Volkswagen Iroc: VW gets sexy

Half trainer, half spacecraft, the Iroc is a preview of the new Scirocco, due in 2008. Jason Barlow applauds
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Uh-oh. Not the "e" word. A year ago a senior Mercedes designer tried to convince me that the new S-class was all about "emotion", that its incongruous wheelarch blisters were "emotional". Utter nonsense, of course, especially in the context of a car designed to ferry the world's least emotional people from one callous corporate raid to another.

Now here we are again. "It's an emotional thing," says Rudi Folten, VW's design spokesperson, with no hint of irony, "and we have to deliver a certain dynamic behaviour." He's talking about Volkswagen's Iroc, a visually arresting concept that explicitly previews a new coupé due in 2008. By the time it lands in showrooms, it'll be wearing the resurrected Scirocco badge, a name that ought to leave plenty of Independent readers feeling genuinely emotional: can it really be 34 years since VW's pretty little coupé first appeared? Good lord....

The Iroc is yet more proof that the German car business is bored of its trademark blocky Modernism and is striving for something, well, sexier. The original Scirocco, designed by industry legend Giorgetto Giugiaro, was a kind of Teutonic Ford Capri, "an affordable dream car" according to Folten. The new one is aiming at a similarly democratic seductiveness, though recently departed boss Wolfgang Bernhard's declaration that he wants "no more boring cars" suggests that VW is currently stuck somewhere between a worthy rock and a rather dull hard place.

Well, the Iroc is neither. Painted a lysergic "viper" green (an original 1970s colour apparently) and based on the Eos chassis, this is a cleverly proportioned sports car which flips the "long bonnet, short body" coupé convention to memorable effect. Most of the drama here is in the Iroc's waisted shape and prominent hips; there's a strong graphic line that runs the length of the car to give it an unusually propulsive feel. The wappen grille - for a "heraldic" effect, according to Folten - debuts what will become VW's punchy new trapezoidal family face.

The Iroc also plays tricks on the eye; depending on where you stand and what kind of light you view it in, the car's shapely hips can look more pinched. But for those of you not versed in car designer-speak - and they do have a tendency to disappear up their sculpted fundaments - what we're talking about is a car that could stop traffic. Not something a VW has managed in a while.

The Iroc works, too. Most concepts - designed to energise motor show punters - are held together with Super Glue and chewing gum beneath their highly polished surfaces. The Iroc, though, is powered by VW's ingenious "twincharger" petrol engine, a relatively diminutive unit that manages to squeeze 210bhp out of 1.4 litres, thanks to a combination of super- and turbocharging. (It's already available in the Golf GT, in 140 and 170bhp form.) This, rather than hybrids or electric power, is the most plausible real-world short term solution to our environmental woes, and in the Iroc comes tantalisingly packaged. Somebody tell Al Gore, and quickly....

It also has the snug fit and rather self-consciously flash accoutrements of a Nike trainer. There's no door handle as such: instead, a slim sliver of silver metal glides towards your fingers, whereupon the door springs open. It wouldn't last five minutes in a Tesco car park, but it's a nice little flourish.

And the Iroc is full of touches like this. It's also one of those cars that simply feels right. The steering wheel, which clearly references the original Scirocco's three-spoke item, is chunky, and the doors shut with a reassuring thump. Their interior grab-handles are finished in a faux aluminium that's almost as good as the real thing, and the rest of the cabin and seats are trimmed in a pleasingly tactile fabric. You don't know whether to drive the thing or run a marathon in it.

It's a roomy four-seater too, and travelling in the back beneath the full-length glass roof - although there's a strip of metal down the middle - puts one in mind of the first time Han Solo pressed the Millennium Falcon into hyperdrive. So, a car that looks like a giant running shoe crossed with a spacecraft. From the people who brought you the Passat.

There's little point telling you what the Iroc is like to drive: it has fat tyres, its dampers are filled with concrete, and trundling around an exhibition centre at no more than 40mph is no way to explore the car's handling "envelope". But though cost dictates that the new Scirocco will lose the concept's fabulous cabin, the visual execution and sheer chutzpah will remain intact. It'll be affordable too - prices will most likely start at about £17,000 - and VW has some seriously clever and genuinely useful technology to install in it, of which the "twincharger" is just the start.

Folten says VWs should be "solid, honest and authentic". This one can afford to be a little emotional too.

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