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Golf-based coupe was a fitting revival for the classic nameplate, and an even better used buy

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Can it really be five years since the last Volkswagen Scirocco Mk3 was registered?

Fortunately, it’s still a fresh-looking thing with, especially in performance R-spec form, real road presence. It’s based on the Volkswagen Golf Mk5 of 2004. Nothing to be ashamed of there: the GTI in particular was a fine car.

The Scirocco promises sleek looks and a sporty drive

Prices for the Scirocco begin at around £2000. This buys an early car from 2008 or 2009, but slap a private plate on it and it could be mistaken for a post-2015 facelifted model.

For this update, external changes ran only to reprofiled bumpers with snazzy aero blades, a new grille, bi-xenon headlights and LED rear lights, while inside, the dashboard was updated and gained three, top-mounted gauges, including one displaying turbo boost.

In truth, these post-2015 cars do look sharper, but in a strong colour and sitting on gleaming alloys, any Mk3 looks the business.

The Scirocco was launched in 2008 and was soon offered with a choice of engines, the 158bhp 1.4-litre petrol and more powerful 197bhp 2.0-litre being the most popular. The 120bhp 1.4 was less sought after. There were diesels too: first, a 138bhp 2.0-litre followed by one producing 168bhp, a real flyer with impressive overtaking ability.

In fact, the Scirocco went on to be very popular with diesel drivers, so today, numbers of used diesel and petrol Sciroccos are almost equally split.

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Of course, diesels registered before 2015 are Euro 5, so attract a ULEZ charge. Throughout the Scirocco’s life, most engines were offered with a choice of six-speed manual or DSG automatic gearboxes, some with flappy paddles.

In 2009, the range was topped off with the arrival of the Scirocco R. Its 2.0-litre petrol engine produced 261bhp, a lot of punch for a front-wheel-drive car, which is why, to aid traction during fast cornering, it was fitted with the XDS electronic differential from the Golf GTI.

The suspension, which was lowered and came with Dynamic Chassis Control (an option on some other versions), offered a choice of three settings. The top speed was 155mph and 0-62mph took 6.0sec. Today, these early Rs still fetch strong money, a 2010-reg with 40,000 miles costing around £15,000.

Coincidentally, in 2010 the Scirocco gained the Golf Mk6’s smarter dials and steering wheel and then in 2012 a touchscreen sat-nav, but the biggest changes were reserved for the 2015 facelift. This event raised the R’s power to 276bhp.

The increase allowed Volkswagen to sneak the new, lesser-powered 217bhp 2.0-litre GTS into the mix. It was fitted with a panoramic sunroof and a bodykit. A new 123bhp 1.4 served those more interested in looks than performance. Meanwhile, the two diesels gained a boost in power to 148bhp and, incredibly, 181bhp.

All Sciroccos were well equipped but GT trim (privacy glass, 18in alloy wheels and a multifunction steering wheel) was the most popular. R-Line (19in alloys, nappa leather sports seats and a bodykit) went down well, too.

Black Editions of GT and R-Line – which offered darkened lights, black detailing and black alloys – arrived in 2015.

So there are a lot of engines and trims available, but which Scirocco should you buy? If you can stretch to it, a facelifted 178bhp 2.0 GT auto is the sweetest of the lot.

Volkswagen Scirocco common problems

Engine: With the 1.4 petrols, listen for misfires caused by faulty coil packs. On the 2.0-litre petrol, make sure the timing chain runs quietly (tensioners have been known to wear out).

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The R has a timing belt, which should be changed every five years. All the engines are turbocharged so check oil changes have been performed on the dot. If the turbo feels a little laggy, it’s probably because the dump valve diaphragm is split. The diesel engines are very reliable.

Gearbox: Some owners of manual cars have reported problems selecting second gear and others a strange noise from the clutch. Early DSG autos have a poor reputation (failing clutches due to problems with the mechatronic controller) but from 2012 appear to have improved. Fresh filters and fluid are necessary every four years or 40,000 miles.

