Can a 120 bhp Volkswagen Scirocco still be fun to drive?

I remember when the first test vehicles for the third-generation Volkswagen Scirocco arrived at Alexandra Road before 2010. Back then, I was an undergraduate intern at another car brand along the same motoring belt, and I can still recall the sights and sounds of a viper green Scirocco being test-driven by enthusiastic customers. Many other cars can turn heads and get your attention, but few left such an enduring impression because unlike the more expensive sports cars, this Scirocco in its 1.4 TSI guise was effervescent, good-looking and more importantly, relatively affordable – that meant it was actually attainable.

Turbo-charging for fuel efficiency and greater low-end torque was still a fairly new concept to our markets at the time. It meant that despite churning out 158 bhp at full tilt, the Roc’s (as it’s affectionately referred to by fans) 1.4L engine allowed it to slot into the more affordable Category A segment. Soon, a number of other European brands took advantage of this apparent “loophole” in the local authority’s vehicle categorisation. This then led to an inflation in the bidding prices for Category A vehicles’ COEs and resulted in what I feel is a knee-jerk reaction by the powers that be, chief of which is the introduction of a power ceiling of 130 bhp for Category A vehicles. The new ruling effectively penalised the more advanced and fuel-efficient engine technologies in favour of small displacement and naturally aspirated motors, meaning inferior performances in every way that matters to a driver.

There are still many third-generation Sciroccos on our roads today, but the oldest among these Rocs would be past the halfway mark on a 10-year COE term. In my opinion, Wolfsburg really hit the design jackpot with their third outing for this model, as the car’s shape and lines don’t look a day older than many of its newer rivals. However, the realities of Singapore’s automotive market suggest that an update is sorely required; new design features like LED lights are overdue, but the biggest question of all is whether Volkswagen would bring in a similarly powerful model that would have even its entry-level variant shunted into the more expensive Category B, or offer an option that allows it re-entry into the Category A playground.

The driver's seat of the Volkswagen Scirocco is an inviting place
The driver’s seat of the Volkswagen Scirocco is an inviting place

The short answer: Volkswagen Singapore traded 38 bhp for a place in Category A. The 1.4L turbocharged power plant now produces 120 bhp with 200 Nm of torque, mated to a 7-speed DSG transmission. The test car comes with the Equipment package, featuring bi-xenon headlights with dynamic range adjustment, cornering lights and separate LED daytime running lights; a tilting panoramic sunroof (non-retractable, though); and an integrated rear camera that displays the rear view on the touchscreen when you engage the reverse gear. Also optioned on this test car is dynamic chassis control (DCC), allowing the driver to electronically adjust the car’s damping to choose among a firm, sporty and comfortable set-up by pressing a button in front of the gear lever.

The Scirocco always feels planted through corners and winding roads – as long as you aren’t going at stupid speeds.

Although the Scirocco is marketed as a sporty coupe, there are no steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. It didn’t bother me, though, because the DSG gearbox is very well sorted so it knows which gear to engage and when. Moreover, the turbocharged engine and quick dual-clutch gear shifts ensured I rarely found myself wanting for torque. In one instance during hard acceleration, the automatic setup seamlessly downshifted from 6th to 3rd and I was happily on my way. The nose points the same way you turn the steering wheel; with a rear track that Volkswagen claims to be one of the widest among its competition and 235/40 rubber on standard 18-inch wheels, the Scirocco always feels planted through corners and winding roads – as long as you aren’t going at stupid speeds.

Now that we’ve covered the drivetrain, it’s time to talk about the Scirocco’s styling, because that’s an important element to a coupe’s desirability, especially when we live in an urban jungle where you rarely won’t get an opportunity to legally test your car’s full abilities.

The New Scirocco's proportions remain largely unchanged
The New Scirocco’s proportions remain largely unchanged

The third-generation Scirocco still looks assuredly contemporary on the roads today, so it’s a good thing the designers at Volkswagen haven’t fiddled with the car’s appearance unnecessarily with this facelift.

Unless you really pay attention or have an instinctive knack for noticing different lines, you may not realise that this is the facelifted Scirocco. It retains the unmistakable silhouette from the side, with a gently tapering roofline that hints at its sporty potential. Though unintentional with the photo above, the white reflection of the sky along the sides of the car (front wheel arch up the A-pillar and to the rear spoiler; and door handle to tail light) implicitly suggests how air might flow around the car in a wind tunnel. Considering how the third-generation Scirocco, first announced in 2008, still looks assuredly contemporary on the roads today, it’s a good thing the designers at Volkswagen have not fiddled with the car’s appearance unnecessarily.

