Volkswagen Corrado (UK model); courtesy Volkswagen AG
Volkswagen Corrado (UK model); courtesy Volkswagen AG. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Jeff Burry

Photo Gallery:
Volkswagen Corrado

Conceived as an upscale successor to the Volkswagen Scirocco (1979-1988), the Corrado continued the Scirocco’s three-door hatchback configuration with 2+2 seating. Launched in 1989 as a 1990 model, the Corrado was a true sports compact that was elegant in design and memorable for its performance. It was a sleek looking package created to add some excitement to the Volkswagen range.

Corrado, meaning “jet stream” in Spanish, was built and designed by Karmann Coachworks of Onsabruck, Germany. A comparatively small total of 97,521 units were produced and available world-wide throughout its production run of five years.

The Corrado offered exceptional handling in comparison to other vehicles available on the market in 1990, and was listed as one of the “25 Cars You Must Drive Before You Die” by the British magazine, Car.

Volkswagen Corrado (UK model); courtesy Bernd H. and Wikimedia Commons
Volkswagen Corrado (UK model); courtesy Bernd H. and Wikimedia Commons. Click image to enlarge

But while the car was well received by the automotive press, the buying public was not so quick to rush into showrooms. Then as now, the Volkswagen brand was not generally associated with producing sports cars (or luxury cars, for that matter). You have to remember that only ten years before the introduction of the Corrado, Volkswagen was still selling its air-cooled Beetle. That car had a strangle-hold on Volkswagen’s image as a car-builder, and to this day people still associate the brand with the Beetle’s decidedly down-market attributes of simple, practical, budget transportation.

These are worthy attributes, but not if you’re trying to sell a $30,995 performance car (the price was reduced for subsequent years, down to $24,930 in 1995). Other brands, better known for producing sleek looking sports cars, offered vehicles that could be had for roughly the same amount of money (Mazda RX-7, Nissan 300ZX, Chevrolet Corvette, or you could by two Ford Mustang GTs!).

Under the hood for its inaugural year was a 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder engine producing approximately 158 horsepower. The 0 – 100 km/h time was in the 6.8 second range and the quarter mile could be covered in 15.1 seconds. To its credit, this was considered very fast at the time for a vehicle powered with a four-cylinder engine.

The Corrado is probably best known for its rear spoiler that lifted automatically at 70 km/h and dropped back down to a stationary position at 20 km/h. The spoiler could also be raised and lowered manually by the driver with the flick of a switch.

Volkswagen Corrado (with customized shifter); courtesy
Volkswagen Corrado (with customized shifter); courtesy Click image to enlarge

In 1992, Volkswagen introduced two new engines that would power the Corrado. The first was a 2.0-litre16 valve in-line four-cylinder engine — basically an upgrade from the 1.8L engine — and the second was the highly touted, 174-hp, 2.8-litre 12 valve VR6.

The VR6 engine was very innovative at the time combining the benefits of both V-shaped and inline engines. This design enabled engineers to fit the six-cylinder engine into the same amount of space occupied by the smaller in-line four.

With its new engines, the Corrado continued to receive high marks for both performance and handling. As a matter of fact, some automotive journalists today still believe the car out-handles many current sport compact rides. At the time however, the car scored poorly in ride comfort, rear seat accessibility and comfort, and was viewed as being priced too high.

Of special interest was the fact that no base models were ever sold in Canada due to the limited number of units produced for Canadian dealerships. This meant that Canadian buyers of the Corrado would have to spend top-dollar for a fully loaded version which included leather seats, sunroof, air-conditioning, a cold weather package and BBS wheels.

Volkswagen Corrado (UK model); courtesy Bernd H. and Wikimedia Commons
Volkswagen Corrado (UK model); courtesy Rudolf Stricker
Volkswagen Corrado (UK model); courtesy Bernd H. and Wikimedia Commons (top); Volkswagen Corrado (UK model); courtesy Rudolf Stricker. Click image to enlarge

There were a number of modifications made to the Corrado during its limited production history. In 1991, a four-speed automatic transmission became available and wider (205/50VR15) tires were mounted to the BBS wheels. A theft alarm system was also one of the available options. No changes were made for the 1992 model year.

The 1993 model saw the most changes made to the vehicle. The four-cylinder supercharged engine was dropped and replaced with the VR6 engine. The grille and front spoiler received restyling appointments which now housed fog lamps. Traction control was also standard on the 1993 model and the suspension received a minor overhaul leading to improved performance and handling. To add just a little extra “bling,” new five-spoke wheels came as standard equipment.

For 1994 and 1995, few additional changes were made to the vehicle. The optional four-speed automatic transmission lost its driver selected normal and sport modes. Side impact protection was improved upon, and the speed-activated rear spoiler now raised at 80 km/h (rather than the previous 70 km/h) but still retracted when the speed hit 20 km/h.

Availability was always spotty for Corrados in Canada. At annual car shows, sometimes the Corrado would be present, sometimes not. It seemed that the car’s future was always in doubt, as Volkswagen tried to figure out how to best market their expensive little coupe.

If you are in the market for a Corrado now, depending on its condition, you can expect to shell out anywhere between $4,000 and $8,000. Some private sellers will want to get more depending on what performance upgrades they have done to the vehicle.

Make sure to do your research and be aware of some of the more common problems owners have experienced. Such things as exhaust hangers rotting, sunroof not working properly, supercharger failing to operate properly, rear spoiler ceasing to raise and lower automatically, and issues with the vibration damper are just some things to suggest “buyer beware.”

Today, the Corrado still has a strong following of enthusiasts with many special interest clubs and web sites providing ample information on the car. Information on performance, technical data and even classified sections are readily available.

One thing is for sure, Volkswagen left its mark within the sports compact market by introducing the Corrado in 1990. By today’s standards, it remains a sleek looking, and excellent handling vehicle that is still something of a conversation piece.

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