Through the late 1970s, sporting Fiats and Alfas graced my garage. I loved the way these cars looked and drove, but the predilection of their metal components turning into ferrous oxide was not my idea of how weight reduction should be achieved.
Then with a chance test drive of a Golf GTI in 1980 everything changed. Here at last was a car that combined Italian brio with German build quality. My Italian mistress found herself out in the cold while I romped off into the sunset with a fraulein from Wolfsburg. But my young roving heart soon found her prettier sister, and a Scirocco Storm, and then one of the very first Scirocco GTI 1800s, ended up in my garage.
Fast forward to 2008 and I'm blessed with the spiritual successor to my long lost loves. Dropping the ride height and fitting larger wheels and tires never fails to improve a car's looks, and the more inherently sporty that car is, the better. The MTM Scirocco R fits the bill.
As always, MTM is one of the first tuners out of the starting blocks. The company's Stage 3 conversion for the turbocharged 2.0 TSI increases the 200-hp output by a whopping 50 percent to 310 hp at 6080 rpm, with 229 lb-ft of torque between 3480 and 4600 rpm. While the 2.0 TSI motor is an all-new engine family with a different block, there are enough mechanical similarities to the previous engine that much of the same tuning know-how still applies.
"For this Stage 3 conversion, we use a bigger turbo and exhaust manifold similar to those in the Audi S3," says MTM boss Roland Mayer. "Backpressure is a big issue with forced aspirated engines, so a 200-cell catalytic converter is used along with a bespoke stainless steel exhaust with four outlet pipes."
What this does to the car goes far beyond raw power. Modern turbocharged engines like this one tend to be tuned for a fairly flat torque curve via ECU mapping. While this provides very good driveability and makes this 2.0-liter feel like a 3.0-liter normally aspirated motor, it is also rather anodyne in character and lacks sports-car-grade excitement.
The MTM interpretation of power and torque delivery is somewhat more inspiring. Not only does the engine now make a lot more power and torque, it also feels like it has finally awakened from a long slumber. My old music teacher's words--"again, but with more passion"--spring to mind.
Torque is the key to quite a few good things. Other than providing better acceleration, its much larger presence throughout the tuned engine's rev range also means that you don't have to work it so hard in real-world driving. In everyday traffic conditions, this translates into broadly similar economy to the stock Scirocco despite the significant power increase. In some instances, you can even achieve improved economy by simply riding the fat torque curve, avoiding fuel guzzling high revs.
At the other end of the scale, the Scirocco R is dramatically quick on the autobahn. Joining fast moving traffic from the on-ramp courts little drama. One moment you're doing 120 km/h, and scant seconds later you are past 200 km/h with the speedometer needle moving around its dial almost as fast as the rev counter.
VW's super-slick DSG gearbox plays a big role here. The next ratio and then the one after merge so seamlessly with the engine's power and torque curves that there seems to be just one long blast of acceleration from zero to top speed. Even so, thanks to the beefy torque curve, you don't need to drop a gear and use the revs too much. Accelerating rapidly in fifth or even sixth gear is just a matter of flexing your right toe. Press harder, and the electronic brain zaps the DSG 'box down a cog. But since two gears are always engaged simultaneously, you don't feel any jerk. You just hear a rise in the engine rpm and feel the car thrust forward with renewed determination.
To cope with the significant power increase, the front brakes are replaced with 380mm vented discs clamped by big eight-pot calipers, effective when you have to shed big speed in a hurry. Pedal feel is very good and the fast road pads don't draw attention to themselves at town speeds with any uncivilized squealing.
When I saw the 9.0x20-inch wheels and rubberband 265/30 tires, I had immediate reservations about the potential ride quality. But Mayer wouldn't go down that route unless he had all his bases covered.
"Unsprung weight is a big issue and we could never do this with a 20-inch cast wheel weighing 15kg," he explains. "We use cast wheels in 18- and 19-inch sizes, but for the 20-inch size, our 11kg forged wheel is a must."
The grip these big boots generate is most impressive, and hunkered down on its MTM suspension, the Scirocco R feels totally glued to the tarmac on long autobahn sweepers taken at big speeds. On country roads, you have grip way beyond what you sensibly need, but you do feel some mild torque steer when you accelerate hard.
MTM is fundamentally an engineering-based company that places its store on engines, suspension and brakes first, and everything else second. However, they do pay more than lip service to driving comfort, and here I was most pleased with the supremely comfortable and supportive lightweight Recaro seats that replace the big VW chairs in the cabin.
At the end of the day however, for me it is the MTM motor that is a thing of wonder. The idea of a mere two liters producing a reliable 310 hp and remaining so driveable that your granny could take it to the market is an appealing one. The fact that fuel economy remains close to stock unless you use its full performance, and that it retains its full emissions certification, are also worthy of note.
This is the kind of tuning MTM does best, and the fact that cars like the stylish new Scirocco can make full use of this engine bodes well for the future of the modestly priced sporting coupe.
MTM Scirocco R
Transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
2.0-liter I4, dohc, 16-valve, turbocharged and intercooled. MTM turbo kit, exhaust, software
Six-speed DSG automated manual
Brembo eight-piston calipers, 380mm rotors (f)
* Wheels and Tires
MTM Bimoto forged, 9x20Michelin Pilot Sport 2, 265/30
Recaro sport seats
Peak Power: 310 hp @ 6080 rpm
Peak Torque: 229 lb-ft @ 3480 rpm