THE Volkswagen Corrado VR6 rules OK. It ruled pretty OK when it was just the Corrado G60, but last autumn - when it came here with the compact and beautifully designed V6 engine conceived for the breezier versions of the Mark 3 Golf - it matured into a machine of awesome competence, panache and performance. Buffs began discussing it in the same sentences as the Mazda RX7, or those snip-priced Porsches that come in at around pounds 35,000.
The Corrado is, of course, something of a buff's car. It's low-slung and low-roofed; it looks like the kind of blunt and stubby projectile designed to be fired from a catapult; its suspension is firm; and it's nobody's idea of refined in the Nineties sense, whatever VW might say.
Yet in its own way, the Corrado VR6 is not simply a piece of exotica made by an otherwise sober manufacturer, but a safe and practical performance car - once you accept that it's a true sports coupe and not a sleek facsimile. It is a remarkable sprinter, but that's only a small part of the story. Though it looks a shade old-fashioned, like a hatchback that's been squashed, the Corrado's chassis is so well conceived that its responses to throttle position when cornering are strikingly sharp. Almost ideal weighting of the power-steering completes the sensation of driver, vehicle and road contours being in intimate contact. The Corrado hasn't sold particularly well in Britain, nor has it held out against depreciation, probably because its distinctiveness is just too quirky and its driving capacities too rarely capable of being safely explored in everyday use. But it's already a classic, and, compared to some of its BMW and Porsche rivals, at a little over pounds 20,000 it's cheap.
GOING PLACES: sensational pocket-battleship V6 engine, delivering 190 brake horsepower at 5,800 revs per minute, 181 ft/lbs of torque at 4,200 rpm. Gearshift a little clunky, but power unit acceptably quiet at motorway speeds, with subtle traction- control braking devices to limit wheelspin - a potential problem with a powerful front-drive car. 0-60mph in 6.5 secs, similar for 50-70mph overtaking range in fourth.
STAYING ALIVE: VW-standard ruggedness, with bigger engine not compromising front crumple-zone structures. Anti-lock brakes and front-wheel traction control (sensors automatically brake a spinning wheel) standard, but no airbag. Superb handling in all conditions from one of the best designed and engineered chassis around.
CREATURE COMFORTS: rather austere interior, instrumentation and fittings more basic than the more upmarket competitors. Excellent sporty front seats, acceptable space at the rear though headroom tight. Bootspace limited by stubby shape. Good driving position flexibility, with height adjustable seat and steering column. Ventilation system much improved by 1993 model's rotary controls.
BANGS PER BUCK: power steering, alloy wheels, ABS brakes, traction control, central locking, electric front windows, electric tilt/slide sunroof. Acceptable fuel consumption for power output, approx 21mpg (urban), 30mpg at motorway speeds.
STAR QUALITY: classic-quality sports coupe, high power blended to handling balance and safety in state-of-the-art relationship. Comparable to machines on bottom rung of the supercar league, but much cheaper.
TURKEY QUOTIENT: distinctly unslinky shape, boxy interior, space limitations for family use.
AND ON MY RIGHT: BMW 325i Coupe ( pounds 21,875): close- run thing - better on refinement, ride and explicit class, slightly less sharp on handling; Lancia Delta Integrale ( pounds 23,395): faster, bumpier, crazier; Porsche 968 (pounds 33,500): no faster up to the limit, or sharper on the bends, but more kudos - and a lot more cash.
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