Steering and suspension: Inspect the dampers for leaks and, where fitted, ensure the DCC functions in all three modes. Check the low-profile tyres for uneven wear and the alloys for kerb damage. The steering can be noisy so give it a few turns lock to lock.

Brakes: No real problems but check disc and pad wear and ensure timely fluid changes have been performed.

Body: Don’t worry: those small impressions at either ends of the sills are where the jack locates and not damaged. Poor rearward visibility can lead to parking prangs, so check the rear corners. Be sure the windows drop as you open the doors. Older cars may suffer misted lights, torn window rubbers and rusty tailgate struts.

Interior: Ensure the small rear parcel shelf is present – and the USB socket works (a new unit costs £600). 

DESIGN & STYLING

Volkswagen Scirocco rear

Although the Volkswagen Scirocco is closely based on the platform and running gear used by the then Volkswagen Golf GTi, it would be both simplistic and inaccurate to describe the Scirocco as a Volkswagen Golf GTi in a cocktail dress.

It shares the same wheelbase but it’s 40mm longer, a significant 51mm wider and a massive 97mm lower. Most importantly, its track is wider by 35mm at the front and 59mm at the rear.

The Scirocco is far from a Golf GTi in a cocktail dress

As a result, the Scirocco is not only lighter than the Golf on which it is based, with a lower centre of gravity, but it also has a broader stance, which accounts in no small part for the way it conducts itself on the road.

In addition, it got bespoke settings for its springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. In other respects, however, it follows both class convention and the Volkswagen Golf’s lead. Front suspension is a simple strut located by a lower wishbone, while that at the rear is a four-link arrangement.

For the R model, Volkswagen made subtle changes to the Scirocco’s appearance, enhancing its muscularity without having to make alterations to the metalwork, a task presumably made easier by the fact that it must have known during development of the cooking model that it was later going to produce a hot variant.

Poor rear visibility is a bit of a Scirocco trait, but in dirty conditions the rear screen easily gets filthy. Without a fancy telescopic wiper, the cleaned area is restricted by the height of the screen and is therefore pretty small.

INTERIOR

Volkswagen Scirocco interior

The Volkswagen Scirocco’s cabin is an inviting place to sit, although we would argue that it’s too indistinct from the cockpits of both the Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen Passat, and too conservative for such an apparently sporting car.

The deeply sculpted seats cradle your body perfectly; you sit quite low (not always the case with coupés derived from hatchbacks), and with the thick-rimmed, leather-bound steering wheel, the scene is promisingly set.

The Scirocco's cabin is too indistinct from the cockpits of both the Golf and Passat

That high waistline and those slim windows make seeing out of the Scirocco harder than either your children or you will like. All-round visibility is further compromised by notably thick A-pillars.

As you’d expect of any Volkswagen, the minor controls have been set out with much thought for their position and clarity, a work ethic that extends to the infotainment screen that’s a paragon of simplicity to understand and operate.

Evidence of further clear thinking is found in the back, a place too often left as an afterthought in cars such as this. The boot is less than 20 percent smaller than a Volkswagen Golf’s and the seats still fold.

Of course, the rear cabin is nothing like as spacious as that of a BMW 4 Series coupé but these are still very usable seats, unlike those of, say, the equivalent Audi TT.

Highlights reserved for the R included aluminium inserts in the instruments – resplendent with an R logo – and a smattering of high-gloss black accents.

The R got new Recaro seats: they were even better than the excellent standard ones and didn’t totally destroy room in the rear – so often an afterthought in these types of cars, but seemingly given somewhat higher priority in the Scirocco.

As mentioned earlier, there were seven trim levels to choose from - Scirocco, GT, GT Black Edition, R-Line, R-Line Black Edition, GTS and R. Entry-level models got 17in alloy wheels, a roof spoiler, brake discs all round, front electric windows, automatic lights and wipers, and electrically adjustable and heated wing mirrors on the outside as standard.

