The early 1970s were an interesting time for Volkswagen. After achieving phenomenal worldwide popularity with the Beetle, the company decided it was time to move forward and create a more modern line of cars to replace its rather antique design.
Thus in 1974 the Golf hatchback debuted, which was sold here in the U.S. as the Rabbit. Sales success was instantaneous, especially with its debut coming during the throes of the OPEC oil embargo. Unlike the Beetle, the Golf/Rabbit had some degree of performance and handling (for the time), as well as comfort and a practical hatchback design.
And, as with the air-cooled rear-engine Beetle, Volkswagen knew they could create variations on the same basic platform. Much the same way the Karmann-Ghia evolved as the “sports car” version of the Bug, the sleek Sciocco hatchback coupe was eventually launched as a sportier, more stylish adaptation of the Golf.
VW stuck with the Scirocco through two generations, replacing it with another sporty hatch called the Corrado. But eventually that disappeared from U.S. showrooms, as Volkswagen got busy bringing back a modern interpretation of the Beetle. (This time sharing its mechanical underpinnings with the front wheel drive Golf.)
If you were in the market for a sporty two-door VW, you were essentially offered the GTI or perhaps one of the performance packages for the Beetle. Meanwhile in Europe, the Scirocco made a comeback, debuting as a 2009 model and essentially picking up where the previous Scirocco (and Corrado) had left off.
Like its predecessors, it is in essence a Golf with a sleeker body on it. The rear offset view is particularly striking, with a chunky stance just below a tapered roofline. The design is slightly reminiscent of both the BMW Z4 Coupe and the Hyundai Veloster. Less distinctive from the front, it essentially wears the current VW family grill-headlight treatment.
Inside, there’s further current Volkswagen familiarity. If you’ve driven a present day Golf, GTI, Jetta, Passat or CC, you should feel right at home. Like sibling brand Audi, VW has really upped its game in the interior department, particularly with regard to the dashboard and instrument panel.
This is all well and good if you’re planning on moving to Europe. You could go right up to a Volkswagen agency and order yourself a new Scirocco. But try to find one at a dealership here, and you’re going to be out of luck. For now.
The folks at Volkswagen of America have cleverly brought a few Sciroccos into the U.S. for evaluation purposes, to see if perhaps buyers here might go for a more stylish variant of the Golf. I got my hands on one for a few days – a top-of-the-line “R” model in a gorgeous shade of medium blue. Turn heads, it did.
Letting various members of the American automotive press sample some forbidden fruit out of Europe is actually a clever strategy. Toss a few cars out there, let the words and opinions flow, and they end up with nearly-free market research via the internet and social media.
Case in point: The Volkswagen Golf GTD. The GTI has been a staple of the U.S. market since the early ‘80s, but over in Europe buyers were offered the GTD. That’s a GTI’s sporty looks and handling, but with a TDI clean diesel engine under the hood. As with this Scirocco, some examples were passed around to the U.S. media and received raves. Well, next year, you’ll be able to buy one here.
One little curiosity about the Sciroccos in Volkswagen of America’s media fleet is that they’re all the high-performance “R” model. That’s all well and good from a driving perspective (265 horsepower from a 2.0 liter turbo engine; 6-speed DSG gearbox), but the EU sticker price converts to $39,000. Ouch. That’s one expensive fancy Golf.
A Scirocco closer to current GTI spec runs closer to $30,000, which would be much easier for the target demographic to stomach. And if you’re in that demographic and would love to have a Scirocco in a couple of years, start making noise at the VW dealer and online.
After all, it worked for that diesel-powered GTI.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz