Volkswagen stresses that the Design Vision GTI is a show car and hasn’t been tuned for dynamic perfection. Nevertheless our short test on a temporary course in Los Angeles offered hints as to how grin-inducing this vehicle could be if it were ever developed into a production car.
For a start, it looks stunning, taking VW’s GTI philosophy and turning all the dials up to eleven. The car’s exterior designer, Andreas Mindt, told us that the styling draws cues from several generations of Golf GTI, as well as pointing to what we can expect from future generations of the iconic hot hatch. The wider track and lower roof give it a muscular and sinister appearance.
Like a modern racing car, the Design Vision’s cabin is pared-back to the essential controls and features carbonfibre-effect finishing and Alcantara.
There’s a TFT LCD instrument display, although it wasn’t working during our drive, and a large screen on the centre console that can be configured to show a circuit map and supply lap time information. In place of regular internal door pulls there are red fabric loops, a nod to the Porsche Cup racing car.
On the other hand, conventional indicator and light stalks, an electric parking brake and climate control dials are reminders of the Design Vision GTI’s road car roots.
Behind the driver’s seat, where you’d normally find the rear seats, is a cross member, which has increased the body stiffness. There are also two black crash helmets stored behind the cross member, where the boot would be.
The steering wheel, equipped with DSG gearshift paddles, features one switch and one button. The switch toggles between three driving modes – Street, Sport and Track – which progressively stiffen the damping and beef up the engine mapping.
The other button beckons the VR6 engine into life, and it isn’t long before the Design Vision GTI’s party piece makes itself known.
It burbles along obediently until you give the throttle an inquisitive squeeze. There’s very slight pause, as if somewhere deep in the bowels of the engine a blue touch paper is being lit, before all hell breaks loose. The engine’s friendly burble turns into a cacophonous bark, and the VW rockets forward with a tremendous surge of traction.
Sensory overload ensues. The power pushes you deeper into the firm sports seat. The engine whoomps and bangs like a WRC car at flat-chat through a forest. Lifting off the accelerator prompts an equally delightful array of chirrups from the turbos. It is impossible to drive without a broad grin across your face.
Even at the modest speeds we reached – the car is a priceless one-off, remember, and even applying full steering lock wasn’t allowed – it is terrific fun and surprisingly forgiving. We left the car in ‘Track’ mode for the duration of our test drive, but even in this most focused mode, and on pock-marked, uneven asphalt, the Design Vision GTI rides commendably for a stiffened vehicle running on 20in wheels and tyres.
However, larger bumps do highlight a brittleness that is a reminder of the fact that the Design Vision is a not-completely-resolved concept rather than a fully developed production vehicle.
One aspect of the car that ‘Track’ mode doesn’t alter is the steering. Borrowed straight from the regular Golf GTI, it feels very light and somewhat at odds with the monstrous performance and race-inspired feel of this über-Golf. Understandable, though, given that the Design Vision GTI was designed to grace motor show car stands, not a racetrack.