The Volkswagen Group is a very busy place at the moment, particularly when it comes to its two biggest players.
Audi is in the midst of a product wash-through that will produce its youngest model line-up in recent history, including a raft of new SUVs and Audi Sport models that will drop in the next 12 to 18 months.
Volkswagen, meanwhile, is charging at lightning speed towards electrification, with the new ID range scheduled for release next year, and its important new Golf Mk8 all but finished and on track for a 2020 debut.
But it’s the news that Audi is backing the future of its five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that has us pondering about the future of the Golf R.
The Golf Mk8 launch has been delayed as VW reportedly struggles to make sure all of the complex electronics across a range of new systems play nicely together, but we understand that the time between the release of the garden variety Golfs and the spicier GTI and R variants will be much shorter than previously.
This has us pondering the question; could the Golf R go five-cylinder?
In 2002, Volkswagen launched the Golf R32 – the spiritual predecessor to the current Golf R – and it used a 3.2-litre narrow-angle V6 naturally aspirated engine and AWD to differentiate it from the four-cylinder, front-drive Golf GTI.
Arguably, its predecessor – the VR6 Synchro, which had a 2.9-litre V6 and all-paw transmission – was the true origin of the R.
Both were heavy and a prone to understeer, but had pep and personality that redeemed blunted talents.
The Mk 7.5 version of the R, meanwhile, has morphed into a supremely refined, comfortable and quick cruiser bruiser, but has been accused of having a little too much starch in the collar.
As anyone who has driven – or even heard – an RS3 of late, that’s not an accusation you can level at it.
In recent months, Golf production mules have been papped in Germany using what appears to be a five-cylinder powertrain instead of its ubiquitous EA888 four-cylinder turbocharged engine.
While it’s possible the MQB-platformed Golf mule could simply be a great place to put verification kilometres on emissions-tweaked five-potters for Audi’s future use, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that VW would look at giving the GTI and the R separate IPs for the next generation.
On the engineering side, the MQB chassis has already had all the hard work done to it to enable the fitment of the bigger engine. It’s a tight fit under the bonnet of the similarly-sized RS3, but the two cars already share what are known as ‘hard points’ or fixed positions for key structural elements like suspension mountings, firewalls and ancillary equipment.
There may be a need to incorporate larger cooling apertures in the front bumper of the Golf, and the bonnet may need a reprofile to suit the taller engine, but guaranteed, the five-pot would fit in an R.
As well, we know that Audi is working on preparing the five-potter to meet ever-tightening emissions regulations… and this doesn’t come cheap. It’s likely to score a version of the mild hybrid set-up currently being rolled out across the Audi group to ensure it can live on into the next decade.
Making 100,000 engines is always cheaper than building 10,000, and adding the emissions-tweaked five-cylinder to a more mainstream VW group car is one way to reach a more critical mass when it comes to driving down the cost per unit.
The question of whether the Golf R gets the RS3 engine will likely be one of brand philosophy, though. The five-pot RS3 is hot property for Audi, and despite working for the same parent company, the prospect giving way a perceived advantage to its across-town rival won’t be an easy sell.
As well, the legacy of the five-cylinder engine is tightly interwoven into the Audi storyline, and it’s a storyline that the company is tapping into more as it expands its Audi Sport brand to tackle the likes of Mercedes-AMG and BMW M head on.
Volkswagen Australia would not be pressed about the potential of a five-cylinder Golf, but we probably won’t have to wait too long for an answer with the Mk 8 Golf R due to launch shortly after the entry-level versions next year.
Imagine it, though… an all-wheel-drive Golf R with a more powerful five-cylinder engine, dual-mode exhaust so it can be sedate or snarky at the touch of a button, mild hybrid for fuel economy and that distinctive five-pot warble providing the soundtrack. Sounds like a winner to us.