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BEHIND THE WHEEL / 1992 VOLKSWAGEN CORRADO SLC

A Supercharger Gets Up to Speed

March 25, 1992|PAUL DEAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Introduced in 1989, Volkswagen's supercharged Corrado turned out to be not quite the superb charger it was hoped.

Its 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine, adapted from the Golf/Jetta, was short on flexibility and on the confidence expected from a European sports car. A supercharger was partial compensation, hiking the output to 158 horsepower. But the increased power simply didn't come on soon enough for quick starts or mid-town spurts.

The awful truth: The Corrado G60, while a good-handling sprinter in the mid- and upper-performance ranges, would be risking its pink slip dragging against an Acura Legend or a Cadillac Eldorado.

As it turns out, Volkswagen apparently was stalling, feinting its claim to a spot in the 2+2 sport coupe segment while sweating the end of a 10-year development of a new engine for the real Corrado.

And like the first sniff of citrus blossoms, new love or the death of rap music, the 1992 Corrado SLC with a 2.8-liter V-6 adds a substantial lilt to the soul.

The G60 with the superpuffer is gone forever. In its place, the SLC offers 20 more horsepower, 15% additional torque and greater full-range performance than a street racer. And with a 0-60 m.p.h. time of less than seven seconds, it now can run for pinks alongside any sport coupe in its class.

The price, unfortunately, is also setting a new pace, with a base of $21,840 for the SLC, or $2,000 more than the old G60. But for that, the SLC comes stuffed with expensive goodies as standard equipment: anti-lock brakes, BBS lace wheels, traction control that tames wheel spin up to 25 m.p.h., air conditioning, alarm, central locking, power windows and a six-speaker Heidelberg sound system that could indeed rattle der schloss at Heidelberg. But automatic transmission is $795 extra.

Externally, the SLC has undergone nips and tucks, but nothing to change the traditional, European solidness of the Wilhelm Karmann styling.

There's a restyled, horizontally slotted grille and reshaped head and integrated fog lights to give the front end the look of single packaging.

The hood has been rounded and softened around the edges, although the rear end, with its yawning tailpipe and raised, bobtail look, remains. So does the rear spoiler, a tricky little device that eases up into the slipstream at 45 m.p.h., retracts at 12 m.p.h. and adds or subtracts about 66 pounds of rear-end lift.

Spoilers--particularly expensive, automatic types--remain a little beyond our ken.

They are sexy and imply racer's performance for car and driver. Yet they have only marginal affect on chassis geometry, ergo handling, and then usually in excess of 100 m.p.h. At such speeds, wise drivers should be worrying more about their hides than images.

Internally, the car remains pleasing and clearly designed for the enthusiast driver who can be a sport at any speed. As it was with the G60, the cockpit is snug and personal without seeming cramped. Seats have good thigh and kidney padding for optimum grip when cornering.

Every knob, lever and pedal seems poised in all the right places for quick contact and immediate response. Rear seats are the rear seats in all 2+2 sport coupes, and that means virtually useless for real people. Better to fold them flat and relish a really usable area for freight.

Amid such perfection, however, flaws loom all the uglier.

Rear visibility--thanks to a wiper and spoiler cramming an already narrow window into a slit--is seriously reduced. Volkswagen continues to stay with anachronistic, mouse-in-the-rail mechanical shoulder belts. There isn't a driver's-side air bag and won't be until 1994.

This is an odd series of miscues by Volkswagen, made stranger in an era where safety equipment remains a huge selling point and certainly as viable as value, fuel economy and meaty warranties.

One more nit: Central locking and unlocking from inside the car would be nice. The manual button for locking things up when motoring around seedier areas of the basin is set way back in the door sill. It requires a long, over-the-shoulder reach and enough muscle tone to resist back spasms.

But with the new engine, all may be forgiven.

Now the car comes off the line like it has been uncaged, chirping and smoking and keeping a good line despite all that torque on the front wheels. The acceleration doesn't fade through any gear or to any speed except in fifth, when the SLC's long legs are fully extended. Then the car is closing in on 140 m.p.h., which makes the Corrado the fastest set of wheels ever built by Volkswagen.

And the exhaust puts out a growling snort that at times is easier listening than the Heidelberg.

With the exception of imprecise shifting feel--VeeDub just won't let go of cable shift linkage that's floppy one shift, grabby the next--everything else needed to handle such poke is there.

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