UPDATED Sources at Audi have poured cold water on the notion of the next Volkswagen Golf R scoring the five-cylinder from Audi's RS3.
Despite lots of evidence to the contrary - including VW test mules running what sound suspiciously like a five-potter - an Audi source told German site Autovisie that the family connection wasn't enough reason for Ingolstadt to share one of the family jewels.
“The Golf R is simply a direct competitor to Audi Sport. We will not let that happen that it will have the same power source," said the Audi snout, who added that the 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine's more hands-on manufacturing process meant that Audi's Gyor plant in Hungary wouldn't have been able to supply sufficient quantity.
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 - including the RS Q3 - 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 on track for a late 2020 debut in Australia.
But it’s the news that Audi is backing the future of its five-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that left us pondering about the future of the Golf R.
The Golf Mk8 launch was delayed as VW reportedly struggled to make sure all of the complex electronics across a range of new systems play nicely together, but we also know 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 left us pondering the question; could the Golf R go five-cylinder? Err, no.
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 – a five-pot Audi of late, that’s not an accusation you can level at it.
The new VW Golf GTI Mk8
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.
As well, we know that Audi worked hard 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.
The question of whether the Golf R got the RS3 engine was always going to 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 ultimately wasn't an easy sell.
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.