Brand new clothes for the coupé

(SUPPLIED)

What happened to the coupés? A coupé looks rakish, and a car bought for its looks is quite likely to be bought as a fashion statement. Fashion is both fickle and cyclical. And of late, coupés have been out of fashion. Mainstream coupés from mainstream carmakers have fallen off the radar.

Well, the radar scanner has just picked up a bright new blip with an old name. Volkswagen has resurrected the Scirocco 34, and once again it's effectively a Golf in slinky new clothes.

And you don't have to pay for the privilege: a three-door Golf GTI costs Dh110,000 and a Scirocco with the same 2.0-litre, turbocharged, 200bhp direct-injection engine costs Dh115,000. Maybe the Scirocco will get buyers keen on coupés again.

The Volkswagen Corrado, a delightful device which effectively replaced the 1985-to-1993 second-generation Scirocco, was always popular in Europe, and good ones remain much-prized today.

So why isn't the new car called Corrado again? Because more people remember the Scirocco, and because it allowed Volkswagen to emphasise the middle four letters when it revealed the IROC concept car at the 2006 Paris motor show. IROC stands for International Race Of Champions, an American racing series, so the concept could grab the attention of the lucrative US market.

The journey from IROC to production Scirocco was marked mainly by a facial re-think, brought about because Volkswagen's new Chairman, Martin Winterkorn, arrived mid-gestation and considered the IROC's big, inverted-trapezoid front grille too aggressive.

Instead, the Scirocco begins a new design of the Volkswagen nose, with a narrow, horizontal grille between headlights which, unlike those of many rivals, aren't enormous, exaggerated constructions. And in a departure from Volkswagen convention, the round badge is now above the grille instead of in it.

One of the most distinctive features of the original Scirocco was the way its waistline kicked up under the rear side window. This is reprised in the new Scirocco, but this time the stance is toughened-up with solid shoulders flanking the tapering upper cabin. There's also a curving crease along the lower body, which seems to push the wheels harder to the road.

The Scirocco looks taut, compact and ready for a good time. Park it next to an original one, though, and it makes the ancestor look supermini-sized. It demonstrates just how much cars have grown. The upside is that the new car has proper space in the back for two adults, although the narrow side windows make the space claustrophobic and the rear window is so small that it doesn't even fill the rear-view mirror.

No matter, the Scirocco feels snug and sporting. Sounds it, too. There's a deep, crisp hum from the twin exhaust pipes, but far from intrusive. This is good: it's the sound of machinery at work. The combination of direct fuel injection and turbocharging is the modern petrol engine's salvation.

You get a crisp response from low revs right up to 7,000rpm. The Scirocco cruises in relaxed fashion in its sixth gear, yet even in that highest ratio it leaps forward when you squeeze the accelerator. Engine and right foot are perfectly connected, and you can reach 100kph from a standstill in 7.2 seconds should you so desire. This is a great engine.

And through curves and over bumps it feels like a tauter, keener, lighter Golf GTI. But the suspension engineers' judgement has not been perfect.

The three suspension modes are Comfort, Normal and Sport, the middle one being the everyday setting.

Except that on lumpy UAE roads it means you'll keep to the Comfort setting almost all the time. Thus set, the Scirocco has a fine combination of suppleness, flow and accuracy, and it still feels very sporting.

Our test car had the optional leather trim and glass roof, but you don't need either to enjoy the new Scirocco.

This is a great car, one of my favourites of the year and the best compact coupé you can buy. Welcome back, Scirocco.

- The VW Scirocco will be available in the UAE at the end of the month.


The rivals

ALFA GT 2.0 JTS TURISMO

Ageing now, and based on 11-year-old Alfa 156 underpinnings, but the Bertone-styled GT still looks delicious and is a taut, lively drive with its 165bhp engine.

BMW 125i SE DYMAMIC COUPE:

A 2.5-litre, 215bhp straight-six engine seems a lot for a little car, but this rear-wheel-drive coupé uses it to entertaining effect. It's no beauty, though.

MERCEDES CLC 200K SPORT:

This is the old C-class Sports Coupé with a facelift, improving quality and giving a smoother, more satisfying drive. Unusual supercharged engine delivers 181bhp.

 

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