If you hadn’t noticed, and it has been kept well hidden, EngageSportMode is a little bit of a fan of Volkswagens. ESM also happens to be a fan of pickup trucks, stemming from a lifelong aim to own a Dodge Ram or other huge American truck. So the unveiling of the Amarok by VW a few years ago went a long way to satisfying both desires. The only downside was that, compared to US offerings, it was a little bit underpowered. Until now that is.
Perhaps calling a 2.0-litre diesel engine with twin-turbochargers underpowered is slightly harsh. It develops 180bhp and 300 lb ft of torque, shoving the regular 2.1 ton Amarok to 60mph in 11 seconds. Not bad for such a huge vehicle. However, VW have seemingly decided that this is not enough, and last week unveiled the wonderfully titled Power-Pickup Concept.
Shown at the huge Volkswagen gathering at Woerthersee in Austria, the Power-Pickup Concept improves on the 2.0TDI’s performance considerably. Packing a 3.0-litre V6 TDI engine under the bonnet, the Power-Pickup boasts an impressive 272bhp and an even more impressive 440 lb ft. This substantial kick up the backside is enough to propel the, presumably lighter, single-cab Amarok to 60 in 7.9 seconds! It’s also fair to say the Power-Pickup has the looks to make the most of its new firepower:
Being lowered by 80 mm on to those 22 inch rims gives the Amorak a serious stance on the ground, all contained by the widened wheelarches. A carbon fibre diffuser and twin exhaust add some muscle to the rear also. Inside leather bucket seats, a 500w subwoofer and a black, white and red theme make the Power-Pickup much more racing driver than farmer.
Apparently the Power-Pickup Concept is envisaged to be used as a support vehicle for a karting team, hence the rather full load-bed. Will it make production in some form? As much as ESM would like to think it will, this current economic climate probably isn’t conducive to a road-racing VW pickup, which is a huge shame. Plus the thought of GTI owners being harassed by pickups wouldn’t be ideal for Volkswagen I suspect!
Tonight, ESM’s Mate Steve explains why he’s surrendered ownership of the iconic MkV Golf GTi, along with noting the highs and lows of owning a hot-hatch legend.
Last week I handed back the keys to a VW Golf GTi MkV, you might ask why, hopefully this will become clear.
Just over 3 years ago I cheerily told my girlfriend “Don’t worry, I’m just going to look, not buy” as she went off to do some shopping. An hour and a half later and I’m dragging her out of the supermarket to have one final test drive before sitting down to agree the deal.
Over the course of the 3 years I’ve had it, the car has been reasonably reliable; the air-conditioning being the exception to this! The compressor on the air-conditioning is a known weak spot on the Golf MkV and, true to form, it failed resulting in a very warm car in the summer. Happily it was covered on my extended warranty as the cost including fitting came to just over £600.
The car also developed a small patch of rust at the back of the roof, which VW refused to cover under the anti-corrosion warranty. This was very disappointing and really knocked my faith in VW. Their decision was based on some blurry photos taken by my local dealer and emailed to their HQ, with them unwilling to discuss the matter further.
Unfortunately last winter I also had problems with the sensor in the coolant expansion vessel. This was remarkable, given that VW had this same fault on the Mk3 and Mk4, they still hadn’t fixed it for the MkV so a replacement vessel was required. Again this falls short of the standard I expect from a brand such as VW.
These issues aside, the car has been fantastic; it lived up to all the excellent reviews I read before purchasing it. It can be driven sedately and comfortably or it can be driven aggressively, either way it’s an excellent drive and has always returned circa 30mpg, which I consider pretty good for a 200BHP hot hatch. The suspension is the perfect compromise between bone shaking firmness and French softness and is therefore far better than the Seat FR equivalent with its horrifically stiff suspension. The seats are supportive and hold you well through the turns but the downside to this is the seat bolsters do wear badly and older people find it difficult to get in and out.
