Friday, 4 April 2008

Volkswagen Scirocco

There’s a fine line between following trends and flagrantly copying people. If you see someone on the tube in ripped stonewashed 501s you can think to yourself ‘mmm, the eighties are obviously back… I’ll get myself a lime green shellsuit jacket’. That’s ok. If you take a photo of them and spend a week scouring vintage clothing stores to find an identical pair, you will just be making a fool of yourself. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but try telling that to an examination board when you’ve ripped all but the name from a neighbour’s paper.

Mimicry, tribute, homage, call it what you will – this kind of idea-sharing goes on a lot in the automotive world. The front indicators on a Rover SD1 look just like those on a Ferrari Daytona, for example. Why do you think that could be? It certainly isn’t coincidence. Similarly, the nose of the new Nissan GTR is phenomenally and breathtakingly beautiful (this goes without saying), but that meshed orifice seems rather familiar, doesn’t it? If you’ve had as keen an eye as I on the motoring press, you will have noticed it bolted onto Volkswagen’s Iroc concept a little while ago…

Ah, the Iroc. A sensational idea with a very stupid name (Iroc, of course, being a name that any red-blooded petrolhead associates with eighties Camaros rather than with saucy Euro coupes), but forget semantics – this is a new Scirocco. And that’s a very good thing. The original Scirocco was released in 1974 to replace the sumptuous Karmann Ghia and was effectively a Golf with a coupe body, being succeeded by the Scirocco II in 1982 with production continuing until ’89. Iconic and sought after, the mainstream underpinnings meant that elements of the cooking Golfs could be easily wrangled in to create a pretty silhouette with potent powerplants, keen handling and typically Teutonic build quality. Like all true classics, the notion of a renaissance was always going to be met with mixed feelings; would it be a successful evolution like the Mini, Mustang and 500 or a total pisser like the Mini Clubman, Thunderbird or the somewhat unnerving new Capri idea?

Brilliantly, Volkswagen are putting the Scirocco into production and even more brilliantly, it’s pretty darn similar to the Iroc concept. Don’t you just love it when manufacturers actually do that? It happens so rarely; look at the media fanfare when the new Vauxhall Astra came out. It was so much like the concept people didn’t fully believe it was real. VW do have form with building some pretty unlikely machinery of course (Golf W12-650, anyone?), but it’s refreshing to see the transition from showstand to showroom pan out so smoothly. One concession to originality though… they’ve lost the GTR-aping grill. They’re not copycats.

So what will the Scirocco bring to the coupe market? Well, the two engine choices are both rather enticing in their own ways; the twin-charged 168bhp unit from the Golf GT and the much-celebrated 200bhp 2.0 turbocharged FSI engine will respectively offer frugal tractability and spicy (if not epic) performance for the discerning speed freak, but the fact that it comes wrapped in such a gorgeous body helps to create a holistic package of loveliness. The retro market is fraught with traps – too kitsch, too cute, too basic, too chintzy – but when it’s done right, as in this case, you can almost hear the pitter-patter of saliva drops cascading upon countless carpets of boardrooms and schoolboy’s bedrooms alike.

Don’t be fooled though, the new Scirocco isn’t merely an average car aspiring to greatness through a classic name. Rover tried that with the MG branded- Z series and that sort of behaviour doesn’t work. The Scirocco is a genuinely exciting prospect; the market can never have too many low-slung muscular coupes with progressive styling and stratospheric desirability, so the fact that the name has heritage should be counted as a bonus. You would be guaranteed a certain degree of exclusivity as well – sensible people will plump for the Golf GTI. But who the hell wants to be sensible?

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