Coupés were big news in the 1990s. Any manufacturer worth its salt offered one, and some were better than others. Predictably, one of the most accomplished was the Volkswagen Corrado, with its svelte Karmann lines, excellent build quality and resilient Golf-sourced mechanicals. While many of its contemporaries have now rotted away, many Corrados are still in excellent condition – although low values also mean many are neglected.
The Corrado is the ideal modern classic as it’s good to drive, has hatchback practicality, is well built and comes with decent levels of comfort and safety equipment. Parts availability is good too, while DIY maintenance is generally possible. The Corrado is the coupé that has it all in fact, so if you reckon a Golf GTi is a bit too predictable, it’s what you should be buying instead.
Built by Karmann at its now-defunct Osnabrück plant, the Corrado VR6 was an instant hit with the motoring press. It was also the car that a generation of teenagers and young adults aspired to own. Today, more than two decades on, enthusiasm for the Corrado VR6 is just as vibrant.
Which VW Corrado to buy?
There were two basic engine families offered in the Corrado; four and six-cylinder. The former came in 1.8 or 2.0-litre flavours, the smaller unit in normally aspirated or supercharged (G60) forms. The 2.0-litre unit was always normally aspirated, but it was offered in eight or 16-valve guises. The 2.9-litre six-pot car, badged VR6, is the one that everyone wants, as it’s the most powerful and sounds the fruitiest.
For VW in the early ’90s, the problem was one of power and packaging: how to combine the power of six cylinders with the compactness of four. The Corrado, built on the mk2 Golf platform, had arrived in 1988 as an upmarket alternative to the Scirocco, replacing it entirely four years later. At launch, the quick version was the supercharged four-cylinder G60 with 158bhp, but in 1992 things got rather more interesting with the arrival of the VR6.
‘VR’ stands for V-Reihenmotor, which translates to V-Inline, describing both vee and inline cylinder layouts. That is, of course, contradictory. The unit is actually a very narrow-angle V6, displacing 2861cc, with two offset banks of cylinders at 15 degrees to one another. Unlike a conventional V6, but exactly like an inline six, there’s just one cylinder head.
The result is a six-cylinder engine that’s both much narrower than a typical V6 and shorter than a straight six. In fact, it’s more comparable in size to a four-cylinder than a six, which meant it could slot easily into a Golf floorpan. A creative and borderline ingenious engineering solution.
Good for 190bhp and 180lb ft of torque, the VR6 unit could haul the Corrado to 62mph in a claimed 6.7 seconds, which is more than respectable in 2016 but in 1992 must have seemed very rapid indeed.
Predictably you need to buy the best car you can find; don’t worry too much about the spec as they’re all good. However, normally aspirated four-cylinder cars with a cat aren’t as frisky as earlier models, while the G60 is more flexible than the regular 1.8, but not much faster. That leaves the VR6, which is the one to have for a multitude of reasons. It was built to a higher standard by Karmann (four-pot cars were assembled at Wolfsburg) and the extra power allows the brilliant chassis to really shine.
However, if you really can’t find a great VR6, don’t assume you’re going to have to make do with a lesser derivative – because all Corrados are great, as long as they’ve been looked after. Don’t buy one that’s had too much TLC though; Volkswagens have long been popular with modders, so many Corrados now sport tweaked suspension, uprated brakes and breathed-on engines. Some sympathetic upgrades are ideal; what you don’t want is a car with a butchered interior, or with a belly scraping the Tarmac.
Performance and specs
Engine 2861cc, six-cylinder DOHC
Power 190bhp @ 5800rpm
Torque 181lb ft @ 4200rpm
Top speed 145mph
Fuel consumption 26mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual/Four-speed auto
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 1240kg
• The only areas likely to be affected by rust in a car that hasn’t been crashed are the sills, wheelarches, front valance and the underside of the bonnet. Also check the rear suspension shock absorber top spring plate; it’s visible from underneath the rear wheelarches.
