Volkswagen is out to reclaim its hot hatch crown with a four-pronged assault that could include an electrified 300kW hyper hatch to take on the Mercedes-AMG A45.
Facing stiff competition from newer rivals, such as the Hyundai i30 N and Honda Civic Type R, VW is mounting a multi-tier approach for its refreshed performance hatch line-up.
Leading the charge is the all-new Volkswagen Golf GTI which is set to arrive in Australia in the second quarter of 2021.
VW’s EA888 turbocharged 2.0-litre remains the centrepiece under the bonnet of the new GTI, producing 180kW and 370Nm – the same outputs as the outgoing Mk7.5 GTI.
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The main development for the Mk8 GTI is the introduction of VW’s Vehicle Dynamics Manager system, which controls the adaptive dampers and locking front differential, promising to provide a greater breadth of ability between its maximum comfort setting and full attack mode.
Yet to be shown officially but also due for a 2021 release is the 8th-gen Golf R, a circa-$60K flagship that will build on the GTI’s DNA.
Leaked internal documents show the hotly anticipated pinnacle of the line-up (at least in the short-term) is unlikely to shift away from a proven formula, instead stepping up outputs from the familiar 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo to 245kW. At that level it will be the most powerful production Golf to date.
Drive will continue through all four wheels and the chassis will be appropriately tweaked to handle the extra punch, along with DCC (Dynamic Chassis Control) adaptive dampers.
Spy pics of the top-secret model testing in the Swedish snow show dual exhausts hanging from either side of the rear end.
Blue brake calipers pinching cross-drilled front rotors promise to bolster stopping power, while a revised bumper and unique lower rear diffuser assist with cooling and high-speed stability while also ensuring the requisite increase in visual aggression.
Bridging the gap between the revamped Golf GTI and Golf R will be a new variant dubbed GTI TCR, which will form a halfway house between the two familiar Golf performance models.
Where the new GTI caps power at 180kW, the TCR will feed 221kW from its EA888 engine to the front treads.
The existing Mk7.5 TCR (which is expected to arrive in Australia in July) produces 213kW/380Nm and is a three-door-only proposition. The new Mk8 variant is expected to switch to a five-door configuration, and gain some aggressive new bodywork inspired by the race car with which it shares the badge.
Other additions for the TCR include extra cooling, a sports exhaust and track-focused rubber.
While the new-gen Golf R and TCR are a done deal, it’s the prospect of the long-rumoured Golf R ‘Plus’ that is most intriguing.
This halo model, which could have as much as 300kW and would act as a more affordable rival to the likes of the Mercedes-AMG A45, has been discussed deep within Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg head office, with boss Herbert Diess reported to be a personal proponent of the project.
However, while rumours of the hot hatch halo have been circulating for months, Wheels sources say the car is yet to get the crucial management sign-off. That means it’s not in the mid-term product plan and, even if given the green light, it won’t appear until at least 2023.
Another marketing-friendly option could be a 2024 launch to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic GTI.
When contacted, Volkswagen Australia said it was unaware of any plans for a mega Golf, and that if it were to happen, it would be years away.
Not that it slows the discussions about what technical make-up the car could take.
Chassis tweaks would naturally run to stiffer suspension and, according to our spies, a wider track, something that would necessitate bespoke wheelarches to keep everything in check – and pump up the aesthetics.
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It would also create a distinct look from the GTI and R models, which would continue to account for the bulk of hot Golf sales.
It’s understood that engineers have evaluated multiple drivetrain options for getting the requisite power – with Mercedes-AMG’s 310kW A45 one target mentioned – while meeting stringent 95g/km CO2 targets.
Whatever happens, expect emissions as much as performance to steer the agenda.
There’s also the rather large hurdle of ensuring any top-shelf Golf arrives with a Volkswagen-friendly price tag. Sister brand Audi does a thoroughly acceptable RS3 for $83,800, so R Plus would logically either have to offer more or sell for less – likely the latter.
Volkswagen executives initially considered employing Audi’s potent and characterful 294kW five-cylinder turbo as the powerplant for a Plus-powered Golf, but that plan has been killed off. Instead, it would be up to the familiar 2.0-litre blown four-pot to carry the Golf to a new level of performance, but what form it takes has apparently not been decided.
While a heftier turbo and strengthened internals could theoretically hit the 300kW-plus target, another option understood to be on the table involves electrification.
That would leave an electric motor to provide something like an extra 50-plus kilowatts, possibly more – all of which would blend nicely with Volkswagen’s broader switch to electric propulsion through its ID sub-brand.
It makes sense given Volkswagen’s performance direction too. The recently unveiled Touareg R utilises the 340kW plug-in hybrid drivetrain from Porsche’s Cayenne E-Hybrid.
However, there are challenges for an R Plus elsewhere. Any such program is unlikely to be for a single model, suggesting other vehicles within the group would need to utilise such a set-up to ensure its viability. There’s also the issue of weight. Throw in batteries and there’s the obvious issue of adding hundreds of kilograms to the car, which would trade off its agility.
On the other hand, electric motors also allow different thinking on the drivetrain front.
Rather than run driveshafts to the rear, Volkswagen could use the same approach as other all-wheel-drive hybrids – and the GTI Worthersee concept from 2017 – that leave the petrol engine powering the front axle while electric motors take care of the rear drive. Such a set-up would also help to overcome some of the weight disadvantage of carrying batteries and motors in addition to the ICE by eliminating diffs and driveshafts.
There are also benefits with torque vectoring and being able to quickly switch drive between wheels and axles depending on the surface and situation. It’s thinking that is already deep in development elsewhere across Europe.
What approach VW will adopt remains to be seen, though it’s clear the brand isn’t taking losing its place at the top of the hot hatch hierarchy lying down.
And the real winners in that scenario are us – car lovers looking for engaging daily drivers that can also lug the kids and dog about, without breaking the bank.
The heat is on
Australia took a long time to fall in love with the hot hatch. The original Golf GTI fronted up overseas in 1976 with 100kW per tonne. By 1980, our hottest local equivalent was the Alfasud 1.5 Sprint with a piffling 64kW/t. The Colt Cordia Turbo rectified things with 115kW/t in 1985, while the 1990 Ford Laser TX3 Turbo AWD took a step back to 102kW/t, little more than the Golf that started it all. Five years later, the Golf VR6 had barely moved the meter to 106kW/t. Then things got serious. The 2000 Audi S3 lifted to 112kW/t, with the 2005 Alfa Romeo 147 GTA cracking in with a hefty 135kW/t. By 2010 that figure had risen to 150kW/t for the Ford Focus RS and by 2015 to 179kW/t for the Mercedes-Benz A45 AMG. The latest A45 AMG S sets the current benchmark with exactly 200kW/t.
Three things you should know about the R Plus
- Bringing a 1500kg 300kW Golf R Plus to market would deliver exactly double the power-to-weight ratio of the original Mk1 Golf GTI (200 versus 100kW per tonne).
- A styling proposal for the Golf R Plus has already been completed and internally distributed within Volkswagen. It’s said to offer significant visual differentiation from the standard Golf R.
- If the R Plus were to adopt the same drivetrain architecture as the 2017 Worthersee Golf GTI 40 Years project, it would be the first production Golf that can be set in a pure rear-wheel drive mode.
This article was first published in the April issue of Wheels magazine.