It may seem like question from an anoraks’ convention but when the steering can be so intrinsic to the enjoyment of driving a car, it’s a relevant one: what’s the best steering front-wheel drive car ever made?
The Lotus Elan or Honda Integra Type-R would get a shout in. Maybe the Peugeot 205 GTI 1.6? A few Renaultsport models could also lay claim to the title. But let’s not forget the case for the Volkswagen Corrado, a car that sits firmly in the ‘modern classic’ category today and is becoming increasingly sought-after. So what should you look for when buying Corrado?
At its launch in late 1989, press and public alike were astonished by how well this compact coupé dealt with corners given the odds were stacked against it. Underneath the stubby wedge were underpinnings from the by-then aging Golf Mk2 platform. When the VR6 model arrived in 1992, far from corrupting the handling and steering, the punchy V6 only added to the excitement and talents of the Corrado. Consequently, this is a coupé that earns its place as one of the greatest front-wheel drive cars.
Volkswagen already had the Scirocco as an affordable coupé when the Corrado was launched, so it might have seemed odd to have two cars from the same stable competing against each other. However, VW pitched the Corrado as a more premium model aimed at taking on the likes of Alfa Romeo, BMW, and even Porsche. In the face of that kind of competition, it had to be good.
By cherry picking bits from the Mk2 Golf and contemporary Passat, Volkswagen’s engineers came up with a fine handling car. Dressing it up was unfussy styling by Herbert Schafer, with flush-fitting glass and an active rear spoiler that rose up automatically when the car hit 62mph and dropped back down when it dipped below 15mph.
Under the bonnet, the Golf also gave up its engines in the form of the 1.8-litre 16v motor with 138bhp and an eight valve 1.8 fitted with a supercharger to create the G60 model. The supercharged car served up 160bhp but 0-60mph took 8.5 seconds, so performance was always a little disappointing in a straight line even if VW hailed it as its fastest production car to date thanks to a 140mph top speed. However, straight-line speed is but one element of a great car’s repertoire; the Corrado excelled in the corners and had road testers reaching for the Big Book of Hyperbole when writing reviews.
1992 proved to be a big year for the Corrado as it received a facelift and the 1.8-litre 16v engine grew in capacity to 2.0-litres. It also received wider front arches to accommodate the improved and widened front suspension that borrowed parts from the Mk3 Golf. Later in the year, the G60 was replaced by the 188bhp 2.9-litre VR6 engine. In the US, a 2.8-litre motor was offered with 179bhp, but Europe got the more potent engine as standard. The motor has a very narrow 15-degree V angle, which allowed it to fit in the space usually occupied by a four-cylinder motor. Its strong low, mid- and high rev power finally made the Corrado all the car it promised it could be and 0-60mph came up in 6.5 seconds. Just as importantly, the sweet handling balance was largely unaffected.
One final addition to the engine range for UK-bound Corrados was the eight valve 2.0-litre engine from the Mk3 Golf GTI. It had a measly 115bhp so could only offer 0-60mph in 10.6 seconds with the five-speed manual gearbox, or an even less impressive 11.5 seconds with the auto ’box. For 1995, Volkswagen offered UK customers the limited-edition Storm model with BBS alloy wheels, unique badges, and leather upholstery with heated front seats. Only 505 were built, with production split between those finished in Classic Green and others in Mystic Blue. The Storm was the last of the line for the UK, with the final few delivered in 1996.
What’s a Corrado like to drive?
As soon as you arrive at a corner in the Volkswagen Corrado, you know why it’s regarded as one of the best steering and handling front-wheel drive cars. While it doesn’t have the same instant, flea-like ability to change direction as a Honda Integra Type R, the Corrado has a balance and delicacy to the way it steers and handles that makes it very rewarding to use. Press on and the expected understeer doesn’t really come into play thanks to the rear suspension offering a degree of passive steering, a neat trick made possible by borrowing from the Passat’s parts bin, buy be mindful that the car’s tail rotates if you back out of the throttle abruptly when the suspension is loaded up mid-bend.
Working in harmony with the handling and steering’s excellence is a ride that is supple enough for everyday use while also resisting much in the way of body lean. Many Corrados have had their suspension lowered, which need not upset the ride so long as it’s been done properly. You’ll easily spot a lowered car as the gap between the wheel and top of the arch will be the same as the distance around the rest of the tyre – from the factory the Corrado always did sit a little high.
When it comes to engines, each option has its own distinct flavour. The 1.8- and 2.0-litre 16-valve four-cylinder models are brisk enough, and these engines work well at low- to mid revs. However, they can be a little rowdy towards the red line, so if you want a car for track use you’d be better looking towards the butter-smooth VR6. With more grunt at any revs, the 188bhp 2.9-litre V6 is a joy to use and listen to, but like all Corrados, the shift action of the cable-operated, five-speed manual gearbox is a little notchy. Still, it’s better than the automatic transmission that blunts performance. The G60 model with its supercharged 1.8-litre eight-valve engine offers yet another experience in the Corrado. It doesn’t feel particularly quick off the mark for a car with 160bhp, but it does pull through the gears with gusto.
