Peugeot 406 Coupé vs. Alfa Romeo GTV V6 vs. Ford Cougar V6 vs. VW Corrado VR6 and Opel/Vauxhall Calibra V6 – road test

2016 / 2017 Drive-My

Affordable 1990s Coupes. Big bangs for your buck: Five greats from £1k to 150mph and beyond. Six appeal. Comparing a quintet of V6-powered 1990s coupés, all great Drive-My – they’re possibly the greatest bargains of all right now. The gorgeous shapes that gave hope to sales reps in the 1990s are bargain buys today – these are the best V6 coupés, from £1k to 150mph. Great V6 coupés that excite you without breaking the bank. And they’re on the cusp of greatness. Words David Simister. Photography Alex P.

Family saloons are those shoes given out to tired revellers emerging from nightclubs. They’re easy to slip in and out of and you can rely on them to get you home in the early hours – but they’re a little bit flat.

What you really need is one of these V6 coupés, which are the dazzling numbers strutting their stuff under the glitter ball two hours earlier. Beneath their striking dimensions are the familiar underpinnings of some of the best family car champions, but then each has been treated to six cylinders of smooth performance and a healthy dollop of panache and charisma.

They’re all cars of their time, too. In a modern era of downsizing and turbocharging, free-revving naturally aspirated V6s are hard to find on new-car forecourts. As such, they provide a driving experience the likes of which we’re unlikely to see again. That gives these cars a last-of-the-line aura – which will only add to their allure. It’s the reason why some of them have already started to shoot up in value.

Peugeot 406 Coupé vs. Alfa Romeo GTV V6 vs. Ford Cougar V6 vs. VW Corrado VR6 and Opel/Vauxhall Calibra V6 - road test

All of these attention-grabbing two-doors can be snapped up for less than £10k – but which is the real star of the dancefloor? Let’s find out.

 

ALFA ROMEO GTV V6 1997-2006

Is it worth squeezing into the tightest car here for those drop-dead looks and the most powerful V6 of the bunch? You bet.


The V6 may be heavy and the interior cramped, but it’s hard not to get a bit frothy at the fingertips when offered a chance to let rip in the Alfa.

Statistically the Alfa Romeo should have this one nailed but it’s in the areas that can’t be quantified that the GTV V6 really comes alive.

For starters its V6 is bigger and more powerful than any of its 1990s counterparts here, with its 24-valve 3.0-litre unit mustering up 220bhp and 199lb ft of torque. Impressive, but there’s no Top Trumps card in the world that can convey the glorious sound it makes when you poke your right foot into its rather cramped footwell.

What starts as a fairly unremarkable hum at lower revs gradually builds into a wonderfully pitch-perfect bellow, and the V6’s lovely rev-happy response encourages us to explore right into the deepest reaches of what it’s got to give on the mischievous side of 6000rpm. The Alfa’s engine has a sense of theatre that compels us to push on further and further, until it’s time to back of, grab another gear and prepare for the next act.

Unlike the other cars here it has six of them to play with, which not only gives it a useful helping of refinement at motorway speeds but gives full access to more of the V6’s torque, more of the time. It has a long but accurate throw and feels ideally placed for the sort of gung-ho hedonists who are going to flock to this coupé – like the throttle pedal, it almost seems to know what the driver’s next move’s going to be before he does.

Alfa Romeo GTV V6

The leather-trimmed seats are mounted low and offer plenty of side support, but it definitely feels like the most cocooned of our quintet. The driving position’s not as idiosyncratic as the armchair critics might have you believe but the pedals are a little offset, and it’s definitely an environment where the shorter driver’s going to get comfortable more quickly.

It’s worth doing, though, because the interior is a real triumph of brooding aggression and neat touches. The rev counter and speedometer are sited at the end of deep, silver-rimmed pods that are easily visible through the leather lined, three-spoke steering wheel, and the delicate way the Alfa Romeo signature is stencilled into the silver trim dominating the area around the secondary dials and heater controls is the sort of touch we’d expect of a thoroughbred grand tourer costing three or four times the GTV V6’s price.

It’s just a shame the quality of some of the Fiat-sourced switchgear – take a bow, indicator stalks – haven’t aged as well as the rest of the car has. We get the feeling Alfa Romeo’s used only a single screw where the rest of our quintet have used two, and while there aren’t any disintegrating bits of trim it definitely doesn’t feel like it’s been built to last as long as its coupé counterparts.

Nor is it something we’d realistically want to squeeze a brood of youngsters and a week’s worth of shopping into. If you’re anything over 5ft 5in tall you’ll have to splay your legs out between the front seats if you’re going to be in the back for anything other than the briefest of journeys. Headroom is at a premium and the shallow profile of the GTV V6’s roofline makes it a claustrophobic place to be.

