First drive: VW Scirocco R

This is Volkswagen's high performance R version of the Scirocco. The coupe is visibly lower and wider than the standard car, and beneath the bonnet it gets a tweaked 2.0-litre TSI engine developing 261bhp and 258lb ft of torque.

Volkswagen has already attached the R badge to a hot version of its uber-successful Golf, but unlike that car the Scirocco does without four-wheel drive. The coupe is around 100kg lighter than the hatchback, but all that extra power has to find its way to the road via the front wheels alone.

The 2.0-litre engine is actually a significantly revised version of the lump which featured in the previous generation Golf, but there's no doubting its peachy delivery.
Like the Golf R, the Scirocco surges around on a beguiling wave of torque that sends the rev needle hurtling towards the redline whenever the throttle is depressed. It's an addictive, seamless kind of performance only slightly marred by the lack of a decent soundtrack. Stand behind the car and it sounds bassy and brilliant; sit inside and it's muffled to a toneless drone.

The DSG gearbox isn't quite up to scratch either. In an effort to keep the fuel consumption respectable (we averaged around 26mpg) the transmission will run through the gears as quickly as possible in the standard drive setting. Unfortunately this means you constantly find yourself in sixth at 30mph, which is fine until you want to accelerate into a gap in the traffic - push the accelerator gently and the car burbles reluctantly forward, depress further in frustration and the gearbox drops two cogs and spins the wheels in scolded urgency. Things are no better in the S setting as it makes the car hyper-sensitive and wearing around town.

Fortunately things are much rosier when you bypass the automatic settings and take on the job of changing gear for yourself. The Scirocco's paddles might be a bit too small, but the quick changes certainly make putting the hammer down slightly more visceral. Only one black mark: VW won't let you hold the R in gear - accelerate onto the redline and the car will change up for you. This might save wear on the engine, but it's frustrating if you're attempting to get the best out of the Scirocco.

Compared to the four-wheel drive Golf R, the coupe has lost some traction, but it makes up for this with a slightly more incisive edge. The Scirocco feels leaner and lighter, helping you feel a little more keyed in to what's happening beneath the car than in the serenely detached Golf.

What makes this even more impressive is the ride comfort. Like the standard model the Scirocco R is extremely well damped, exuding a taut control over most road surfaces. Granted, the sport setting on the chassis control is too firm for the UK's haphazard undulations, but the normal mode is a great compromise and the car never feels less than absolutely planted.

From the outside the car never looks less than planted either. The standard Scirocco is a good-looking car, but the R version's bodykit turns the dial up to 11. Aggressive, muscular, purposeful - whatever you want to call it, the hot Scirocco has it in spades, but it still manages to look restrained next to the Focus RS. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on your viewpoint.

Like the Golf there is a mature, controlled edge to the Scirocco's brand of fun which sets it apart from the fast Ford - but unlike the bigger VW it never lets you feel supplementary to the action. Combine the muscular handling with those daunting looks (and avoid the DSG), and the Scirocco will make sense to an awful lot of people looking for the ultimate hot hatch.
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