The Volkswagen Scirocco R is the sportiest version of the model that is a sportier version of the Golf. And it is here at last.
Another Volkswagen named after a wind has blown into Australia, though for the Scirocco it has travelled half the world more at the pace of a breeze rather than a gale.
The Volkswagen Scirocco, in only its third generation since 1974 as a sportier alternative to the Golf on which it’s based, has been on sale in Europe for nearly four years already.
VW’s Australian outpost, however, finally stopped dithering late last year and announced it would import the model after all. It’s only one variant, but at least it’s the sportiest: the Scirocco R.
Priced from $47,490, the VW Scirocco R ousts the three-door Golf R to be positioned not far from the five-door Volkswagen Golf R (from $49,990) but sufficiently distanced from the Golf GTI (from $38,990).
It’s also equipped like a true flagship, though. Unlike the Golf R, the Scirocco R – which still looks fresh because it was the first model to feature the brand's current, horizontally grilled family 'face' – features the company’s Adaptive Chassis Control electronically adjustable dampers as standard rather than as a $1500 option.
Another $1300 of value is thrown into the equation with huge, 19-inch alloy wheels fitted inclusively.
Then there are LED daytime running lights, metallic paint, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, bi-xenon headlights, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, multifunction trip computer, Bluetooth with audio streaming and heated sports seats.
With just a higher-end audio, sat-nav and a glass sunroof as extras, the Scirocco has the shortest options list of any current VW passenger car or SUV.
The Scirocco R is about a year fresher than the rest of the range, though it uses a well-known engine under its bonnet – the direct injection 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo from the Audi S3 and Golf R.
Again it’s detuned slightly for Australia – due to the country being classed as a hot climate by Germany to the annoyance of the local subsidiaries. So instead of the 199kW the engine produces in Europe, there’s 188kW (developed at 6000rpm).
Not a big deal in the greater scheme of things, and the 2.0-litre turbo has never disappointed in either the S3 or Golf R – notably the decent dollop of torque (330Nm) produced in the heart of the rev range between 2500-5000rpm.
As the launch drive gets underway in the Victorian Alps, we note that the mini-monsoon sweeping through ski territory would be ideal for an all-wheel-drive Golf R.
The Scirocco R, however, is front-drive only, instead relying on an extended action stability control system it dubs Extended Electronic Differential Lock (XDL) and first introduced on the current-generation Golf GTI.
On the wet, twisty climb from Mount Beauty towards Falls Creek, the system, if not a match for the speedy slingshot ability of the rival Renault Megane RS250 Trophee that’s equipped with a proper mechanical limited-slip diff, proves to be effective.
The XDL ‘diff’ can be felt nipping at the inside front wheel as the ESC applies dabs of braking to counteract the wheelspin to help maintain the desired cornering line rather than washing out wide (which would be quite literal in the torrential conditions).
While understeer will still be an inevitable consequence of misjudged speed, there’s surprising traction out of second- and third-gear corners.
It’s this type of twisty-road scenario that also shows off the Scirocco R’s advantage over the Golf R. With a 125kg-lighter kerb weight, the coupe-hatch feels noticeably more nimble on its feet.
Those ‘feet’ are also further apart, with the rear axle’s extra 44mm width visually noticeable looking at the Scirocco from behind, while the 51mm-lower roofline improves the centre of gravity over the Golf R.
Thick A-pillars can obscure vision around corners, though, and the sports seats could hold you in more securely.
Complementing the dynamics is tenacious grip from the 19-inch low-profile rubber, though the liquorice thin rubber does little for ride comfort, or noise levels, even with the adaptive dampers set to Comfort mode.
It’s an unsatisfactory mode that allows the Scirocco R to become floaty over larger undulations without providing driver and passengers from a deserved break from the ride that becomes increasingly fidgety over bumpy roads as you move from Normal to Sport modes.
It’s a contrast to our experience of the system when optioned with the Golf GTI.
For those with an eye for performance stats, the Golf R is still quicker than the Scirocco R from a standing start – all-wheel-drive helping to create a three-tenths-of-a-second gap: 5.7 v 6.0sec with ‘DSG’ dual-clutch auto or 5.9 v 6.2sec with the six-speed manual. It'd be more interesting and more relevant to see 80-120km/h times, though unfortunately they're not provided by VW.
That’s still genuine hot-hatch pace and the engine’s characteristics are enjoyably familiar.
A nice induction rasp responds to strong throttle pedal applications as the Scirocco R accelerates, and the 2.0-litre turbo remains a wonderfully flexible unit that allows the driver to hold higher gears and rely on the meaty mid-range for momentum.
The six-speed manual is a light, slick and accurate gearbox that will please most enthusiasts, though the DSG – at least on the open road - remains a tempting option because of the paddleshift levers and exhaust parps that accompany upshifts only on the dual-clutch.
The manual provides marginally better fuel efficiency and emissions – 8.1L/100km and 189g/km v 8.2 and 192, with both bettering the figures of the heavier Golf R.
You’ll still need to pay for the most expensive unleaded fuel, though – 98 RON.
With the departure of the three-door Golf R, it’s certainly a clearer choice between the five-door and the Scirocco R.
The Golf R is naturally the more practical offering. The Scirocco R only seats four and even then headroom - but not legroom - is restricted for anyone over 5ft 9in, and the boot is deep but far from huge and with the small hatch door revealing only a relatively small aperture.
Rear vision isn't brilliant, either, and unlike the Golf R there is no optional rear-view camera.
But the Scirocco R, crucially for some buyers, is the Golf that doesn’t look like a Golf.
There’s even some unique interior touches, such as the triangular door and console grips, that blend with switchgear, materials and parts such as the steering wheel shared with the Golf R.
The Volkswagen Scirocco R is certainly a classic case of better late than never.