10 May 2004

It’s two years since Bernd Pischetsrieder took the reins at Volkswagen – and we are about to witness the first fruits of his leadership. As revealed in our gallery, the next few years will witness new VWs that are consciously more stylish – and sportier – as it moves into closer competition with its boss’s previous employer: BMW.

Pischetsrieder believes that if VW is to prosper it must inject sportiness into its existing models, offer more emotional designs and become more active in growing niches. Forget the conservative VW of the past – he is plotting to bring crossover models, avant-garde styling and rear-wheel drive to the party. In this exclusive report, we lift the lid on VW’s secret plans.

Roadster/Coupé

The best proof of VW’s new sporting intent is the plan for a focused roadster and coupé. The two cars are part of the same programme and the tin-top, shown in our artist’s impression (above), revives one of VW’s best enthusiast’s machines of recent years, the Corrado.

The sporty twins will be based on the mid-engined Concept R seen at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show. Due in 2006, the two-seater roadster will use Golf components, and delivers drive to the rear wheels in a move designed to provide Porsche Boxster-challenging handling.

The show car’s folding hardtop, developed with long-time partner Karmann, is planned for the production roadster, although the extravagant concept interior will be simplified.VW is planning to use the roadster’s mechanical package beneath a new two-plus-two coupé. Described by insiders as a modern-day Corrado, it is considered crucial in giving the brand a more sporting image.

To rival the likes of the BMW 3-series coupé and Mercedes CLK, the VW will be equipped with a choice of engines, including the Golf GTi’s 200bhp turbo and a 3.6-litre V6, developing up to 270bhp. With that sort of output, insiders forecast Boxster S-rivalling performance with 0-60mph in 6.0sec.

Lupo

Volkswagen’s six-year-old city car will be replaced in mid-2005 by an all-new model based on the Brazilian-built Fox. To be built as three- and five-door hatchbacks, the second-generation Lupo is 288mm longer, 85mm higher and shares the same 1640mm width as its predecessor. However, a 2465mm wheelbase adds a generous 145mm between its wheels for more cabin and luggage space.

Although it is yet to be officially confirmed, our sources in Wolfsburg say plans have also been drawn up to base a Fiat Idea-rivalling small MPV on the new Fox’s front-wheel-drive underpinnings. The new car is expected in 2006 at a price starting at less than £10,000. Lupo engines will include updated versions of today’s 1.2, 1.4 and 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol units, along with updated versions of the 1.2-litre three-cylinder and 1.4-litre four-cylinder pumpe düse turbodiesels.

Despite being bigger, VW plans to price the new Lupo at, or slightly below, today’s level. The current Lupo 3L – the 94mpg three-cylinder lightweight Lupo – will continue to be built in low volumes.

Polo

Next spring, before the new Lupo arrives in showrooms, VW will facelift the Polo. A new front-end styling treatment will bring it into line with the new family look.The car’s twin round headlamps will stay, but today’s grille will make way for the German car maker’s new U-shaped arrangement, first previewed on the Concept R at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show.

Volkswagen also plans to unveil a new Polo GTi. Wolfsburg’s affordable hot hatch will run a 160bhp 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine and receive the same styling treatment as the larger Golf GTi. The prime target for the new car, according to Autocar sources, is the Ford Fiesta ST.

Golf

Now that the three- and five-door hatchbacks are on sale, VW’s attention is turning to spin-off variants of the fifth-generation Golf. At the Paris Motor Show in September, the wraps will come off the new front-wheel drive 200bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder Golf GTi. There will also be a range of new four-wheel-drive Golf 4Motion models, running an upgraded version of the Haldex clutch arrangement found on its predecessor.

At Los Angeles in January 2005, Volkswagen will unveil its successor to the Bora saloon (right). To be built at the VW plant in Mexico alongside the Beetle, the new four-door will be launched in both saloon and estate formats. Insiders say the styling will be further differentiated from the Golf than before.

Its mechanical package will mirror that found in the Golf, meaning a switch from traditional torsion beam rear suspension to a new multi-link arrangement for better handling. Engines will also mirror those found in the Golf with four-cylinder petrol and diesel units and a limited line-up of narrow-angle V6 petrol powerplants.

The Golf Plus will be a further Golf spin-off. Set to make its public debut at December’s Bologna show, the new Golf wagon is similar to the Peugeot 307 SW – a mix of conventional hatch and a roof that provides an extra 50mm of headroom over standard Golf models. The high-roof model will replace the traditional Golf estate and its interior layout is similar to the new Seat Altea’s.

The next development for the Golf will be a new cabriolet featuring a folding hard top. Based around the Bora rather than the Golf, the 2005 open-top is set to receive unique styling, allowing VW to position it further upmarket than in the past.

Also under development, but now not likely to go into production until 2007, is a Toyota RAV4-rivalling version of the Golf Plus aimed at the lifestyle set. Volkswagen’s lightweight off-roader should receive its own styling and name to help differentiate it from other Golfs.

Passat

Volkswagen’s most important launch of 2005 is undoubtedly the new Passat. Planned to arrive in saloon guise in May with an estate following around September, it will be based around a stretched version of the Golf’s PQ35 platform that sites the engine transversely, rather than longitudinally as it is now.

The change is aimed at providing the new car with greater levels of interior accommodation and luggage space without any dramatic increase in exterior dimensions – all at a lower cost thanks to economies of scale.

The new Passat is said to be far more elegant than today’s model with hints of Volkswagen’s Concept C around the front end and the earlier Concept R at the rear.Among the engines to be offered are existing in-line four-cylinder and V6 petrol units, along with in-line four- and five-cylinder pumpe düse turbo-diesels. Most models will be front-wheel drive, but there will be a limited line-up of Passat 4Motion variants.

Also set to come off the same platform as the new Passat is VW’s second-generation Sharan. No longer to be shared with Ford, Wolfsburg’s new MPV is tentatively due out in 2007.

Microbus

About a year before the new Sharan, VW will bring some Beetle retro fun to the MPV sector, with the Microbus. Due in 2006, the design-led MPV is based on underpinnings from the new Multivan, with which it will be built at Volkswagen’s commercial vehicle factory in Hanover, Germany. Previewed as a concept car in 2001, it will accommodate up to eight adults.

Sfero

At the top of Volkswagen’s enlarged family tree sits the 2007 Sfero executive-class contender, designed to slot in between the Passat and Phaeton.

Known internally as Sfero, the new five-seater is aimed squarely at the Mercedes E-class, BMW 5-series and Jaguar S-type. Early design studies are centred around a five-door bodystyle – a sort of cross between conventional saloon and estate, according to Volkswagen insiders.

Secrecy surrounds the basis of the Sfero, but Pischetsrieder is adamant that it should get rear-wheel drive in a bid to provide it with the dynamic prowess to challenge the established executive-class players. Earlier rumours suggesting it may borrow underpinnings from the Maserati Quattroporte have been denied by Autocar’s sources, who claim they will be too expensive.

The hot tip is that VW will use a new platform from the next generation of A4, A6 and A8 models, currently being developed by Audi. Among the engines tipped for Sfero are new versions of its existing V6, V8 and V10 engines.

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