25 October 2004

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

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Chief among Wolfsburg’s new arrivals is the sixth-generation Passat, pictured in our gallery in saloon and estate guises undergoing hot weather testing prior to its world debut at next year’s Geneva Motor Show.

Codenamed VW461, the new Passat has been redesigned from the ground up in a move that promises much stiffer competition for the likes of the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Vectra and Peugeot 407. During development over the past six months, Volkswagen’s new saloon and estate have been benchmarked against the Audi A4, BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz C-class, so the standard should be high.

Gone is the existing model’s space-robbing layout, with its longitudinal engine position. It’s replaced by the new PQ46 platform largely shared with the fifth-generation Golf, in which the engine is sited transversely.

This should free up interior space. The wheelbase has been extended by 70mm over the Golf’s, at 2650mm. The new car is 50mm longer, at 4755mm, and 40mm wider at 1780mm.

As our photographs reveal, the sixth-generation Passat gets a fresh dash of style, with cues from the top-of-the-range Phaeton and the company’s Concept R and Concept C show cars. Insiders privy to full-scale design models say the new car appears much more elegant and upmarket than today’s eight-year-old Passat, with features such as a fully chromed grille, greater sculpturing of surfaces and heavily adorned lights. The interior has been reworked, with quality fittings such as slush-moulded plastic for the dash, chrome highlights for the instruments and damped switchgear. The decision to adopt transversely-mounted engines means the new Passat will share many of its engines with the Golf, and units such as VW’s V6 turbo-diesel won’t fit. Included in the petrol offerings will be a 113bhp 1.6-litre along with naturally-aspirated and turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder units, producing 148bhp and 193bhp respectively. Further up the range will be a 3.2-litre V6 producing 250bhp and a new 3.6-litre V6 which should muster around 280bhp.

On the diesel side there’ll be two versions of Volkswagen’s new 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, with 108bhp and 138bhp. Also available from the beginning of sales is the 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel from the Touareg, with 173bhp. A more powerful version of this engine is planned, and insiders hint it will arrive in 2006 with up to 200bhp.

All engines will be mated to either a standard five- or six-speed manual ’box, although buyers will be able to order a six-speed torque-converter style auto or VW’s six-speed DSG (dual shift gearbox), which uses a dual clutch for seamless changes.

Volkswagen is also developing four-wheel-drive 4Motion variants of its new mid-ranger. Eschewing the existing model’s Audi-sourced set-up for a simpler multi-plate clutch engineered by Swedish firm Haldex, these are expected to arrive around three months after the new saloon is launched next summer, probably in combination with the new Passat Estate.

Autocar can also confirm VW has registered the name Passat Country, suggesting a lightweight off-roader in the mould of the Volvo XC70 is also a possibility. Golf R32

The hottest Golf was spied by our photographer at the Nürburgring circuit. The tell-tale sign that this is the R32 is at the rear, where a fake Golf GTi exhaust can’t distract from the centrally-mounted twin pipes. The R32 is four-wheel drive, and powered by Volkswagen’s 3.2-litre V6, boosted by around 10bhp from its current 240bhp. It will offer the DSG transmission, and the big front spoiler is borrowed from the new Golf GTi. Sales are expected to start late next year in the UK.

Other new Golf variants include a high-roof version, called Golf Plus, due to appear at December’s Bologna Motor Show before UK sales begin next March. Closely related to the Seat Altea, the Golf Plus receives a raised roofline, higher waistline and larger glass house for added interior space, improved visibility and versatility. Height is up 95mm over its sibling at 1580mm, according to sources, and the seats have been raised to give occupants a more commanding view. It will slot into the VW line-up between the standard five-door Golf and the strong-selling Touran midi-MPV.

Polo Facelift

Due at March’s Geneva Motor Show, the facelifted Polo receives updated styling including Volkswagen’s new corporate grille and new headlamps with twin projectors under clear plastic lenses. A mild interior revamp is planned. Although unconfirmed by VW, rumours of a new 148bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder Polo GTi continue to circulate in Germany. It would provide competition for cars such as the 150bhp 2.0-litre Ford Fiesta ST, 150bhp 1.8-litre Seat Ibiza FR and 138bhp 2.0-litre Peugeot 206 GTi. Bora

The new Bora is to premiere at the Los Angeles Motor Show in January, and is once again based around the Golf. A stylish notchback rear featuring a high boot and distinctive tail lamps aims to provide the Bora with its own visual character, although insiders admit much of its front end appearance is shared with the new Golf. Underneath, the wheelbase has been extended by 70mm over its predecessor at 2580mm. Together with the track increased by 25mm at the front and 35mm at the rear, this promises to improve the Bora’s interior accommodation and luggage space. Reflecting the car’s popularity in the US, where it continues to be sold under the old Jetta name, Volkswagen plans to assemble the latest Bora alongside the Beetle at its factory in Puebla, Mexico. As with the Golf, there will be front- and four-wheel-drive 4Motion variants. Engines will be the same as the Golf’s, including the GTi’s 193bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder. It’s destined for a performance-orientated version of the Bora to be sold in the US and possibly at a later date in the UK. Also under development is an even hotter 3.2-litre V6 Bora R32, with more than 250bhp.

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