It’s easily the most compromised, but the trade-of is sensational looks. Alfa Romeo and Pininfarina resorted to the sort of visual trickery the late Paul Daniels would’ve been proud of – including making a single front headlight look like two with neat bonnet cutouts – but the end result is a shape that bristles with curiosity.

Everything from the five-stud teledial alloy wheels and the concealed door handles, to the pronounced waistline that juts up dramatically from the front wheelarches to the rear spoiler, show just how much attention to detail went into making the Alfa as achingly gorgeous as it possibly could be. Even the engine itself is a thing of beauty – where others have an apologetic slab of plastic there are chromed inlet manifolds and another Alfa Romeo signature, this time crafted in delicate bits of scarlet plastic. Beholding the GTV V6 is an indulgence of the senses – but not as much as getting behind the wheel and giving it some stick.

Find a corner and it hunkers down, keeping body roll to a minimum, and while the super-fast steering always feels a little lighter than we’d ideally expect it to be there’s plenty of feedback about what tyres are doing. Push too far and it’ll respond with a whiff of predictable understeer. This front-end scrub increases the more speed you throw at it, but it resists the urge to snap into oversteer. It’s all very predictable at the limit, but hugely rewarding under it. The GTV V6 asks owners to make the biggest sacrifices, but the rewards far outweigh the headaches.


BUYING ALFA ROMEO GTV6

‘Drive a GTV too enthusiastically too often and there’s a chance you’ll blow the diff, which can puncture the gearbox,’ says Mario Lavergata of Alfa specialist Avanti Autos. ‘It’s well worth fitting a Q2 LSD which can be done in situ without removing the gearbox.’

The heated rear window fuses have a nasty habit of overheating and melting the rest of the fusebox. Check yours works and watch out for a burning plastic smell after a run – and use it sparingly. You can swap it for a Spider fusebox, which does away with the heated rear window. If the wipers are behaving erratically or not sitting down properly when not being used, have a look at the wiper delay control unit. It’s prone to leaking and filling up with water, but luckily it’s an easy and inexpensive fix. You definitely want to see where you going, after all…

The oil cooler radiator, located near the offside front wheel, can corrode with age. Chances are it’ll be the pipes running into it that go first. But due to the way they join to the cooler, normally the whole unit has to be replaced. While Alfa Romeo no longer stocks replacements aftermarket parts are available – they’ll probably last longer, too.

The rose joints on the lower rear suspension arms can wear – it’s not as dramatic as when the rubber bushes on the Twin Spark models go, but it’s still a £370 job to replace them. Listen for knocks and squeaks from the back end, which indicate play from tired joints.


I BOUGHT ONE SIMON STEVENSON

‘I’ve always been into Italian cars, and as this one was only ever going to be a second car I decided I could live with the lack of interior and boot space. I can’t get enough of the engine note and pulling power, and the interior has a real mini-Ferrari feel to it. It’s my first GTV but I’ve had two 156s in the past and before that a Fiat Uno Turbo – Italian cars are just a bit more stylish and happier to rev. It might not have the longer lasting quality of some of the other cars here, but it’s definitely worth it if you’re keeping the miles down.’

Alfa Romeo GTV V6

The sexiest engine bay here. We could spend hours just looking at it, and even longer driving and listening to it.


‘There’s no Top Trumps card in the world that can convey the glorious sound it makes’


Alfa Romeo GTV V6 SPECIFICATIONS

Engine 2959cc/V6/DOHC

Power 220bhp @ 6300rpm

Torque 199lb ft @ 5000rpm

Maximum speed 150mph 0-60mph 7.4sec

Fuel consumption 20-26mpg

Transmission FWD, six-speed manual


HOW MANY LEFT? 166 (V6 24V)

WHAT TO PAY? (1999 example)

Concours £4000

Good £3250

Usable £2000

Project £1200

COST NEW £28,068

VALUE NOW £3250


TRADE VIEW

+ It’s worth trading the Twin Spark’s sweeter handling for the V6 – you only lose a few mpg, and it’s a likely to hold its value.

    Go for the best you can – and be prepared to fork out on keeping it in tip-top condition, even if the previous owner’s been meticulous.


 

FORD COUGAR V6 24V 1998-2002

With the Mondeo ST24’s glorious engine, bold New Edge styling and supple suspension the Cougar is big fun on the right road.


There’s a wonderful mid-corner moment when the Ford Cougar’s handling manages to induce big grins all round. Give it a challenging corner to chew on, and there’s a maturity in its response, and how it just gets on with the business in hand. Boring? No. Quick? Oh, yes.