Each and every time I’ve driven the GTi I’ve had fun, its blend of performance and practicality makes it an easy car to live with but its performance is what makes you love it. The power-band is so large that there’s always plenty of torque available. This makes overtaking in 6th a breeze, but bother yourself to drop a cog or two and the GTi can really take off. So much so that I had to set the onboard computer to alert me at 95mph since it was so effortless to break the speed limit one had to keep a careful eye on the speedometer. Not that I ever speed you understand, simply as a precaution.
The interior of the car is as well-engineered and designed as the rest of the car, buttons and switches in logical places, well labelled and the fit and finish was top-notch with not a single rattle in the whole 3 years I had it. The party piece of being able to get the display on the Climatic automatic air-conditioning to display information such as current speed, oil pressure etc. was a lovely little hidden Easter Egg. However it would have been nice if some of this information was available a bit more readily, such as in the Ford Focus ST where there’s an extra pod of dials for turbo boost pressure etc.
Indeed the GTi has been fun not just for me but for friends and family too; most friends have had a go of the GTi and not a single one has been disappointed. Every time I parked the car at my parents it seemed to disappear off for several hours with my brother who couldn’t get enough of it. Having a hot hatch is an itch I needed to scratch and the GTi certainly scratched that itch!
Its performance in the snow is probably best forgotten (it doesn’t perform!) but I can forgive it, given that it was shod with 17inch summer tyres. The standard brakes never caused me issue and always had just the right amount of stopping power. I am certain my car had a modified exhaust due to it being fully stainless steel and pretty loud. However, when it was serviced by VW they did say it was a standard exhaust again showing how poor VW are; they can’t even recognise a non-standard exhaust on one of their own cars!
In fact VW customer service really lets the brand down, when I phone my local independent garage all I have to do is mention it’s a Golf MkV GTi and they know what I’m talking about. When I phone VW dealerships even with the information about it being a GTi they without fail always ask if it’s a petrol or a diesel. Now I know some UK dealerships sold Mk4 GT TDIs badged as a GTi but really there’s never been a diesel GTi and I expect VW dealerships to have a better grip on their own products than they do. They also seem to have a problem keeping up with VW Germany since VW Germany issued a technical memo several years ago that only LongLife oil could be used in the MkV Golf, but every time it’s been serviced by VW I’ve had to argue this point to ensure it gets the correct oil.
Unfortunately, this review seems to have spent more time talking about VW customer service than the car itself, but this is a major problem. VW price their cars higher than their competitors and trade on their reputation for quality. My experience is that their products are no longer worth the price and, although I consider myself a VW enthusiast, I would not consider purchasing another VW at this time.
So I’m sure you’ll be wanting to know what I’ve purchased to fill the GTi shaped gap in my life and, unfortunately, you’ll have to be patient since I won’t be purchasing a new car until March next year. I’ll be running around in a 56 plate Seat Leon FR TDI until then but my choices in March will likely be either Mini or BMW – you’ll just have to wait for my next blog post to find out which. Oh and just by the way VW, the reason it’ll be a MINI or BMW is down to the excellent customer service received recently when looking for a new car for my girlfriend. I never intended for her to purchase a MINI, but their customer care and product are so good she couldn’t resist. So she now has a rather excellent MINI Cooper D Countryman All4 (a stupidly long name for a car).
I have to admit, having driven the MkV GTi when it first went on sale, along with driving Steve’s also, it was an addictively fun car to be behind the wheel of. It’s a huge shame that the overall ownership experience for Steve hasn’t lived up to the basic product underneath. In addition, I share Steve’s sentiment in that I would not consider buying a Volkswagen at this time; notice how my shortlist featured no VWs (unless you count the Ibiza). With the current models on offer, along with the genuinely exorbitant pricing, the veneer of the VW badge has worn a little bit thin in ESM’s opinion.
Writing about the Polo earlier this week got me thinking about my appreciation for VAG products in general. The result being a list forming, photos being researched and this post about some of the more obscure models to emerge from Germany that I have a fondness for. These are not in any particular order, just the way in which my brain spat them out onto paper.
1999 – 2005 Volkswagen Bora V5
For (almost) as long as the Golf has existed, VW has produced a version with a huge boot grafted onto the back-end to meet the demand of the American market. Those on the other side of the pond have, generally, shown a far greater demand for models with a trunk, resulting in the Jetta, Vento and Bora models. In Europe, these models have never garnered the same appreciation; leaving them to be the unloved middle child, wedged awkwardly between the smaller Golf, but larger Passat.
