IN creating the Corrado VR6, Volkswagen invoked two irrefutable laws. The first was that a six-cylinder engine is innately more refined than a four-cylinder one. The second, based on an old American adage, is that a good big'n will always eclipse a good little'n. In replacing the original small, frenzied 'four' with a larger, sweeter 'six', VW gave the Corrado more than a new lease of life. It gave it a fresh start, dazzling ability and huge appeal.

VW's chunky coupes, based on the Golf 2, sold poorly when they were launched here in 1989 with four-cylinder engines: the 136bhp 16V was too expensive compared with the old Scirocco (recently dropped), and the 160bhp supercharged G60 (no longer made, either) never quite fulfilled its performance promise. Although sales went up when prices came down, the Corrado still lacked an engine worthy of its accomplished chassis. Not any more.

Technically, there is nothing very special about the 2.9-litre, 190bhp V6 shoehorned under the flagship Corrado's bonnet. It performs beyond expectations, however. What immediately impresses is the engine's turbine-smooth refinement, its silken delivery. Harshness and vibration are as alien here as they are inescapable in a 'four'. The VR6 never sounds more raucous than a puffing tabby. To be pernickety, it does not sound much more stimulating, either.

Despite the lack of aural excitement, the Corrado VR6 goes like lathered lightning. With an engine slightly bigger and more powerful than the Golf VR6's, acceleration almost matches a Porsche 968, which costs almost pounds 14,000 more. The BMW 325i Coupe, regarded as a class benchmark, is shown a clean exhaust by the VW. The VR6 is also wonderfully flexible, so there is energetic response to the accelerator even when lugging at low revs in a high gear.

It is not just the refined power that makes the VR6 such an intoxicatingly rich driving experience. The Corrado has always been lauded for its razor-sharp handling and strong grip. Any fears that a heavier engine might upset the car's fine balance are unfounded. If anything, the wide-tyred VR6 corners with greater panache than the 16V, its lightly assisted steering communicating intimately. The only flaw betrayed by extra power is a tendency to weave under hard acceleration on bumpy roads. Even so, the VR6 is not tainted by the unruliness that afflicts some powerful front-drive cars. A sophisticated traction-control system, costing pounds 259 extra, prevents the wheels from spinning on slippery roads. Strong, anti-lock brakes also allow you to steer away from trouble during a panic stop. Skidding is almost impossible.

Tidy packaging makes the Corrado roomier than appearances suggest. Although less spacious than the Vauxhall Calibra - the best-selling coupe in a market sector that Ford rejoins later this year with the Probe - it will accommodate four adults at a pinch, although those in the back feel a bit hemmed in. What it will not do with great alacrity is smooth away bumps. Thudding and roaring from the big tyres tends to draw attention to firm, handling-biased suspension that induces agitation on indifferent roads, and jitterbugs on poor ones. Even so, long journeys are tirelessly despatched. Noise levels are modest, the heating/ventilation first class, the trappings of opulence reasonable.

Included in the negotiable pounds 19,675 price are split folding rear seats, alloy wheels, the best trip computer you can get, six-speaker Sony hi-fi and powered windows, sunroof and locks. You pay extra for the alarm/immobiliser that should be standard on a car as tempting as this to thieves. Leather trim, sports seats and automatic transmission can, with other expensive options, push up the price to pounds 24,000.

It is as a driver's car that the VW excels. Dynamic qualities apart, the driving position is outstanding (seat and steering column are height adjustable), the front seats more supportive than they look, the dash controls, recently improved in all Corrados, handily deployed. Slight notchiness in the gearchange is rendered a minor irritation by the engine's ability to slug it out without downshifting. Ignoring impractical exotica on the wrong side of silly money, the well-made Corrado VR6 is the most desirable car I have driven in ages.

SPECIFICATIONS

VW Corrado VR6, pounds 19,675. Engine: 2861cc 12-valve V6 non-turbo, 190bhp at 5,800rpm. Transmission: five-speed manual front-wheel drive. Performance: 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds, top speed 145mph. Fuel consumption: 25-30mpg, unleaded.

COMPARISONS

BMW 325i Coupe, pounds 21,875. Roomier and classier than the Corrado, but not quite as entertaining. Smooth-riding quality car, high in snob-appeal, low in depreciation. Good to drive, but the VR6 is better; fast from A to B, but the Corrado is faster.

Ford Escort RS Cosworth, pounds 24,810. High-profile winged-wonder with wild all-or-nothing turbocharged engine and fourwheel drive. Strong performance, great handling but harsh and noisy compared with V6 Corrado. Good to drive, hard to insure. For extroverts and rally drivers only.

Rover 220 Turbo, pounds 17,582. Smart, attractive coupe with more power than finesse. The cheapest 150mph car on the market, but not the most rewarding. Inclined to unruliness when extended, lacks the Corrado's handling fluency. Well made, keenly priced but flawed as a driving machine. Cheaper non-turbos better behaved.

Vauxhall Calibra Turbo, pounds 19,358. Cavalier-based eye-catcher with strong but raucous performance and terrific roadholding. Very roomy for a coupe. Despite four-wheel drive, uninspiring. A very fast, well-made car, but lacks Corrado's fluency and smoothness.

(Photograph omitted)

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