Mid bend, it’s informative, firing of emails to our fingertips with latest updates from its suspension. It’s not a hair-raising occasion when the car dangles the possibility of drifting out of line in front of you. Nor is there a pang of frustration that you’re not at the helm of something more involving. Think of it as a few nanoseconds of cornering satisfaction. What Richard Parry-Jones and his chassis boffins did for the Ford Focus works equally well here.

Don’t make the mistake of expecting a big Puma, though; where Ford’s smaller coupé is happy to indulge in a bit of lift-of oversteer the Cougar is much more grown up. The steering’s nicely weighted and offers plenty of feedback, and the faster you push it the more involving things get.

The ride’s a little thrashy on rougher surfaces but mostly it proves to be a smooth companion, the suspension set up for covering ground quietly and quickly. The driving position’s similar to the Mondeo it’s based on and it’s easy to get comfy, particularly with the deep footwells and the supportive plump leather seats. The steering wheel is on the large side but it’s hard to fault the position of the pedals or how well placed the lever for the five-speed gearbox feels. It doesn’t let us pretend we’re in an asphalt-snogging sports car, but it’s very effective.

Ford Cougar V6

Interior’s comfortable but a little riotous to look at. Those shiny black ‘plastic’ leather armchairs are gloriously Ford, through and through.


It’s just a shame Ford had to resort to 50 shades of grey for the cabin. While it’s practical and spacious front and rear, the Cougar’s cabin is overstyled and fussy. White dials, dual-shaded trim and the air-con controls all compete for attention. The air vents are attention grabbing, too – they appeared to have been modelled on the alien eyes from The War of the Worlds.

On the move the V6 is a wonderfully refined companion for longer trips, offering up a muted growl and lots of mid-range torque. There’s no getting away from the fact it’s the least powerful of its quintet, though – it’ll happily trade tenths with the Calibra in the sprint to 60mph but it’ll be left trailing in the others’ wake.

Not that you’ll mind too much, because the laid-back nature of the torque delivery means it never seems to feel unruffled at higher speeds, building to an excitable hum at the upper reaches of the rev range but never venturing into harsher notes. The Cougar’s party trick is to serve its 162lb ft main course at just 4250rpm, meaning the oomph is easily accessible and perfect for maintaining momentum on the back roads without having to poke at the rev range with the slickly-shifting five-speeder. Settle into its easy-going nature and it’s a hugely effective back-road companion.

What’s not so easy to settle into is an opinion on its brave but not always effective ‘New Edge’ styling. It’s a riot of sharp angles and creased metal, but we can’t help shake the feeling the designers couldn’t leave it alone and went back to it night after night. The Ebony Black of our test car masks a lot of these little details and gives the overall profile a moody rakishness, but choose a Silver Frost Metallic example and the niggling nuggets of cosmetic indecisiveness are there for all to see. Highlights include a pinched radiator grille that shames Kate Moss for a slim profile, and the beautifully detailed rear lights.

The Cougar’s a consummate baby GT that blends the best of Ford’s dynamic brilliance with a belter of an engine, but fussy details hold it back from being a real jaw-dropper.


BUYING FORD COUGAR V6 24V

The V6 can make a strange noise – not unlike a moose – when starting up, which is linked to a noisy induction hose. A modified item with an extra outlet pipe to kill the noise of is available, and costs £25. You could carry on without and use it to scare Canadians, mind.

A high level of resistance in the Cougar’s battery harness can mean temperamental electrics when cold, with flickering headlights and instrument cluster backlighting in the first few minutes of driving. Solve this by fitting an additional wire from the B+ terminal to the alternator.

Cougars are now at the age where the rubber in the wishbones is starting to perish – and if it is the entire units need to replaced, so check them carefully. You’re looking at around £300 to replace. It’s worth looking out for cars advertised as having the X-Pack, which has leather trim, and a six-CD autochanger among other niceties. Cougars given the upgrade are more desirable and easier to sell on.

Beware a loud, tappety noise from the V6 when starting up from cold. If previous owners haven’t topped up the oil it can lead to two of the six cylinders being starved of oil and eventually result in engine damage. It can happen on cars with merely low rather than empty oil reservoirs, so make sure you check carefully.


BOUGHT ONE MARTIN WILLIAMS

‘I’ve always been a Ford person and loved Mondeos and Capris in the past, and I really fancied a Cougar. If you’re thinking seriously about getting one it’s got to be the V6 – if you’re going to have a Cougar, you might as well go the whole hog and do it properly!

‘I use mine every day, and while it’s a little on the large side for town work, it’s superb on the motorways and gets more responsive the faster you go – the sign of a great driver’s car. ‘It’s a hugely enjoyable motor, and if you’re thinking of getting one I’d definitely recommend the ukcougarclub.org forum – it’s a wealth of useful and invaluable information.’


