Volkswagen is to go head-to-head with the likes of Porsche and Mercedes in the lucrative roadster market with a stylish production version of its well-received Concept R show car, shown here in our images. The new mid-engined two-seater, conceived as a cut-price alternative to the Porsche Boxster, is pencilled in for launch in late 2007 with four- and six-cylinder power, according to highly placed Wolfsburg insiders. But before the arrival of the Concept R, Volkswagen will be busy launching a series of new cars that chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder is banking on to haul the company out of its current doldrums.
In the next 12 months the German car maker will whip the covers off eight new or facelifted models as part of a concerted push to further strengthen its position in traditional volume segments, as well as bolster its presence in the growing number of niche markets. VW builds a Boxster
The decision to forge ahead with the Concept R follows hot on the heels of recent comments by Pischetsrieder that the German car maker intended to strenghen its niche market potential in future years with a range of new models. Asked about the chances of the exciting Concept R progressing into showrooms, Pischetsrieder told Autocar’s German sister publication auto motor und sport that ‘the roadster will be built’. He also moved to quell speculation that the production version of the low-slung roadster would use a front-mounted engine to cut development costs. ‘With a project like this one the engine belongs behind the driver,’ Pischetsrieder said. VW is also looking to avoid future problems with crash-testing by using this layout. ‘With the new pedestrian regulations, a front, transversely-mounted engine poses many problems,’ said Pischetsrider.
Along with the Boxster, Volkswagen is aiming its new roadster at popular open-top cars likes the BMW Z4 and Mercedes SLK, although the new car could also pose problems within the Volkswagen Group by stealing sales from in-house brand Audi and its TT Roadster, itself due to be renewed in 2006. Details of the mechanical make-up of the Volkswagen roadster remain scarce, though it is expected to use suspension components from both the Polo and Golf in a move aimed at reducing development and production costs. Volkswagen is said to be considering three different direct-injection FSI petrol engine options. Among them are an entry-level 148bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit, and a more highly tuned 197bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder powerplant from the forthcoming Golf GTi. And set to top the range is a new 3.6-litre V6 with around 280bhp, which will initially appear next year, probably in the next-generation Passat. The engines will come mated to either a standard six-speed manual or an optional DSG dual-clutch transmission, with steering wheel-mounted paddle shift. Volkswagen has not yet revealed where it intends to build its new Boxster rival. One possibility is the German car maker’s under-utilised Dresden assembly plant, where the slow-selling Phaeton is manufactured, but Karmann, a long-time Volkswagen associate, is also in the frame to build the roadster at its assembly plant in Osnabruck. Passat