First Drive Review: Volkswagen Scirocco GTS

Cars 9 September 11, 2017 by

When it comes to small coupes, there’s few as popular but forgotten as the Scirocco. Volkswagen first introduced it over 40 years ago, and though there was a 16-year gap in production that covered all of the 1990s, it’s sold more than a million.

It revived the badge for a third generation nearly ten years ago, and we’ve been driving the newest addition to the range.

Volkswagen still makes the Scirocco?

Indeed. It comes as a bit of a surprise, as it might be the oldest car it — or anyone — still makes. It’s been in production since 2008 and is based on the fifth generation Golf platform. The Golf itself will be in its eighth generation in 2019, having adopted the MQB platform five years ago. Every other car on the old platform has shifted to MQB, and only the Scirocco remains.

Volkswagen has waved a magic wand over the car a couple of times to keep it up-to-date on the outside, but underneath it’s the same old car and it’s about to tick over into a decade of production.

So where are the new bits?

The facelift in 2014 brought a few exterior flourishes and a bit of an interior update, with a new infotainment system. Stick the two by each other and you’ll readily spot the difference, but otherwise it’s a bit less obvious.

However, this is the Scirocco GTS. It’s a name Volkswagen last used on the Scirocco in 1982, so it’s saved a bit of a special touch for it. There’s unique interior and exterior goodies — like the matte grey stripes, golf ball gear lever and red stitching on gaiters — special GTS badging and a similar bodykit to the Scirocco R.

The most special part of all is under the nose though. It’s a 217hp version of the 2-liter TSI engine from the Golf GTI.

But it’s old underneath, so how does it drive?

If you’re expecting it to be rubbish to drive because it’s old, you’re forgetting exactly what the platform underneath it is. The A5 (or PQ35) platform was the Golf GTI for two generations. It was the Audi TT RS. It was the SEAT Leon Cupra R and the Skoda Octavia vRS. Okay, so the platform also supported the wobbly Eos, but it was no stranger to having bucketloads of power thrown at it and then forced onto a track day.

The GTS handles its power pretty well, but you’d expect it to as the Scirocco R has another 50hp to play with. Understeer, especially with the £210 optional XDS electronic differential, just isn’t a thing. Nor is torque steer, as the GTS sits in that little sweet spot between too little power to get going and so much power you need tricks to rein it in — it’s the Goldilocks of front-wheel drive performance. You might have a different experience on a track, but on the road it’s a great little set-up.

On paper, the GTS doesn’t look all that quick. 60mph comes up in just over six seconds. It feels quicker but isn’t, which is good for your license, but not for your ego at a traffic light grand prix. That aside, it’s the mid-range where it does its best work. Power delivery is surprisingly linear up most of the rev range, and it makes the GTS excellent at preserving momentum and as an overtaking machine.

Volkswagen has done a good job with the steering too. It’s precise, well-weighted and manages a decent amount of feedback too. The Scirocco is a great deal of fun on a decent road, particularly with the manual gearbox we have here. A DSG is available, but something feels more right about the golf ball lever with an H-pattern drawn on the top.

The ride is more of a mixed bag, and perhaps where the chassis shows it’s getting on for 15 years old. Our car doesn’t even have the big, 19-inch alloys, but it’s no fan of the moonscape that passes for country roads in the UK. We’ve got the dynamic chassis control specified (£840) and Comfort mode does take some of the wear out of it.

Is the cabin the weak spot then?

Yes and no. Sure, there’s areas where the materials are getting on a bit, but Volkswagen has given it attention in all the right places. The bits it has kept the same are crucial too.

The Scirocco’s interior owes a lot to the Golf, and specifically the Golf GTI in the case of our GTS. Pretty much everything ahead of the driver is identical, and the facelift included the new infotainment system, also found in the Golf. This includes satellite navigation with traffic alerts, Bluetooth and DAB radio as standard.

In the GTS you also get a custom interior, with special seat material, stitching and GTS logos. The red stitching theme continues to the seatbelts and gear and handbrake gaiters.

There’s a few things missing though that, at this price, probably should be standard. A rear view camera, for example. It’s understandable to skip that from a base model, but this car is over £30,000 and above the normal model range, so it should be there. Keyless entry is a £375 extra. Folding door mirrors are a £155 extra. These are nice touches that come on Korean city cars now and simply should be standard on the only sports car that Volkswagen makes.