TRADE VIEW

+ It’s a lot of car for the money with good spares support. It’s less likely to rust than other Fords of the same era.

There are plenty of rough ones out there for less than a grand – which can easily run into hundreds of pounds to mend.


Ford Cougar V6 24V SPECIFICATIONS

Engine 2544cc/V6/DOHC

Power 168bhp @ 6250rpm

Torque 162lb ft @ 4250rpm

Maximum speed 140mph 0-60mph 8.0 sec

Fuel consumption 21-29mpg

Transmission FWD, five-spd man


HOW MANY LEFT? 1800 (V6)

WHAT TO PAY? (1999 example)

Concours £3500

Good £2250

Usable £1500

Project £600

COST NEW £22,000

VALUE NOW £2250


 

PEUGEOT 406 COUPÉ 1997-2004

Styling from the man behind the Ferrari 456 and suspension from the people who brought you the 306 GTI-6. Count us in…


The 406 Coupé is that vaguely attractive girl you went to school with – who then re-emerges at the reunion party as Keira Knightley.

Pininfarina and Peugeot worked cosmetic miracles to arrive at this sinuous harmony of gentle curves and less-is more detailing. The gently sloping rear end, the uncluttered nose and the delicious way the doors meld effortless with the pillarless windows mean it pulls of the trick any truly brilliant coupé ought to; we can’t resist walking away without turning around for another long linger.

The Hyperion Blue hue of our test car picks out all those irresistible details in the spring sunshine. There are the gentle buttresses that caress either side of the rear window, the radiator grille that does away with the slats of its saloon sibling and the way the black strip along the lower waistline tapers away to a point just before it meets the rear wheels.

The transformation isn’t as immediately apparent on the inside, where the switchgear and dash layout are much easier to relate to its four-door cousin. It has a handful of visual delights to remind you you’re in something a little special, but it’s largely down to the tan leather trim – also used on the steering wheel and the gear gaiter – to do the job of lifting the cabin. That said it’s the 406’s interior that also promises the most long-distance reward for the least amount of pain of our five some.

Peugeot 406 Coupé

Like the Cougar and Calibra, it can realistically swallow a couple of adults on longer journeys with legroom to spare, but unlike the others it’s also got enough in the way of headroom that they’re unlikely to be scraping their scalps on the headlining. The driving position’s another obvious carry-over from the 406 saloon. It’s easy to get comfortable and there’s plenty of room for elbows and legs. The chunky gearlever is well-placed and the pedals are well spaced out, but if it wasn’t for the twinklier bits of trim you’d swear you were at the helm of something ordinary.

Interior struggles to rise above its saloon car origins, though there’s a handy reminder of who designed it on the dash.

Until it’s floored, that is. The V6 isn’t the most powerful here, but it delivers a usefully bigger shove in the mid-range than the Cougar or Calibra. This is particularly noticeable from about 40mph in fourth gear.

It rustles up 191 horses once we reach 5500rpm – but it’s not a powerplant that likes to shout. There’s a muted growl when really given the beans but there’s no operatic howl when its placed on the stage and the spotlight’s turned on it. All the better really, because getting on with the job quickly and quietly is definitely the Peugeot’s thing.

The 406 Coupé does everything in its power to insulate you from the nastier bits of the outside world, using its 197lb ft of torque more as away of shielding you from having to do any unbearably revvy overtaking work rather than for the outright performance. It’s the same story with the gearbox too because, while it’s slick and easy to use, it feels very saloon-like and doesn’t encourage the driver to go hunting for power with a short, snappy change.

The ride is superbly supple and soaks up the vast majority of the sores and scars the asphalt chucks its way. It provides great smoothness without wallowy and uninvolved handling – but don’t assume it’s a big 306 with the same lift-of tendencies at speed. Pile the speed on into a corner and it’ll hold its line with plenty of composure, with similar steering feedback to the Cougar but a gentler vibe to the suspension. Push on and it’ll eventually plough into understeer, but there’s no inclination to break away.

The 406 Coupé isn’t a car to transform drivers into heroes overnight, but it wins us over with its Miss Universe looks and Roger Moore smoothness.


BUYING PEUGEOT 406 COUPÉ V6

It’s not uncommon for the air-con system to suffer from problems. The best way to test it is to take it out for a test-drive to make sure the engine’s up to temperature, and then run through all the settings to double-check the vents can blow both hot and cold air.

V6s can suffer from leaky radiators, so watch out for signs of coolant leaks or the car you’re driving running hot, particularly when running at idle. Check for signs of rust on the radiator itself and for signs of cracking or fraying on the hoses.

