Dirt Cheap: 1990-94 VW Corrado


It’s not unusual for diehard Japanese- or American-car fans to find themselves shouting the virtues of smooth Germanic machines once they spend a little time behind the wheel of a BMW, Mercedes, or Volkswagen. No matter what your automotive religion, it can be surprisingly hard to resist the refinement those Euro über brands display.

Unfortunately, two of those storied German marques tend to stay rather pricey until they’re more ratty than a thrift-store sweater. But of that Black-Forest Big Three, Volkswagen remains a lower-priced alternative. And one of its more interesting performance cars, the Corrado, is well within reach.

Volkswagen introduced the Corrado in the U.S. for 1990. Aimed at enthusiast drivers, the car was VW’s successor to the Scirocco, which departed the lineup after 1988. Compared to Scirocco, the Corrado had a wheelbase some three inches longer but was a little over six inches shorter overall.

Corrado’s sole engine initially was a 158-hp supercharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder. But part way through the ’92 model year, the four was replaced by a narrow-angle V6 from the Passat. This naturally-aspirated 2.8-liter unit put out 178 hp and added welcome low-speed torque.

Designed to be somewhat of a technology showcase for Volkswagen, Corrado featured a some rather interesting mechanical systems, including a rear spoiler that automatically deployed at speeds above 45-55 mph. Although the benefit of this device in everyday driving is perhaps debatable, it’s a neat feature for techie enthusiasts who like to engage in Autobahn fantasies from time to time. In addition, Corrado also offered a number of other features that were fairly advanced for the time, including traction control and antilock brakes.

Complementing the technical sophistication was Corrado’s fine road manners. Magazines at the time praised the car’s handling, with some writers even comparing it to such sterling performers as Porsche 944—high praise for any car, much less one with front-wheel drive.

Today, Corrado fans divide into two camps: Those who prefer the earlier Corrado G60 with its supercharged four-cylinder, and those who go for the later V6-powered SLC version. The argument can be made for either. G60 Corrados are lighter, but their acceleration is said to feel sluggish below 3000 rpm, despite the added punch from the supercharger. Conversely, V6 Corrados are heavier but they have greater low-end gusto, with a fatter powerband. They also have such niceties as a more precise shifter that uses rods instead of cables.

On the other hand, the G60’s 4-cylinder engine is said to be much more tunable, with simple mods raising its output to 200 hp or more. Then again, the supercharger on these cars is said to be rather fragile, with replacement parts getting rare and expensive.

You get the idea. Prospective Corrado buyers can go back and forth forever. In the end, the V6 is likely to be considerably more reliable, making the SLC a safer place to put your money.

As for finding a good Corrado to pick up, you might have to be a little patient. They were only sold in the U.S. for five model years and they were never big sellers in the way that Golfs and Jettas have been over the years. The good news, however, is that most of the Corrados you’ll see are still in pretty good shape and they’re priced attractively. The bulk of them list for less than $6000, with plenty of solid ones available for less than $4500.

That might just leave a chunk of cash for you to buy some nice mods—aftermarket support is said to be very good for Corrados. You could put together a fun, Teutonic screamer that blends sports-car kicks with four-seat-compact practicality.