Inside, there was air conditioning, a cooled glovebox, and Volskwagen's Composition infotainment system complete with a 6.5in touchscreen display, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.

Upgrade to GT and the Scirocco gains 18in alloy wheels, front foglights, sat nav, speed limit display, climate control, parking sensors and VW's Car-Net online services, while opting for the GT Black Edition, which added black alloys, wing mirrors, roof and rear spoiler.

The mid-range R-Line models included 19in alloy wheels, an R-Line bodykit, leather upholstery, and electrically adjustable and heated front seats, while the R-Line Black Edition adds numerous glossy black details to the exterior.

Topping the range was the GTS and R Sciroccos, with the former coming with 18in alloy wheels, a chrome twin exhaust system, a sporty bodykit, sports seats, a golf ball gearknob and numerous GTS badges dotted inside and outside the car, while the latter got 19in alloys, adaptive sports suspension, bi-xenon headlights, LED day-running-lights, a rear diffuser and an electronic locking differential.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Volkswagen Scirocco side profile

In theory the 2.0 TSI four-pot Volkswagen Scirocco should hold a performance advantage over the higher and, officially at least, 30kg heavier Volkswagen Golf.

And it does indeed command a small advantage in claimed fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. But Volkswagen draws little distinction in straight-line terms, claiming with broadly similar performance figures for both.

The diesels aren’t especially swift, but possess impressive torque

The 123bhp 1.4 is more about style than speed, as a 0-62mph time of 9.7 secs proves. Given its lower used asking price and decent economy, it remains a sensible choice for someone who wants this car's looks more than performance.

The standard 2.0-litre model records a sub seven second 0-62mph time. This is an outstanding performance and fully competitive with selected rivals, like the BMW 225i coupé. Bear in mind, too, that if the Scirocco were rear rather than front-wheel drive, as are the Mercedes C-Class Coupé and BMW 2 Series coupé, it would be even faster.

As far as the R is concerned, don’t get hung up on the 0-60mph time. Admittedly our recorded time of 5.7sec doesn’t look hugely impressive, but there are a few things you need to understand before dismissing the Scirocco R. First, it faced the worst possible conditions for acceleration runs: not fully wet, but greasy. Second, the Scirocco R tags the limiter in second at 58mph.

It is fast, but also flexible. Compared with the regular 2.0-litre TSI Scirocco, which is remarkably linear for a turbocharged engine, there is more of a pronounced power band. 

The diesels aren’t especially swift, but they’re not slow either. Due to their immense torque (the flagship diesel offers 258lb ft) the Scirocco diesels are best approached as GT cars rather than sports models, as you don't have to chase every engine revolution to eke out excellent performance.

Should you wish to, however, the 178bhp 2.0 TDI covered the benchmark sprint to 62mph in 8.1secs. For the 148bhp model, this time increased to 9.3secs. As you would expect both offer impressive in-gear performance. They’re pleasantly refined, too. Of course, the real benefit to opting for one of the diesels is the economy; all the diesels offer a combined mpg figure of 51 or more, whilst the Bluemotion ups that figure to a remarkable 62.8.

RIDE & HANDLING

Volkswagen Scirocco cornering

Whether it’s down to the suspension settings, wider tracks, lower centre of gravity or, most likely, some combination of all three, one of the most gratifying things you will discover about the Volkswagen Scirocco is that despite its common platform and powertrain, it doesn’t feel like a Volkswagen Golf.

You sit there, guiding the car with your fingertips, appreciating the meaty feel of the steering and the chassis’ lovely throttle-sensitive balance.

Despite its common platform and powertrain, it doesn’t feel like a Golf

The Scirocco’s mastery of some of our most difficult roads means that more everyday, long-distance surfaces present it with no trouble at all. The Scirocco is always comfortable: reasonably firm, but never harsh, even around town.

