If today the compact sports coupe segment is almost completely gone, the situation was quite different at the turn of 1990. At that time, these models were very popular, with almost every manufacturer offering one.
Honda Prelude, Acura Integra, Mazda MX-6, Isuzu Impulse, Nissan 240 SX, Toyota Celica, Eagle Talon, Ford Probe, Chevrolet Beretta; these models have etched lasting memories in the minds of an entire generation of driving enthusiasts. They are appreciated for their low price but also for their design and the performance they offer. Moreover, the competition became so intense in this niche, that a war of power quickly manifested itself, and each manufacturer tried to innovate to defeat its rivals.
The volkswagen corrado, sold here from 1989 to 1995, is undoubtedly the model with the biggest impact on the segment. Let’s take it back to its VR6 version, model year 1993, to remind us of a time when Volkswagen was betting big to outrun a solid competition.
The Corrado is not Volkswagen’s first sports coupe. It followed in the footsteps of the Scirocco, which was sold from the mid-1970s until the end of 1980. This model, which replaced the Karmann Ghia, lasted two generations and finally died in 1989.
At that time, Volkswagen noticed that the compact sports coupe segment had changed significantly. The competition, especially the Japanese, came with more sophisticated models. Some models offer a very powerful turbocharged 4-cylinder engine equipped with variable valve timing or even a V6 engine. We have also seen the appearance in this segment of many new technologies such as all-wheel drive, torque vectoring, the use of aerodynamic downforce or, again, directional rear wheels, in particular.
Therefore, Volkswagen understood that, in order to better position itself in this segment, the Scirocco had to be completely redesigned, up to the complete change of its name. So it bet on the idea of outdoing its rivals by marketing a model focused on luxury and comfort.
Inspired by the design of the Scirocco, signed by none other than Giorgetto Giugiaro, German stylist Herbert Schäfer went to the drawing board to design the Corrado. The result is brilliant. The Corrado retains its resemblance to the Scirocco while appearing as a modern and more luxurious Volkswagen product than the rest of the range offers. Now, this design is less than an iota.
By the mid-1990s, automakers were beginning to sense declining sales for sports coupes. And since the Corrado was a very expensive model at the time (around $31,000 or the equivalent of $54,000 today), Volkswagen decided to pull it from our market in 1995.
Engines, gearboxes and technical data
Coming here, the Corrado is powered by a supercharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, also known as the Corrado G60. This engine created a lot of controversy, because, despite Volkswagen’s very sporty appearance and luxurious presentations, the Corrado did not show much power or torque. A mere 158 horsepower and 166 lb-ft were obtained from this engine. Those numbers pale in comparison to the roughly 200 horsepower offered by the competition.
Proud and wanting to be ahead of its rivals, Volkswagen completely overhauled the powertrain of its sports car in 1991. Here was born the famous VR6 engine, whose name comes from its configuration. The R stands for the German word Reihenmotor, which translates to “in-line motor”. In other words, the VR6 is a V6 engine, but also inline. But how is this possible?
To achieve these ends, Volkswagen dramatically shortened the angle of the V6 to just 15 degrees. Thus, two cylinder heads can be paired to create just one. The result was a 2.8-liter V6 engine that took up the same space as a 4-cylinder, allowing the manufacturer to fit it under the hood of the Corrado without having to change the front of the vehicle.
This engine not only proved to be very technological – well suited to the segment – but also allowed the Corrado to be respected when it came to performance. In this configuration, the engine developed 176 horsepower and produced 173 lb-ft of torque. Paired with a 5-speed manual gearbox, this engine, which sent its power to the front axle, allowed the Corrado to complete the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds, representing an improvement of 1 .3 seconds compared to the G60.
Although a slightly more powerful version of the VR6 engine (188 hp / 181 lb-ft) is offered in other markets due to a displacement of 2.9 liters, the Corrado VR6 sold here is not offered in other versions. In fact, it remained the same until 1995.
I’ve driven a Corrado G60 before, but never a VR6. Compared to the current car fleet, the Corrado seems very small, to the point of almost displaying the proportions of a modern subcompact. The test specimen underwent some subtle changes. For example, its midnight blue color (code C5V) is a color reserved only for the European market. The owner also replaced the rims and the steering wheel. He also changed the air intake system. Overall, though, this Corrado is very close to its original appearance.
However, access to the board is quite easy thanks to the wide opening doors. Sitting comfortably in the large leather seats, which show little sign of age, I realize how modern this Corrado still is, even 29 years after its launch.
After a few key strokes, the VR6 started growling in front of me. This engine has a particularity that emits a unique sound that no other V6 in history has been able to replicate.
I slipped into first gear with the very short gear lever and hit the road in one of the most iconic models in Volkswagen history. All eyes are on me.
On the road, I quickly realized that the Corrado was designed as a grand touring model rather than a sports car. It’s comfortable, you feel it’s heavy, stable, quiet, and its operation is quite phenomenally smooth considering its age.
But of course, it’s the performance of this awesome VR6 that steals the show. The moment you press the accelerator, its air intake system (modified in this case) can be heard, and the purr of this magnificent engine makes every hair on your body stand on end. It’s a fine engine that spins without the slightest vibration and generates a linear and consistent dose of power and torque.
By today’s standards, the Corrado isn’t very fast, but it delivers its performance with an air of maturity reminiscent of the German luxury brands of the time. In the turns, it is the same observation: the Corrado is always well planted on the ground, bites the road and there is no feeling of torsion in its chassis. This old Volks is still super strong!
Behind the wheel of this sports coupe, many memories came to my mind. The 1990s and early 2000s were a dazzling era for sports compacts, tuning and street racing. It was also around this time that I began to develop a serious interest in cars.
In my eyes, the Corrado was legendary because, given its price, it was impossible to find, even at the time. Seeing it now only accentuates this effect. Rare are the cars that manage to sum up an entire season in one pass. The Corrado was certainly the result of misplaced German pride, but more than anything else it epitomized the car industry’s shenanigans of the 1990s.
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