If the brake fluid warning light comes on and the reservoir itself is full then a dicky handbrake micro switch is the most likely culprit. It can sometimes be solved by simply rattling the handbrake, but otherwise it’s an hour or so to have the switch replaced.

The upper engine mounts on the V6 can wear out with age – listen for a knocking noise from the front end when test-driving the car. While the replacement parts aren’t too expensive – normally around £30 per mount – getting them fitted can be a pain.

Earlier V6s had a single coil pack whereas the later D9 versions had one for each cylinder, and they can play up. If the one you’re driving has an erratic power delivery, check the packs are working properly.


I BOUGHT ONE JUSTIN RIXON

‘I fell in love with the shape when it was launched in 1997 – although the Alfa Romeo runs it close! Mine is one of Peugeot’s original press cars, so I’ve tried to keep it as original as possible – the only things I’ve changed are the steering wheel and the gear gaiter.

‘It’s my second 406 Coupé and it’s what’s known as the D8.5 version – it’s more powerful than the original 190bhp one, but not as complicated as the later full-fat D9 model, so I reckon it’s the best of both worlds in the 406 universe.

‘I’ve a collection of 1990s Peugeots and this is definitely one of my favourite cars from it.’


TRADE VIEW

+ Cheap to run, but need specialist attention. Cambelt can cost more than a grand – so, bear this in mind if the car is cheap.

     It’s colour sensitive – a Polaris Blue coupé will always win friends, but a bright yellow one will take longer to shift.


Peugeot 406 Coupé V6 SPECIFICATIONS

Engine 2946cc/V6/DOHC

Power 191bhp @ 5500rpm

Torque 197lb ft @ 4000rpm

Maximum speed 144mph 0-60mph 7.8sec

Fuel consumption 24-28mpg

Transmission FWD, five-speed manual


HOW MANY LEFT? 107 (3.0 V6)

WHAT TO PAY? (1999 example)

Concours £4500

Good £3000

Usable £1750

Project £700

COST NEW £27,270

VALUE NOW £3000

 

VAUXHALL CALIBRA V6 1989 -2007

The slipstream champion is even better mated to a 2.5-litre V6 – but can its Cavalier underpinnings cut it through the corners?


 

‘The shape has a handsome rightness to it that gets better with age’

What worked for the wind tunnel boffins in 1989 still cuts it today. The upshot of the Calibra being the world’s most aerodynamic production car when it was launched is that visually it still makes all the right moves today.

Even today its slippery shape sticks two fingers up at air resistance; with a drag factor of just 0.26 Cd it’s able to cheat the wind more effectively than a Porsche Boxster, a Honda NSX or a Lamborghini Diablo. Clever cosmetic tricks that are de rigueur on today’s coupés – like shielding the windscreen wiper from the slipstream and concealing the roof drip moldings – helped give the Calibra the sort of smoothness we’d expect from an airline pilot.

More than a quarter of a century might have dulled the impact of those lines but it’s still amazing to think what the engineers managed with Cavalier underpinnings. The shape has a handsome rightness to it that gets better with age – the pinched front end and those slim rubber strips on the front bumper give it just a hint of aggression, there aren’t any door pillars to break up the gently curving roofline and the dominant glasshouse, and the Cavalier-soured door handles don’t get in the way of spoiling the curvaceous profile. We reckon the only slightly clumsy detail came later in the Calibra’s life; the Vauxhall V-strip introduced in 1995’s facelift fits neatly enough, but the earlier cars look so much better without the corporate addendum.

Vauxhall Calibra V6

Yet for all its showing of in the wind tunnel, the Calibra hasn’t bargained away its ability to carry four in comfort. Headroom’s tighter than it is in the Peugeot and the shallow boot isn’t as capacious as the Cougar’s but it’s more than capable of comforting you and three friends in its supportive, leather-trimmed seats.

It’s well equipped too, with electric windows, heated front seats and a digital trip computer to play with. The last named sits away from the instrument binnacle and graces the area next to the heater controls and the Blaukpunt CD player, and looks like something from Casio’s back catalogue. Alongside speed and fuel consumption readouts, it gives you the option to use the Calibra as a stopwatch with four wheels and 24 valves. All it needs now is an in-car Tamagotchi to finish of its slightly cheap digital brilliance.

Yet if it wasn’t for that and the bank of three white dials behind the leather-trimmed four-spoke wheel there’d be precious little to lift the Calibra’s cabin beyond its sales rep origins. It’s all very clearly laid out and easy to reach but there’s barely a flourish of colour to break up the sea of black plastic. And while the driving position makes it easy to get comfortable it feels higher and more conventional – and less seat-of-your-pants exciting – than its counterparts.