The convex LED contour housed beneath the xenon module functions as daytime running lights in the Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI in Singapore
The convex LED contour housed beneath the xenon module functions as daytime running lights
The new C-shaped LED light contour now extends further into the tailgate of the Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI in Singapore
The new C-shaped LED light contour now extends further into the tailgate

Having said that, there are plenty of updates to the exterior all around, but most of them are pretty subtle. The most meaningful exterior features, in my opinion, involve the use of LED contours in both the front and back, which is all the rage now among recent car models, and the introduction of a practical VW badge that now serves as a handle for opening the boot lid.

The boot of the Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI in Singapore
The boot of the Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI

Once you lift the tailgate, you immediately realise how deep the storage compartment is. Pictured above for context is my Herschel Supply Little America backpack that can hold a 15″ laptop. The large boot lip demands some strength and good posture if you’re trying to fit a fully-packed luggage bag into the rear. I suspect there might also be a higher chance of nicking the rear bumper’s paintwork if you’re not careful when loading or unloading heavy items due to the high lip. Having said that, this design feature is no different from the pre-facelift model, so existing owners ought to be quite familiar with getting around this minor inconvenience.

A leather sport steering wheel (adapted from the Golf GTI) and three auxiliary instrument gauges are standard in the latest Volkswagen Scirocco in Singapore
A leather sports steering wheel (adapted from the Golf GTI) and three auxiliary instrument gauges are standard in the latest Volkswagen Scirocco

In the front, a two-tone interior featuring a combination of leather and soft-touch plastics complement the brushed metallic centre console. Ergonomics are good and the controls are clear. As with every Volkswagen I’ve driven, there is a nice tactility to the buttons, scrolling dials and steering column-mounted stalks.

Brown and black leather sport seats with contrast stitching in the Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI in Singapore
Brown and black leather sports seats with contrast stitching in the Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI

The leather sports seats provide a good balance between support and comfort. Despite going round bends quicker than I normally would in other cars, I never felt like I was sliding sideways within my seat. On an hour-long drive sending people home one night, I never felt fidgety or tired at the wheel. I’ve felt worse sitting in an office chair for half that time.

You don't have to chop your legs off to fit in the rear seats of the Volkswagen Scirocco 1.4 TSI in Singapore
You don’t have to chop your legs off to fit in the rear seats

It’s probably fair to say that people who buy coupes aren’t planning to transport rear passengers regularly, but there’s ample legroom for rear occupants without them having to slant their bodies, as long as they’re not unusually tall. Don’t expect cupholders though. The footwell is reasonably large and because there are two dedicated sports seats for people in the back, the indignity of squeezing three abreast becomes a non-issue. I’m told the rear can be a little dark due to the tapering side windows and lack of a dedicated rear light, but frankly, that’s forgivable for a 2+2 coupe.

Presence
Presence

Did I wish this test car had more power during my review? Not really.

In an earlier Instagram post, I asked the question of whether the Volkswagen Scirocco might have been driven to disappointment because of the Category A power cap. Did I wish this test car had more power during my review? Not really. Horses for courses, I say. Think of it as Volkswagen making it possible for interested buyers in Singapore to own a sporty coupe at an affordable (relatively speaking) price. Those who thirst for more power in the same form can look to the Scirocco R.

What I did wish this car had, however, was more technological conveniences. For example, Bluetooth support and a USB charging port would be welcome features. I understand that versions of the new Scirocco overseas come with integrated GPS, but this is not available even as a cost option in Singapore. If you’re like me and often rely on online maps when driving, then you’d appreciate the presence of either a USB port (so you needn’t worry about your smartphone running flat after using Google Maps) or an integrated GPS. Also, most people I know these days play music from their phone on their car’s speakers via a Bluetooth or USB connection instead of slotting a custom CD into the receiver. I can’t imagine integrating a USB port into the car being too complicated or expensive, so it puzzles me why this isn’t available. Drivers could use one of those adapters that fit into the cigarette lighter socket to power an aftermarket GPS unit or USB charger, but that’s a compromise I’d associate with cars below the S$100,000 price point in Singapore, not ones which are comfortably above.

All things considered, the facelifted Scirocco continues to be a mechanically sound car that provides driving enjoyment even with a modest 120 bhp engine. Although power and torque figures are practically identical to the Golf’s, the Scirocco is driven by a different engine that’s tuned to provide livelier acceleration. The twin exhausts’ note is modest but appropriately sporty, although I wish I could hear more of it in the cabin. And who can forget the pillarless doors? The Scirocco is a very attractive option if you’re in the market for a fun and reasonably affordable two-door car by a German manufacturer. Its only shortcomings are its lack of connectivity options, and customers will have to decide if this is something they can live without during their ownership of this car.

Special thanks to Volkswagen Singapore for this opportunity.

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