The Scirocco also has to make do with halogen headlights, while other cars are moving to LEDs; the xenon units are a £1,050 upgrade. That even last-gen technologies are optional extras is another indication that the Scirocco is getting on a bit.

Who’s going to buy this?

It’s a car for the young, certainly. Most of us with a few extra years like a bit of comfort and practicality, and the Scirocco is lacking in both areas. The two rear seats are borderline useless unless you have children old enough not to fidget but young enough to still fit. The trunk is fair, but small. The ride isn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things, but it’s not as good as a Golf.

You’ll need to love the looks to compromise on just about everything else. But then Volkswagen has sold a million Sciroccos — nearly 200,000 of them in this shape alone. Those who can live with the compromise clearly find something to love.

What are the alternatives?

The most obvious alternative is a Golf. It’s the car that the Scirocco was based on before it got a fancy new platform and went all technological, and it’s the car it’s most often compared to.

But even the three door Golf isn’t a coupe, so for a proper rival you need to look further afield. You don’t have to leave the Volkswagen Group to find the first: the Audi TT. There’s a couple of other German rivals too (aren’t there always) in the shape of the BMW 2-Series and Mercedes-Benz SLC, although you’re looking at entry level cars for the price of the Scirocco GTS.

So what else is there? Try the Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ and the Ecoboost model of the Ford Mustang. The Mustang is only a few hundred quid above the GTS’s list price and is quicker, but the GT86 undercuts it and is slower.

What’s the conclusion then?

The Scirocco GTS has two real weak spots. The first is the ride, which is a little too raw for the UK’s notoriously poor roads. It can be ameliorated somewhat with the dynamic chassis control system, but that’s an £810 optional extra.

But the price is the second issue. Stripped of all the finer points, the Scirocco is essentially an older Golf with fewer seats — as the narrower rear makes a three-abreast rear bench impossible — that are harder to access and have worse headroom. And yet it’s more expensive than the Golf.

It’s an old car now and a replacement should be coming soon — but we’ve been expecting that since 2014. On a new platform, the Scirocco should again become a peer for the Golf, with improved ride and tech options.

All that said however, the Scirocco is a very likeable car. There’s something effortlessly capable about the current Volkswagen range that makes it a bit boring. They look similar, feel similar and if you fell asleep in one (which you might) you could be forgiven for forgetting which one you’re in when you wake up.

The Scirocco gives a little injection of fun that’s sorely missing. It looks different enough from the rest of the range inside and out. Okay, so it may only be a gauge pod, but it shows character.

It may not be the quickest either, but it’s a whole lot of fun to drive. If it came down to the Scirocco GTS or the Golf GTI, we’d pay the £1,000 penalty for that extra bit of joy.

Verdict:

Volkswagen Scirocco GTS
It's hard to justify the Scirocco GTS when you have the Golf GTI with newer tech and more space for less money. It has bags more character, but that alone might not be enough.

Learn more about how our rating system works.

Performance
There’s more performance to be had further up the range in the Scirocco R, but the GTS has enough power to be a great deal of fun without pushing what the chassis can comfortably cope with.

Ride & Handling
The ride can be patchy in places, thanks to the age of the platform, but the driving experience is more enjoyable than just about any other modern Volkswagen.

Space & Comfort
The three-door hatchback style limits access to the rear seats, as does the roofline. And there’s only two seats in the back anyway. Trunk space is decent though.

Equipment
Again, the platform’s age limits what Volkswagen can offer. It’s not quite up there with the most advanced technology, but most bases are covered, without hitting the options list.

Value
In effect, the Scirocco is less Golf for more money, and other rivals are more keenly priced than that. Volkswagen has offered huge discounts on the Scirocco, which reflects the poor value and may improve its case.

Quick Facts

Engine
2.0-liter, straight-4 turbo

Power
217hp (220PS, 162kW), 258lbft (350Nm)

Weight
3,020lb (1,370kg)

Layout
Front-engine, front-wheel drive

0-60mph
6.3 seconds

Top Speed
153mph (246km/h)

Price As Tested
£32,700

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