Not that we’re focusing on it when the 2.5-litre V6 comes to life. It transforms the slightly scrabbly character of the 16-valve, four-pot Calibra and gives the coupé more of a baby GT aura, being smoother at lower revs and responding to a muted growl when asked for more. It’s not as lazy an engine as the Cougar’s and we have to climb higher into the rev range to find its sweet spot, but from 4500rpm upwards it offers plenty of mid-range surge.

It doesn’t have the Peugeot’s sense of serenity at higher speeds but it outdoes the Ford’s ride comfort, and doesn’t feel as busy at such a velocity as the Corrado and GTV. If we clambered into one in Luton, we get the feeling we could easily cruise all the way to Germany without feeling unruffled – and be more than capable of keeping up with the faster traffic on the autobahns once there.

Peeling of in search of a corner, it’s clear the Calibra’s semi-trailing rear axle is more than up to the task. Push its nose into a bend and it responds with a fuss-free rumble from the tyres and keeps body roll to a minimum. Push harder and the front end lightens up as it gradually slides into understeer – but there’s not much else to keep you entertained. The steering is nicely weighted but it always feels a little over-assisted to offer any meaningful feedback, and you always get the feeling the suspension would rather get on with the job of devouring bends efficiently than bother you with a constant drip-feed of messages about what the tyres are up to. Opel described the handling as ‘ultra safe’ when it was launched in Germany, but that works both ways with mid-corner responsiveness.

The Calibra’s a consummate cruiser that pulls of the trick all great coupés do; it transforms ordinary underpinnings into something that whets your appetite. Hair-raisingly exciting it isn’t – but allied with the 2.5-litre V6, it does a magnificent job of hauling horizons closer.

OK, so it may not be Manuel Reuter’s DTM Calibra in here but it’s a fun engine to exercise.

The motoring press loved it at the time but sneering from today’s new-car hacks does the Vauxhall Calibra a disservice.


BUYING VAUXHALL CALIBRA V6

It’s worth doing your homework on front lower control arms – a small number of them with incorrect spot welds have been fitted to Calibras and Cavaliers. It’s worth checking whether the Calibra has had them replaced, and whether genuine GM parts were used. When you turn the ignition key, make sure you’re greeted by a row of warning lights coming on in the dashboard, and that they come on when you turn on the ignition and then turn of when you fire up the car – any that don’t could indicate electrical problems.

Thieves and joyriders fell for the Calibra’s charms too, so any signs of overspray, wonky panel gaps that spoil the coupe’s sleek lines or window etchings that don’t match the car’s registration number should ring alarm bells. Don’t take the risk on a dodgy car.

Check carefully for signs of rot around the sills, particularly around the rear edges of the either door, where any signs of rust or bubbling will give you a clue as to how well the car’s been looked after.

Among the checks to make are for any wear in the seats, particularly the side bolsters of leather-trimmed ones. The hazard lights switch is prone to breaking, due to it being attached to a cheaply-made plastic clip, but this is easily replaced.


I BOUGHT ONE GARETH REEVES

‘I’m on my second Calibra – the first was a 16-valve 2.0-litre model – and I absolutely love it. I remember seeing them when they first came out and just wanting one because the shape was so much sleeker than everything else out at the time, but I couldn’t afford one. I also grew up watching the DTM on Eurosport, and remember them racing in that. ‘The V6 is brilliant on the motorways and it’s still practical enough to take the family out to the shops in, even though I tend to keep mine now for occasional runs at the weekends. It’s affordable to buy and run too, although I do think they’re still undervalued by most people.’

TRADE VIEW

+ They’re great cars with a big following, and plenty of spares support. They’re also supremely easy to live with.

They were loved by modders in period. Check for accident damage and dubious marks where aftermarket items have been removed.


Vauxhall Calibra V6 SPECIFICATIONS

Engine 2498cc/V6/DOHC

Power 170bhp @ 6000rpm

Torque 166lb ft @ 4200rpm

Maximum speed 143mph 0-60mph 8.2sec

Fuel consumption 23-27mpg

Transmission FWD, five-speed manual


HOW MANY LEFT? 65 (SE6)

WHATTOPAY? (1997 example)

Concours £6000

Good £3500

Usable £2000

Project £800

COST NEW £20,995

VALUE NOW £3500

 

VOLKSWAGEN CORRADO VR6 1991-1995

Golf GTI deftness, aggressive looks and one of the best V6s in the business – get into one of these while you still can afford to buy one.


The Corrado VR6 is the elder statesman of this test. It’s the Stone Roses to the Oasis of the newer coupés here, having gone out of production three years before the Cougar went on sale. Yet it’s apparent as soon as we set of that it can definitely teach its younger counterparts a few tricks.

