking car inside and out with perfectly composed Autoban behavior. Given that they bring over the CC and the new New Beetle and possibly still make the Routan, I fail to understand why we don’t get the Scirocco. Any comment from the VW people, Jack?

  • avatar

    Another brilliant read.

    Methinks Mr. Baruth’s offerings would read even brilliant-er if they weren’t set in a font and on a page that looked like it was launched at the same time Corinthian leather was en vogue.

    But I digress.

  • avatar

    A great review and, by the sound of it, a great little car. As to the Mustang comparison I feel I need to bring up that reminder that the VW is much smaller, lighter on gas and potentially more practical with a hatch (not sure on that though because the hatch looks a bit small). The VW would be a easier car to live with as a daily driver / commuter car.
    It impresses me that to find a comparable performance car in that price range you have to go to Mustang level…

  • avatar

    Not to rely upon one magazine as a counterweight – but in last years lighting lap- the golf r performed damn well- Barely a few seconds behind the evo crowd. I think the R gets too little respect for being a fabulously fast adult vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      The Golf R did do extremely well in C&D’s 2012 Lightening Lap comparo. A 3:14.0 is nothing to sneeze at when the more powerful 335is only put down a 3:13.8.

      Again, just imagine what a light ECU tune and decent tires would do for this car! It’ll never be as scalpel-sharp as an Evo, but it’s deceptively quick and hell of a lot more livable.

  • avatar

    Last April, it came down to the Scirocco R-Line and the Countryman S. I went with the MINI and I’ve been regretting it ever since.

  • avatar

    Based on magazine and interwebs hype, VW will change their mind and sell these in the US.

    We’ll get a decontented version made in Mexico from Brazilian parts with a cheap Jetta S sourced interior, wheezy detuned engine, no choice of a manual, and a few hundred pounds of added safety crap…

    Then the brass at VW will then bitch and moan why we never buy “performance” editions of their cars.

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