It would be easy to describe the Scirocco R as a sharper version of the 2.0 GT TSI. But such a description would be to undersell what VW achieved with the R, because it was also more polished.  

In terms of sheer lateral grip and agility the regular Scirocco didn’t exactly under-impress; what we wanted more of was involvement – a greater sense of interaction with the car, but without losing the suppleness and comfort that makes the Scirocco such a good long-distance proposition. 

Although it isn’t, the R feels like a lighter car than the GT, and more analogue in the way it responds. Adaptive Chassis Control came as standard on the R, meaning a choice of three modes (Comfort, Normal and Sport), each altering the dampers, steering map and throttle response. 

In truth Normal is perfectly fine for most conditions and, unusually for such a system, the Sport setting is not so extreme that it can’t be used on the road. Obviously there is some degradation in ride quality, but not to the point that it is uncomfortable. And yet we didn’t linger in Sport, partly because Normal offers more than enough control and precision, but also because Sport beefs up the steering weight to beyond the point that feels natural.

Fortunately, the diesel models don't suffer for having a heavier engine in the nose. The composure and balance of the petrol models remain.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Volkswagen Scirocco

We think living with a Volkswagen Scirocco may be even more satisfying than driving one. It’s excellent value and likely to prove extremely strong residually.

Those wanting ultimate fuel economy can opt for one of the impressive diesels – although you lose an element of the fun factor, you’ll be rewarded with economy more akin to a supermini than a coupé.

Living with a Volkswagen Scirocco may be even more satisfying than driving one

VW has reduced the Volkswagen Golf’s already small fuel tank, so you can now squeeze only 50 litres into the Scirocco, meaning the diesel models are even more tempting if you do a decent number of miles.

Although the entry-level 1.4 will get you the Scirocco look and all the essential kit is on board, we’d spend another couple of grand for the bigger of the 2.0-litres – you’ll not get any more kit, but you’ll have a great deal more fun.

The most powerful standard 2.0-litre petrol is more fun still, while the GTS ramps it up further without stepping into the R's territory.

There’s quite a leap within the Scirocco range to the R model but, like the rest of the range, it comes very well equipped. We suspect that because other models in the Scirocco range bordered at times on being a veritable bargain, VW asked a premium for the Scirocco R because it could.

In its defence, like all Sciroccos, its residual values will look after you; it’s unique among hot hatch rivals in that it’ll retain more than 50 percent of its value over three years/60,000 miles. 

VERDICT

4.5 star Volkswagen Scirocco

So often manufacturers dig up names from the past to lend vital support to an underachieving new product. Not this time. The return of the Volkswagen Scirocco was a triumph, thanks to a car that’s probably even better now than the original was. It doesn't just do very few things badly - it does a lot of things very well.

In fact, it is one of the most infuriatingly difficult cars to criticise we’ve encountered in years. It is astonishingly complete in almost all areas and, to cap it all, quite outstanding value for money. It might not be as sharp as a BMW 2 Series Coupé or even an Audi TT, but it’s a much better all-rounder than both and a darn site easier to live with.

The Volkswagen Scirocco is a triumph

You’ve got a great choice of engines (although you should avoid the entry-level 1.4 unless it’s more about the style than the go for you), while the diesels do a good job of blending okay performance with better than okay economy. They also make the most of an awkwardly-small fuel tank.

The standard 2.0-litre offers a great balance of performance and cost and comes nicely kitted out, too – the days of sparsely-equipped Volkswagens seems to be long gone. It’s a sensible place to put your money.

Then there’s the GTS and the R – offering more pace and poise, but crucially, they're as comfortable and easy to live with as any other Scirocco.

So if you’ve been toying with the idea of a three-door warm or hot Volkswagen Golf on the used market and don’t really need the extra space in the back, get one these instead.

Volkswagen Scirocco 2008-2017 First drives