Take those scrawny-eyed looks and the dimensions that come with it. The Herbert Schäfer-penned proportions put it into the same urban hero context as the GTV V6, eschewing the bulk of the 406, Cougar and Calibra so it can concentrate on squeezing four into the most exciting package possible. It’s not quite the shrunken supercar suggested by the Alfa but it definitely does away with the other’s family car aspirations, noticeable the first time we clamber into the back.

There isn’t the Alfa Romeo experience of a seat locking painfully close to your crotch and the sort of headroom only the villain from Sleepy Hollow appreciates. It’s possible to clamber into a Corrado’s rear quarters and survive a schlep to the supermarket unscathed – but we wouldn’t want to because all the fun’s up front.

Perched in the proper seat for asphalt antics and we’re immediately pinched by the chunky velour-trimmed seats, which offer plenty of side support and help to offer a very intuitive driving position. It’s the same story with the instruments and switches too, which are clearly laid out and curve around on the centre console to point straight at our fingertips. It must have been a particularly wet and windy day in Wolfsburg when Volkswagen signed of the colour scheme, though; all the switches are instinctive to reach and have a delightful robust feel, but there’s not a shimmer of blush to lift the LS Lowry-esque landscape of grey and black functionality that lives beyond the three-spoke steering wheel.

VW Corrado VR6

The Corrado was never a big seller and time, bad mods and the Scrappage scheme have diminished numbers. Find a good one, however, and you’ll love it forever. Even in purple.


But there’s plenty of colour to this Corrado’s calling card – the narrow-angle 2.8-litre V6 is an absolute peach. The trade-of of having its two banks of cylinders just 15 degrees apart means it has a single head on top, with a camshaft for each bank – but don’t think for a second that makes it the poor relation technologically to its DOHC rivals here. It’s why a coupé that’s barely bigger than a Golf MkII can squeeze all six cylinders under its tightly sculpted bonnet. It responds from the of with a determined hum and it becomes apparent the more we push on that it’s very free revving, encouraging us to poke our foot a little further and really use all of its 187bhp. It also has mid-range shove aplenty. Slot the gearlever into fourth and it’ll belt between 30mph and 50mph in seven seconds, complete with a raucous, gutsy howl from the six cylinders strutting their stuff up front. Try that in a BMW 325i E30 from the same era and you’ll get there more than a second and a half later.

The flexibility of the VR6’s power delivery can be addictive all on its own, but it’s only when we treat it to a corner or two that the Corrado really comes alive. Show it a bend and the steering comes to life, showering us with love letters about how much it’s enjoying the experience of devouring a twisty bit of road. It’s power-assisted but pulls of the feat of never feeling over-assisted, and always feels perfectly weighted for the job in hand.

There’s a little body roll but it feels superbly controlled by the torsion beam suspension at the rear and the anti-roll bars at either end. Push harder and the bluff-fronted nose digs in, while the rear end follows the handling tradition of its Golf GTI cousin by cocking the inner wheel up mid-bend. The Corrado has a talent for flattering whoever’s at the helm and actively encouraging them to push a bit further with its grin-inducing depth of ability. It is a car that simply can’t shake its habit of impeccable high-speed handling.

The Corrado’s a coupé that we struggle to pull over and walk away from, but when we do, we doff it a cap of petrolhead respect, rather than turning around and going weak at the knees for its lustrous good looks. There’s plenty of aggression in the way the bonnet juts down to the squared-of front end and in how the rear waistline gently rises up to the meet the Audi Quattro-esque roofline, but the delicacy of the earlier Sciroccos is gone and it has neither the Peugeot’s traffic-stopping looks nor the Alfa’s bedroom wall wow factor. It’s a handsome beast, but a beautiful piece of automotive art to keep you awake at night it isn’t.

Not that any of that matters, though. Looks-wise, it may not woo us as immediately as the others, but where it matters – behind the wheel – it has us hooked. It really is that good. And the colour? Fabulous.

It’s only when we treat it to a corner or two that the Corrado really comes alive’


BUYING VOLKSWAGEN CORRADO VR6

‘The cars are definitely falling into the realms of enthusiasts rather than daily drivers,’ says John Mitchell of Corrado specialist John Mitchell Racing. ‘The main problem is parts getting scarce. Some are Now being remanufactured, so looking on the forums helps.’

Headlight switches have a nasty habit of failing – or combusting in worst-case scenarios. It’s better to replace it altogether rather than fixing it with replacement fuses VW doesn’t stock, but aftermarket replacements are being manufactured.

