Forbidden Fruit: Should the Volkswagen Scirocco R Come to America?

The Volkswagen Scirocco R is an enthusiast's delight over in Europe, but is there a business case to bring it to America?

By Matthew Askari | Photos By Rss | September 19, 2013
I'm parked outside of a popular West Hollywood cafe, sitting inside of the only Volkswagen Scirocco R in America. It's 6:43 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Having just taken a few sunrise photos with this VW enthusiast's delight, I'm now simultaneously sipping espresso and scrolling my Instagram feed when I see him, frantically approaching the car, indicating he wants me to put the window down. Normally, I'd advise against obliging him, but today I do, because I could easily be this guy. "Is it coming? Are they finally going to do it? Is it coming to America?" This is a learned man. A shaman of European cars, maybe. For the general public here, "Scirocco" might sound like the name of a race horse, or a company specializing in small-batch biscotti, or even a new worrisome type of malware. And to be fair, this hot hatch is quick, pretty sweet, and a little menacing. But for enthusiasts and those in the know, it's a 265-hp front-wheel drive three-door hatchback, looks badass, and is very much forbidden fruit for Americans.
But the question I hear a lot is: Why? Why doesn't Volkswagen bring it to America? The short answer from VW product planners is that it doesn't make financial sense. But why not? Is there actually a business case for bringing the Scirocco R to America? We break it down.

Why Volkswagen Should Bring the Scirocco R to America

Currently, if you want an enthusiast hatch with a Vee-Dub badge on it in the U.S., it'll come in one of two flavors: There's the classic Volkswagen GTI, powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that pushes 200 hp to the front wheels, or the Volkswagen Golf R, which ups power to 256 hp--European versions of each have 10 hp more, respectively--and employs a very good all-wheel drive system. Both are sporty, sound great, and are easy to live with during the week, as well. But the Scirocco turns the styling dial up a few notches toward "aggressive." The side skirts flare out, and the wide rear end looks especially striking from a three-quarter angle. As one friend said, I would buy one based on the looks alone. Inside the setup is familiar, but with deeper bucket seats, and a more pronounced exhaust note. If sold here, this would clearly be the sport-hatch halo, with its aggressive looks edging out the Golf R's AWD advantage.

Why It Doesn't Make Sense

Volkswagen USA product planners have long said it would be too expensive to bring the Scirocco to America, stating that it would cost "millions" to make the engine compliant for U.S. emissions. Considering it would be priced most similarly to the Golf R--a car that has sold 5,500 units in the past year and a half--you could see why VW would be worried about recouping that cost; mainstream models like the Jetta and Passat sell that many units in about 2 weeks. Take into consideration too that every car has to be crash tested, meaning a few sacrificial lambs will meet the junkyard early. It soon becomes apparent that while the Scirocco could excite the hardcore enthusiasts, it would be a costly, unprofitable venture.
Another friend asked about placing an existing, already certified and on sale engine into the Scirocco body. A great question, when you think about it. The Golf R and Scirocco make the same power in Europe, and we already have a U.S.-spec Golf R here in America. Can't you place that 2.0-liter turbo in to the Scirocco, and tune it for a front-wheel drive car? And we always hear how the GTI engine is capable of much more power; couldn't it just get retuned for more horsepower, helping to differentiate the two models? While in theory that would seem practical, all engines have to be certified for each model, even if they're already in an existing car. So while taking the VW GTI or Golf R engine and fitting it into the Scirocco engine bay sounds like common sense, there's still the certification costs. Not to be forgotten is the fear of cannibalization. Volkswagen conceded that there was a fear that the Scirocco would bite into three-door GTI sales if sold here in the U.S. In Europe, Volkswagen is the largest automaker, and enjoys a healthy 12.7 percent market share. That translates to a lot of sales, and the ability to sell more models. In the U.S. by contrast, VW currently holds a 2.7 percent market share. While growing, it still has to proceed with caution, and not jeopardize sales of successful models such as the GTI. Lastly, the Volkswagen Scirocco R is built on the current Golf architecture. But Volkswagen has already released its next-gen Volkswagen MK-VII model in Europe, one based on an all-new architecture dubbed MQB. The advantage is that over time, up to 40 cars within the VW Group--for brands such as Volkswagen, Audi, and even those not sold in the U.S. such as Seat and Skoda--will be using many of the same parts and technology. It will provide an economy of scale that in theory should make the automaker more competitive. And the next Volkswagen Golf, GTI, and Golf R will all be arriving in the U.S. starting in a matter of months, built on the new MQB. So for the Scirocco to arrive afterwards, and on old architecture, wouldn't make sense.

Will We Ever See the Scirocco in the U.S.?

It's possible, but not for the next several years. The next Scirocco, built on the MQB architecture, won't arrive in Europe for at least another couple of years. Tack on another 2-3 years until we could in theory see it in the U.S., and you get the idea. But Volkswagen enthusiasts have plenty to be excited about. The new GTI is lighter, and will increase power to 210 hp for base models, and will for the first time feature a performance version that bumps that figure to 220 hp. There's a fair chance we could see the diesel powered GTI--the Volkswagen GTD--in America as well. We got a chance to test that car earlier this summer, and found it offered a sporty, higher-mileage alternative to the GTI.
And finally, the next Golf R will arrive in 2015 if all goes according to plan. When it does arrive, it will be packing 285 hp, a 20 hp advantage on the current Scirocco, not to mention the all-wheel-drive factor. So while it doesn't make sense for VW to sell the Scirocco R in America, enthusiasts have a lot to look forward to. And there's still hope that Volkswagen could bring the next-gen Scirocco to these shores, with a possible surprise debut in 2018 (give or take a year). And if that sounds like too long, it may be time to dust off that passport.

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I"m more into the new Golf R. 4 wheel drive with the power and performance.

Tim Kastner
Tim Kastner

Yes but bring the whole line, gas, diesel, and the R