Drive any of the Corrado models with some decorum and you’ll find them refined cruisers. The cabin of a well-cared for car will be free of rattles or creaks, showing just how well the car was put together when new. The dash is very similar in style to a contemporary Golf’s, so it’s workmanlike rather than fancy, but this just helps focus the driver’s attention on the road ahead. Depending on the upholstery, it can be a little gloomy in here if black leather is fitted, but many cars came with an electric sunroof that can brighten up matters if the weather is kind. The rear seats are big enough for a couple of kids, plus the boot can handle more luggage than you’d imagine.
How much does a Corrado cost?
Whether in forums or at a cars and coffee meet, the Corrado is one of those cars that’s often a subject of discussion amongst car enthusiasts. It’s also a car we’ve had our eyes on for a good few years: in the 2020 US edition of the Hagerty Bull Market List, the Corrado made the 10 star cars.
Browse the classifieds and you’ll soon appreciate there’s usually a small selection of Corrados for sale at any one time, and you can check their value against the Hagerty Price Guide. Examples start from around £4000 to £5000, but they will be high-mileage and need work. Better cars are available from around £6000 to £7000. A similar condition G60 or VR6 will be a couple of thousand pounds more due to their added desirability.
Good examples of the 1.8 16v and 2.0 16v models top out at £8000 unless they are in exceptional condition with low miles. A G60 in excellent shape will fetch £10,000, while the very best VR6 models are heading towards £16,000. If you find an immaculate Storm limited-edition model, reckon on paying £20,000 or more, depending on the mileage, condition and history.
That leaves the late-to-the-party eight valve 2.0-litre model, which is arguably the least sought-after of all Corrados. However, if you just want a car to use and enjoy regularly, it presents good value as you can pick up cars in extremely good shape for £6000.
What goes wrong and what should you look for when buying a Corrado?
Each of the engines used in the Volkswagen Corrado come with their issues. Starting with the 1.8- and 2.0-litre 16-valve motors, the cam belt should be replaced every five years. If you spy blue smoke when starting the engine, it likely indicates worn-out valve guides, and if won’t idle smoothly, the culprit tends to be the idle stabilisation valve. For the G60, the key check is the supercharger itself, where oil seals fail. If there’s oil in the intercooler pipe, it’s a dead giveaway the supercharger needs a rebuild, which is around £500.
The VR6 engine has a reputation for being robust in standard tune, so check it hasn’t been modified earlier in its life. Regular oil and filter changes are a must, and expect the cam chain to rattle on an engine with 100,000 miles or more on the clock unless there are receipts to prove the tensioner has been replaced recently.
As you inspect the engine bay, look at the front chassis legs for signs of crash damage or repairs. All Corrados were galvanised from new, so they are good at resisting rot, but you should check the door bottoms, sills, filler cap aperture, windscreen surround and around the indicator side repeaters in the front wings. The door handles are known to become sticky with age, but a rebuild kit is available or you can use period Passat parts to sort this. Round the back, make sure the active spoiler comes up with the switch in the cabin. It should also rise up as you reach 62mph and drop down when you slow to 15mph. If it doesn’t work, you may get lucky and it’s simply that the mechanism needs a clean and grease.
During a test drive, listen for any clonks from the suspension, given the age of the cars now. The same applies to the brakes, which are strong, but ABS sensors and trigger rings can fail and cause a dash light that will result in an MoT fail.
Inside the cabin, worn seat trim is not uncommon but can be sorted by a competent trimmer. More of a worry are the heater controls on facelifted models that were prone to breaking even when the Corrado was new. Check they work smoothly and direct heat and air as required. Damp footwells can be due to a broken heater matrix, which is a big job to sort as the dashboard has to be removed – however it could just be worn door seals or a blocked scuttle drain. And don’t forget to make sure the headliner is firmly secured and not sagging.
Which is the right Corrado for you?
It’s no surprise to learn the VR6 has become the most coveted Volkswagen Corrado model, particularly if you can find one in Storm trim. The limited-edition Storm is strictly for die-hard Corrado collectors, so better to save a few bob and enjoy the standard version as they drive in exactly the same way. The narrow angle V6 engine is a delight to work hard and pulls strongly at all revs, and it’s not onerous when it comes to maintenance. This is the Corrado that came closest to fulfilling VW’s hopes of taking on BMW and Porsche, so it makes the best buy of its range now.
There are those who will swear by the uncorrupted handling of the G60 and it has a unique appeal thanks to the supercharged engine. Don’t expect it to feel quick off the line, but you will enjoy its rhythm on criss-cross roads. The 1.8- and 2.0-litre 16-valve models might not have the exoticism of a supercharger, but they are easy to live with and cheaper to look after than the G60. They are also better to drive than their Golf GTI contemporaries.