• Inspect the front inner wings for rippling or rusty creases, betraying crash damage. If the seams either side of the vertical panel above the rear bumper aren’t straight and even, or they’re rusty, assume the worst. The same goes if the sticker is missing on the inside of the rear panel (above the spare wheel). This indicates key information about the car; if it’s missing, it’s probably because the panel to which it should be stuck, has been replaced or straightened out.
• The cable-operated mechanism can fail in the factory-fitted electric tilt/slide sunroof. New mechanisms are available, but replacement is involved.
• All engines have a cam belt apart from the VR6. It should be replaced every five years or 40,000 miles; check when it was last done. Also see how often the oil and filter have been changed; fully synthetic is best for the former, and VW or Bosch should have been used for the latter.
• A noisy timing chain on the VR6 suggests guides and tensioner wear; replacement is normally due after 80,000 miles. The parts are available and you can do the work yourself, but it’s time consuming. It’s often worth replacing the clutch at the same time, which only adds to the cost.
• The exhaust is heavy and runs close to the rear axle. Once its mounting rubbers go soft there can be clunks from the exhaust as it comes into contact with the axle.
• The rear suspension must be in tip-top condition as it features passive steering. This works brilliantly if in good nick, but the rear axle bushes wear.
• Lowered suspension and aftermarket alloys are common, so check for fouling of the wheelarches. The VR6 has five-stud hubs; all other Corrados have four studs.
• Anti-lock brakes weren’t standard until 1992, but some earlier cars feature them too. Expect it on any VR6 or 2.0 16v and some later G60s. Ensure the orange warning light illuminates when you switch on the ignition; you should also feel a pulse through the brake pedal. The light should go out after a few seconds; if it doesn’t light at all, the bulb could have been removed to disguise a fault. If the light stays on the sensors might need to be cleaned or replaced, or the brake fluid level might be low. They’re all easily (and cheaply) fixed, but alternatively the control unit, brake pedal sensor or pump might have failed, which are more costly to put right.
• Check that the rear brake callipers haven’t seized, as it’s a common failing. Freeing them off is straightforward.
• Waterlogged footwells point to a leaky heater matrix or leaking inner door membranes. You can buy a new matrix, but fitting is a nightmare because of poor accessibility. Fixing the door membranes is much easier. Soggy carpets on the nearside could be down to the drains in the bulkhead being blocked with debris.
• Check that the MFA trip computer displays correctly. If it flashes, or resets when the ignition is turned on, the car has probably been clocked.
May 1989: The Corrado appears with a 1.8 16v engine.
Nov 1990: Electric steel sunroof and front windows now standard.
Apr 1991: Corrado G60 has a supercharged 1.8-litre 8v engine.
Mar 1992: The 1.8 engine is replaced by a 2.0-litre unit. Standard kit now includes a catalytic converter and anti-lock brakes.
Sep 1992: Corrado VR6 has V6 engine and auto option.
Oct 1992: New switchgear and revised dash layout.
Apr 1994: The Corrado 2.0 appears with an 8-valve engine.
May 1995: Run-out Storm special has heated front seats, 6.5-inch alloys, Sony CD player, leather trim. Just 500 are made.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
The market for Corrados has always been strong, and today the best examples are still fetching very strong money. As with pretty much any Volkswagen of the past 40 years, the vibrant tuning and modification scene – while boosting popularity and prices – means that finding a Corrado in untouched and original condition is still becoming increasingly difficult.
Four-cylinder project cars can be picked up for less than £1000, but these should be bought with caution. Perfect if you’re looking to build or restore something, they’re rarely easy or cheap projects. VR6s start from around £1250.
Spend closer to £2500 and you should be able to buy a higher mileage and well cared for four-cylinder example. G60s are likely to be a little rough around the edges, but the more basic models should be in fine shape at this price point. £4500 is enough for a good G60 while you’ll need to spend closer to £6000 for a good VR6. Low mileage and exceptional cars are rare, and could command up to £10,000 to the right buyer.