Jay Ramey is an associate editor with Autoweek, an affiliate of Automotive News.
Production of the Volkswagen Scirocco ended this month as Wolfsburg pulled the plug on a nameplate that debuted in 1974. Or rather, Wolfsburg pulled the plug on the Scirocco again -- the nameplate took a hiatus between 1992 and 2008 as VW refocused its lineup in response to market demands. Given how close it was in packaging to the original Golf, the Scirocco was never about market demands alone; it played an important role in making small European cars cool in the 1970s. It wasn't just the Golf that ushered in the European hot hatch segment, one that continues to drive sales today. The Scirocco was there as well.
On the occasion of the second departure of the Scirocco from the VW lineup, let's take a brief look at all three generations of the sporty coupe.
VW's first Scirocco.
The first Scirocco (named for a Mediterranean wind) debuted in 1974 with a Giugiaro design and Golf underpinnings, remixing the hatch into something sportier in an effort to offer a greater variety to potential Golf buyers. With a rakish rear hatch and a sleek profile, the Scirocco was offered with engines ranging in displacement from 1.1 to 1.7 liters, pairing these inline-four gasoline units with three-speed automatics and four- and five-speed manuals. VW sold more than half a million of the first generation between 1974 and 1981, while the Scirocco made its way to the States with beefier 1.5-, 1.6- and eventually 1.7-liter engines. The nameplate was a success for VW at home and overseas.
VW's second-gen Scirocco.
The second-gen Scirocco debuted in 1981 at the Geneva auto show, featuring an updated wedge shape but keeping the platform of the outgoing version. The redesign gave the Scirocco a stylish update while also introducing more luxurious features for the interior, just as the Golf itself started to become plusher inside. Standard engines grew in size as well, though power figures for most models remained well south of 100 hp. The top engine across the global lineup was the 1.8-liter inline-four, which churned out 139 hp. Even though the second-gen Scirocco was not available in the States throughout its entire run -- it left in 1989, just as the VW Corrado picked up the coupe niche -- it effectively introduced the U.S. to the concept of a compact European luxury two-door hatch.
The Corrado picked up where the second-gen Scirocco left off, but it proved to be a costly model for VW and for potential buyers. Shown above is the U.S. market VR6 model.
After the second-gen Scirocco left our shores, the Corrado carried the role of the small and sporty VW coupe in the U.S. and other markets. Sales of the Corrado in the U.S. were not particularly impressive even though this was a popular period for foreign sport coupes; as capable as the Corrado was, it was too pricey to compete with the vast array of Japanese imports in the U.S. The demise of the Corrado in 1995, too complex and expensive an exercise, effectively killed off Volkswagen's desire to produce a sportier Golf coupe for more than a decade.
The third-gen Scirocco that debuted in 2008 offered the same formula, but now it was competing with a vastly more varied Golf lineup, which had essentially become far more powerful and far more luxurious than in the past.
The third-generation Scirocco debuted in 2008 after a hiatus, returning to the formula of the sporty coupe version of the fifth-generation Golf. Styled with a more upright rear hatch and a lower roofline, the new Scirocco did not bother with the smaller engines of the Golf lineup and moved straight up to the 1.4- and 2.0-liter TSI gasoline units, also offering a 2.0-liter diesel. The top model was the Scirocco R with 276 hp on tap, courtesy of a 2.0-liter FSI engine.
If you don't recall seeing the third-gen Scirocco on the roads that's because VW never offered it in the States, expecting (quite logically) that it was not worth the effort given the presence of the Golf GTIand later the Golf R. The latest Scirocco also faced the bean counters back in Wolfsburg, with some in the company deeming it too close to the Golf, which didn't need a sporty and plush companion model with a lower roofline. A lot of these arguments made sense, especially given the fact that Volkswagen never had the luxury of offering every single model in the U.S.
Still, the third-gen Scirocco would have made much more sense than the Phaeton.