New cars: Volkswagen Corrado

A sports-car?

Volkswagen’s smarter modern image can be traced back to 1974, and the replacement of the dowdy Beetle with the Golf and its 1976 derivative the GTi. Now the company is going one step further by producing the Corrado—its first sports-car, or so it claims.

While its performance is quite breathtaking, I believe VW is rather undervaluing the car by alluding to it as a sports-car, since in truth it is a sports coupe. Where the former conjures up images of MG Midgets, Triumph TR6s and Alfa Romeo Spiders, which in their open-topped glory are basically two-seaters with limited space, the term sports coupe brings to mind a fast, two-door, four-light car more in tune with the perception of today’s performance cars.

The Corrado is a good-looking car, designed in-house, which is all the more surprising when one considers how the original Giugiaro-designed Golf and Scirocco shapes were spoiled by the stylists at Wolfsburg when the models were revamped. Some 95mm lower than the Golf, and almost identical in length to the Scirocco at four metres, it is compact but a great deal more spacious inside than it looks. Clever spacesaving devices such as storing the first-aid kit under the rear arm-rest and emergency triangle in the central backrest all help.

Although aerodynamics have played an important role in the design, Volkswagen has retained a full-width grille with integrated headlamps rather than have the bonnet flow down to the front bumper as on most other cars. All the same, the Corrado still reminded me of a cross between an Astra GTE and an enlarged Honda Civic CRX; and, from the rear, of a larger Alfasud Sprint.

At 120 kph (approximately 75 mph) the rear spoiler automatically extends by 50mm to reduce lift at the rear axle by 64%. In Britain, the trigger speed will be reduced to 45 mph as the former speed will be too much of a giveaway to patrolling police officers, although a button has been thoughtfully provided beneath the steering-column to activate the spoiler at any speed.

The Corrado is powered by either the 1.8-litre 16-valve engine or a newly-developed supercharged version of the same unit, both using Volkswagen’s Digifant central engine electronic system. Developing 160 bhp the blown engine enables the car to reach 225 kph (140 mph) and 0-100 kph (0-62 mph) in 8.3 seconds. The 16-valve, which is being developed for certain markets, has a top speed of 213 kph (132 mph) and 0-100 kph of 9.1 seconds. Both versions will be sold in Britain.

By utilising a G60 supercharger instead of a turbocharger, throttle lag is reduced from 1.8 seconds to a barely noticeable 0.8 seconds. The supercharger is more efficient for smaller engines and makes the 4-cylinder GTi engine comparable to a 6-pot 2.6, which could not be fitted under the Corrado’s bonnet. It also gives it approximately 40% more power and torque than the normally-aspirated Golf GTi. The supercharger is driven direct from the crankshaft by a vee pulley belt which also drives the alternator and the compressor for the air-conditioning. A catalytic convertor is standard.

This front-wheel-drive car uses the Golf front axle and a torsion bearn trailing-arrn rear suspension. Reminiscent of Beetle days, 15in wheels are used with 185/55 R 15 tyres. Brakes are disc, ventilated at the front and cooled by air ducts from the front spoiler. On a car such as this, it is good to see that ABS comes as standard.

Scirocco drivers will immediately feel at home in the car for the dashboard has been taken lock, stock and barrel from that model. Volkswagen points out that both models will be sold alongside one another, the Corrado coming in above the Scirocco in the market.

On the road the car is a gutsy little performer, but the sheer exhilaration of fast driving is missing mainly because the car, and the engine in particular, is too refined. There is no exhaust growl to give away that there are 160 horses waiting to be released. Ride is good and handling delightful, and it is very difficult to make it get out of line. This was only achieved when the Corrado was thrown at a sharp left-hander so forcibly that it was finally made to understeer. This bend was followed by a long straight up a steepish gradient, and it was here that the car’s Achilles heel became apparent . Taken up to maximum revs in second the subsequent drop in engine speed on the change up to third meant that it laboured to climb the rest of the hill. Even with my foot on the floor, it took quite some time for the revs to build up again.

On hearing this complaint Christian Hildebrandt, director of VW passenger-car construction, admitted that budgeting constraints had forced the Corrado to utilise existing gearboxes, but that there was perhaps room for improvement in the ratios. If these can be sorted out before the model reaches the UK, Volkswagen will have a little firecracker on its hands.

At the time of writing only 1500 Corrados have been built; 1000 have gone to France and the remainder have stayed in Germany. The model is being produced by Karmann at Osnabruck alongside the Cabriolet Golfs, with 50 units a day the initial run. This will be increased to 90 as demand increases.

The first full year’s production will see 20,000 come off the production-line, with the price in Germany DM43,000. The model will not reach Britain for many months, and will cost £16,000 for the 16-valve and around £20,000 for the supercharged version. WPK