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BBC Autos

Joyride

In the US, a taste of forbidden fruit

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Although he is famous for a good many of the greatest automotive shapes of the last quarter of the 20th century – a list that includes the Lotus Esprit S1 and the BMW M1 – Giorgetto Giugiaro’s favourite design was his original VW Scirocco from 1974.

Volkswagen used in-house designs for subsequent editions of the car, which never again approached the original’s purity and sleek, minimalist perfection. That is, until 2008, when VW unveiled a car that is at least worthy of the Scirocco name. Unfortunately, the North American market doesn’t get it, but Volkswagen press man Scott Vazin thoughtfully availed a German-market Scirocco to test-drive on American roads. It is an absolute star – a riot to drive that excels in some unexpected areas.

The tested model, the hot-rod Scirocco R, is powered by a turbocharged 2-litre four-cylinder engine producing 265 horsepower. A traditional six-speed manual transmission is standard, but the test car featured VW’s DSG six-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox. The traditional manual would have been more fun, but the DSG does perform those astounding no-lift gear changes that are accompanied by an exotic-sounding burp of a split-second ignition interruption. One minor criticism: even in manual mode, the DSG will automatically downshift when you mash the gas pedal.

The car is undeniably gorgeous; it looks positively glued to the road, with flared rear fenders that accentuate its wide stance. Acceleration is impressive, with minimal turbo lag and nearly invisible power transfer through the front wheels; Volkswagen claims the car will sprint from 0 to 62mph in 5.8 seconds. Driving the Scirocco back-to-back with the torque steer-prone Mazdaspeed3 was an absolute revelation.

The Scirocco R has the performance and agility to back up its racy lines, but there are some stunning surprises packed inside. Access to the rear seat is a challenge, even with the long, heavy doors. But once in place, a six-footer can legitimately sit behind another six-footer – with knee room to spare! And the rear buckets are reasonably comfortable, as well, with unexpected thigh support from the seat cushions.

Want more? With rear seats folded, the cargo area will swallow a bicycle, a feat that hardly seems possible from the outside.

So the Scirocco is beautiful and practical. Who knew?

Despite its virtues, it is the Scirocco’s price – deemed too high for the North American market by Volkswagen of America – that has kept the current car from reaching US showrooms. The base price for the tested Scirocco R is $37,350, a figure that tops that of VW’s similarly powerful (and all-wheel-drive) Golf R, and shares space with such sporty coupes as the BMW 135i and the Mercedes-Benz C250.

And yet, even with a premium price tag, judging from the enthusiastic reactions the car evoked from bystanders, Volkswagen would have no trouble selling the Scirocco in US dealerships.

Realistically, the company will not go to the expense of seeking government-certification for a model that has been in production since 2008. But the current car’s all-around excellence suggests that VW may do well to plan for a US-spec Scirocco when the next-generation car debuts a few years hence.

Even better: that car will enjoy the many benefits of Volkswagen’s new MQB platform, EA888 engine and Haldex locking front differential – features employed to fine effect in the forthcoming 2015 GTI. With those underpinnings, the Scirocco will be more irresistible than ever.

Vital stats: 2013 Volkswagen Scirocco R

  • Base price: $37,350 (in Germany)
  • Fuel economy (European cycle): 29mpg combined
  • Drivetrain: 265hp, 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with six-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
  • Major options: Dynamic chassis control adaptive dampers, 19-inch alloy wheels
So the Scirocco is beautiful and practical. Who knew?