We're blown away by the Volkswagen Golf R 400 that debuted at the Beijing Auto Show last week. The fact that VW can extract 400 horsepower from that 2.0L I4 is nothing short of miraculous. Yes, we've seen this kind of power from tuners before, but tuner cars that make 200 hp per liter usually self destruct pretty quickly. The Golf R 400 is going to production, and it will come with a real warranty. That's the miracle.

This is a relatively practical family car that can hit 60 mph in only 3.9 seconds and tops out at 174 mph. That's impressive performance for a dedicated sports car, but this is a hot hatch, which makes it the finest of its kinsmen, challenged only by the A45 AMG.

It seems like VW might have designed an all time great here, and we think it will be a cult classic. But it could have been so much more than that. 

It's going to be a cult classic because, like the Subaru WRX, the sporty styling exists only in front of the A-pillar. The Golf R 400 might be a wolf in sheep's clothing, but it looks more like a sheep in a wolf mask. Although the plain-Jane Golf styling won't be much of an obstacle for European sales, in the rest of the world, the average car shopper would likely pass it by entirely.

What drives us crazy about Volkswagen is that the company already has the solution to this problem, and its name is Scirocco. When the Scirocco debuted, it made a huge splash and became a design favorite world-wide, even if the VW big wigs didn't see fit to release the car in the USA. It was when the variants started to drop that things got weird.

In 2012 VW released hotter R versions of the Golf and the Scirocco. Despite being based on the same platform, VW only put its 4Motion all-wheel drive system in the Golf R, making it the clear performance winner. The Scirocco looks like it should be the performance winner, and looks like it should be the halo car for VW's high-performance offerings, but it was intentionally being left behind.

Now the Golf is getting this incredible, 400hp drivetrain and the Scirocco is, once again, inexplicably being left behind. The Scirocco (along with the Polo) is the VeeDub that has motorsport tie-ins, but it's not the one that gets the sportiest updates.

We think the Scirocco could be a huge success worldwide if VW would genuinely invest in it as a performance icon. VeeDub buyers who want a very practical Golf will continue to be attracted to the GTI, and a select few will want the AWD monster that is the Golf R. Sleepers might be cool, but badass looks sell badass cars and we think the hierarchy should look like this to maximize appeal:

  • Affordable Car: Golf at $18,995
  • Hot Hatch: GTI at $24,395
  • Sports Car: 300 hp, AWD Scirocco at $35,000
  • Halo Car: 400 hp, AWD Scirocco at $45,000 - $50,000

The Scirocco's more aggressive body would attract more Americans that the uninspiring Golf body would. No matter how impressive it is, you're going to have a hard time selling $35,000 Golfs to Americans. It's the same reason the Phaeton crashed so hard in the states: Very few people wanted to drop six figures on a car that basically just looked like a Passat, even if it did have a 444 hp W12 and a pseudo-Bentley interior. An American would buy a distinctive $50,000 sports car with 400 horses and AWD, but there are only about four people on the continent who would be interested in, and could afford, a Golf R 400.

It's sad to see the beautiful Scirocco languishing on the sidelines. Where would you put this engine?

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