The rarest new car in the USA is not a Lamborghini. It isn't a Ferrari. It's not an Aston Martin. It's not even close. It's a $30,000 Volkswagen hatchback. And there's only one. It's a damn unicorn.
(Full Disclosure: VW teases American journalists each year by bringing in a couple Europe only cars. This year, they had a Scirocco R available. We jumped at the chance to borrow it.)
Volkswagen sells us a car called the Golf. You've heard of it. In Europe, they sell a sleeker, sexier, less useful version called the Scirocco. It does everything a Golf does, just worse. Which makes it better.
What exactly is the Scirocco R, you ask? It's a fairly simple recipe. Take a Golf, remove the dowdy and boring body. Add on a sleek, menacing coupe hatch cross bred style. And that's really about it.
For all intents and purposes, the Scirocco R is a front-wheel drive Golf R with a new body. It doesn't really torque steer, but it does feel more alive and dramatic than the Golf R in that you're involved in keeping it straight and you have a better feel for the front end than it's fatter brother.
It feels lighter in the bends, more tap than lugubrious slow dance. I know it's the same basic car, but there's something very eager and puppy-like about the Scirocco. The 2.0 turbo that feels flat and anemic in the Golf comes alive in the Scirocco, with pops and a Janice Joplin rasp.
So why don't we get the Scirocco over here? Will it cannibalize the sales of the Golf? I don't think so. We don't get it because of the costs of federalizing a car, which can run near $100 million. America is not a hatchback market. Golf sales here are a fraction of what they are abroad. Add another small hatchback into that, and you have double the expense certifying two cars to sell about the same amount.
It doesn't make business sense.
Of course, there is the opportunity for the Scirocco to enter the US market when the next generation is released, but that isn't for a few more years. So that makes the Scirocco even rarer than a Lamborghini Aventador and a LaFerrari.
You'd imagine that means it draws a great deal of attention. But it doesn't. In New York City traffic, a few wayward glances are all it got, mostly from European tourists that were probably wondering why we aren't buying more Sciroccos. Oh, there was also one angry man yelling that I didn't cede my right of way to him because he thought he could cross the street whenever he damn well pleased, but it seems he didn't particularly care about the car itself.
On the roads outside of New York on a short weekend trip to the Berkshires, I could count on one hand the people that stared at the Scirocco. I had people pull up next to me and look at it, some guys hung out the window of a Dodge Dakota in the rain to snap shots and video, and a couple more thumbs up near the Lincoln Tunnel.
I'm always amazed when a rare or exciting car fails to cause the people around to immediately turn and stare at it. By all accounts, the Scirocco should be one of those cars that captures imagination. It looks different enough that it should make even a casual walker go, "hmmm, what is that exactly?" But they don't.
That could be the reason why the Scirocco doesn't make it to America. Everything needs a business case, and there is absolutely no practical reason to buy a Scirocco instead of a Golf. The Scirocco is an attractive Golf. It's a fashion statement that says "I didn't want the Golf, I got this." The Scirocco would be a niche product, purchased by enthusiasts who want something that is more fun than a Golf, more aggressive than a Golf, feels better than a Golf. It isn't a volume product. And with VW sales down in 2013 compared to where they wanted to be, which is closing in on number one, the Scirocco is one of those non-mainstream products that just might not make sense for America.
And if nobody even notices the only one in America on the street, why waste the money when many of these people are already happy with a Golf?