The timing chains aren’t known for snapping but they can wear out, and VR6s are at the age where all cars are prone unless the work’s already been done. Budget for an immediate post-purchase change. The Corrado has the sunroof from Hell, thanks to fragile metal components that snap easily. Replacements are only available from salvage, and it’s definitely worth swapping the whole unit.

The ABS warning light coming on should ring alarm bells – not only is it prone to failing in its own right, but it can indicate issues with the ABS pump, which is difficult to get hold of and isn’t stocked by VW’s dealers. The parts are out there, however, though you may have to make friends with many a scrapyard’s Alsatian.


I BOUGHT ONE DAVID OAKLEY

‘I remember seeing the Corrado VR6 in my nearby Volkswagen garage when they were first launched in the UK in 1988. I found myself thinking how much I wanted one, but it was only years later when I was looking for a weekend car that I recalled how good they were and started doing my research into what was on the market.

‘They’re relatively cheap to buy at the moment, and they can only go up in value – especially the VR6 and Storm models. One of the things I found when looking for mine is that there aren’t a lot of cars in standard condition left in the UK. I like to keep it for special occasions.’


TRADE VIEW

+ It’s already got a cult following, so VR6s in good nick quickly find new owners. Track relevant forums for news of cars.

There are plenty of modified cars out there so go for the subtler jobs – our test car has been lowered by 20mm.


VW Corrado VR6 SPECIFICATIONS

Engine 2861cc/V6/SOHC

Power 187bhp @ 5800rpm

Torque 181lb ft @ 4200rpm

Maximum speed 145mph 0-60mph 6.5sec

Fuel consumption 24-29mpg

Transmission FWD, five-speed manual

HOW MANY LEFT? 1060 (VR6)


WHAT TO PAY? (1993 example)

Concours £9000

Good £7000

Usable £4500

Project £2500

COST NEW £18,740

VALUE NOW £7000


 {module VW Corrado}


 

The Drive-My view

All of our quintet achieve what any truly great coupé ought to manage – they take worthy-but-dull ingredients from hatchbacks and saloons and garnish them with the sort of good looks that demand a second glance. There are no duds among our V6 contenders and you’ll enjoy owning any of them, but which is best?


 

First to bow out is the Cougar. It entertains more the faster you drive it, it’s the most affordable car here and it’s hard not to love the easy going vibe its V6 thrives on, but its fussy detailing makes it the hardest car to fall in love with. Not so with the Calibra, which still looks great and offers up just about the right amount of room to avoid it being too much of a day-to-day compromise. You can easily live with the lack of flourishes inside but it falls between two posts, offering up neither the fun factor of the Alfa-Romeo, Corrado and Ford nor the Peugeot’s supreme suppleness.

The GTV V6 heads home next. Its 220bhp baritone of a V6 makes it easily the fastest here, the Pininfarina-penned styling is a thing of real beauty and the aesthetic treats continue when you clamber inside. Yet it’s also by far the biggest compromise, with its rear seats and tiny boot a mere pretence of practicality and the components always feeling flakier than its counterparts. As an occasional blast we’d have one in a shot and it has Modern Classic written all over it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it the best coupé.

Peugeot 406 Coupé vs. Alfa Romeo GTV V6 vs. Ford Cougar V6 vs. VW Corrado VR6 and Opel/Vauxhall Calibra V6 - road test

The Peugeot (just) pips it because it manages to combine equally head-turning looks and a potent V6 with genuine practicality. It majors on smoothness rather than outright agility but manages to throw enough dynamic sparkle into the mix to keep things entertaining, and for all its obvious saloon origins it’s always a genuinely enjoyable baby GT. But only one coupé kept us coming back and begging for more – the wonderful Corrado V6. It’s a genuine driver’s car that actively involves you in the process of belting along a good road. It’s already going up in value, and will continue to do so. And right now, it makes you feel like a hero whenever you drive it. Oh, and it looks pretty good too.


Thanks to Vauxhall Heritage for providing the Calibra V6


‘It’s a genuine driver’s car that actively involves you in the process of belting along a good road’

Peugeot 406 Coupé

This gorgeous looker plumbed the value depths some time back, and now the best examples are beginning to rise.


Alfa Romeo GTV V6

No surprises here. The V6 has remained valuable, even when others in the sector faded. Strong demand keeps prices high.


Ford Cougar V6

Still finding its feet in the market, and still ridiculously cheap if you look hard enough. Probe values suggest they will rise. Eventually.


VW Corrado VR6

Easily the value darling of this quintet, with the best Storms now heading towards £10k. ‘Scene tax’ perhaps, but genuinely desirable.


Vauxhall Calibra V6

The whiff of bargain basement still afflicts the Calibra, but the tide is turning for the best V6s. Good ones now have a following.

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