Proof that Germans do indeed have a sense of humour. The Golf GTI W12 concept has a mid-mounted 6.0 litre twin-turbocharged Bentley engine, rear wheel drive and 642 bhp. That translates into a claimed 202 mph top speed and a 3.7 second 0-62 mph time: and that’s with the engine restricted to just half its full torque output in first gear.
Of course, Volkswagen has no plans to put something so barking mad into production – the W12 was built as a “design study” and has been wowing the crowds at various events, including GTI International in Leicestershire earlier in the year. But unlike most pampered concept cars, which are designed to do nothing more than rotate slowly on a motorshow stand, the Golf is fully driveable. Better than that, it’s even road legal, although the €1,000,000 it cost to build this one-off means that we were invited to test it in the slightly quieter environment of an abandoned ex-Soviet airbase in eastern Germany.
The biggest visual difference is the flared bodywork – the Golf being about six inches wider than the standard car. And it’s not just for show, either – not only do the pumped-up wings give the room necessary for monster 19 inch rims and 295 profile tyres to fit under the arches, they also house some of the most extreme air intakes this side of a jet fighter.
The most impressive cooling / intake ducts are those built into the rear windows, which are cleverly faired in at the back to allow air to get into the separate sealed compartment for the vast engine, with another scoop on the roof helping out too. The car hasn’t been run at anything like it’s theoretical 202 mph top speed (we managed about 100 mph before having to brake, which isn’t too bad), but the various underbody aero mods mean that it should stay stable at mega-speeds.
Not that the driver is likely to. The cockpit has been beautifully trimmed and features extra switchgear and some supplementary instruments – but in deference to the car’s status as a show car, there’s no air conditioning. And with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees Celcius and the heat put out by the engine baking the back of the cockpit bulkhead, getting into the W12 is a bit like climbing into a pre-heated oven.
To a large extent, yes. Not only has the W12 been screwed together properly, it’s also possible to drive it impressively hard for something so rare-groove.
Components have come from all over the Volkswagen group. The front discs are from an Audi RS4, the rear axle comes courtesy of a Lamborghini Gallardo and the twin-turbocharged 6.0 litre W12 engine is direct from a Bentley Continental. Transmission has been donated by a kindly VW Phaeton, with a six-speed autobox called into service as the only gearbox within the group capable of handling the engine’s torque.
In deference to the need to increase life expectancy of the rear tyres, the design team opted to limit the engine to just 50 percent of maximum torque in first and second gears. Hardly a disaster – it’s still got 222 lb/ft with the restriction in place. Basic Newtonian physics ensures the acceleration is always going to be impressive, but the autobox’s slight delay in responding to a full-throttle start means it manages to feel even quicker, launching with the sort of lunge normally only experienced by fighter jet pilots a couple of hundredths of a second after pulling the “eject” lever.
But it’s once you get into third gear, with the engine’s full torque available, things start to get a bit silly – the W12 feels more than up to seeing off almost any of the current crop of supercars on straight-line performance. There’s no doubt that, given a long enough straight, and a brave enough driver, that 202 mph top speed would be alarmingly easy to achieve.
Perhaps more surprisingly, the W12 also manages to put up a credible performance through the corners, too. Memories of the last time a manufacturer did something similar, Renault’s mostly-inexplicable decision to put a mid-mounted V6 engine into the previous generation Clio, mean that expectations weren’t particularly high in this regard. The Clio was a car that could spin faster than a Government press officer sitting on top of a roulette wheel, its short wheelbase and lack of steering lock making it alarmingly easy to exit into the scenery backwards.
Yet the Golf is far better – accurate steering, decent amounts of grip and even the ability to transgress the limits slightly without finding yourself sliding towards point “X” on the accident form. It certainly needs to be treated with a fair measure of respect – but this is definitely the best-driving show car we’ve experienced so far.
Make and model:
Volkswagen Golf GTI W12 Design Study
On sale in the UK: n/a
Engine: twin-turbocharged 5998 W12.
Power: 642 bhp at 6000 rpm
Torque: 553 lb/fty at 4500 rpm.
Top speed: 202 mph
0-62 mph: 3.7 seconds.