I, however, have a relative fondness for these ugly ducklings, and the Bora V5 is a particular favourite of mine. Packing 170bhp in later models, the narrow-angle five cylinder was as punchy as it was aurally satisfying. It’s also completely unassuming looking, making it an excellent Q-Car and thus why I love it.
2003 – 2004 Volkswagen Golf R32 (Mk4)
The Mk4 Golf never received an amazing amount of praise in terms of being a driver’s car. Comfort and refinement were the order of the day, with dynamism taking a (spacious) back seat. The GTi failed to win applause, even with the 180bhp 1.8T engine. Then the R32 arrived.
I have probably never lusted over a German hatchback as much as I have the Mk4 R32. Everything about it screams exotic, despite the number of bodykitted diesels and 1.4s out there now. From the 18″ wheels, to the twin exhausts, signature Deep Blue Pearl paintwork and sculpted Konig seats everything about it looks special. Furthermore, if you thought the V5 Bora sounded good, listen to this. It’s 240+ bhp makes it genuinely fast and the Haldex 4WD keeps everything in check. The fact a low-mileage, unmolested, Mk4 R32 has a higher used value than the later Mk5 says everything you need to know; and makes me sad not to be able to afford to have one on my drive.
2005 Audi TT quattro Sport
Until the more recent TT RS, this was the most hardcore version of Audi’s ubiquitous coupe. It’s also the only car I’ve witnessed someone get genuinely stuck in due to its high-waisted Recaro Pole Position bucket seats.
Audi added an extra 15 bhp, removed 75kgs of weight, painted the roof section black and fitted special 18″ alloys. Most of the weight savings came from junking the back seats and rear parcel shelf, leaving a huge strut-brace and motorsport styled cargo net instead. Some people wimped out and picked regular “comfort” seats instead for this 800 only special edition. Losers.
2003 - 2004 Audi S4
To replace the previous S4 model’s 2.7 Bi-Turbo V6, Audi decided the best option was to shoehorn a 4.2 litre V8 under the bonnet. Featuring 344 bhp (one more than the contemporary BMW M3) this engine propelled the subtly styled S4 to 60mph in around 5 seconds and on to a limited top-speed of 155. The pay off was fuel consumption which averaged an official 20mpg; the reality somewhere much further south! It also happens to be another V8 vehicle my Father test drove and then didn’t buy, settling instead for the far more “sensible” Subaru Impreza STI.
2008 – 2010 Volkswagen Passat R36
Answering a question which nobody really seemed to have asked, VW unleashed this muscle-car version of the popular Passat rep-mobile. A 300bhp 3.6 litre (hence the name) V6 placed the R36 in a curious performance middle ground. Quicker than hot-hatches, but slower than the super-saloons. This probably explains why only around 160 found homes in the UK during its production run. I like its charming, unassuming looks and the fact nobody would ever have any idea what it is.
2000 – 2002 SEAT Ibiza Cupra R
By the time this hot little number emerged from Martorell, the Mk2 Ibiza chassis was getting pretty long in the tooth. Dumping the veritable 1.8T unit into the front gave 150bhp in the regular Cupra. However, for the Cupra R, the boost was cranked up to 11 to deliver a further 30bhp, making this supermini properly quick.
Aside from the engine, the R received a host of SEAT Sport parts, including Brembo brakes, stiffer suspension, carbon fibre bits and – most importantly – extra instrument gauges. This made the limited edition R rather special, making it stand out from the regular Cupra model. Contemporary journalists rated its speed, but not its unforgiving ride. Trying to find one today is hard; finding an original one that hasn’t been enhanced by its owner is even more difficult.
2002 – 2005 Volkswagen Passat W8
In the late 1990s/early 2000s Volkswagen was in the process of rapidly expanding its product range and technology across all the brands in its stable. Under the direction of Ferdinand Piech, Wolfsburg churned out some unique offerings; to test engineering or to test the market’s reaction.
The Passat W8 was one of the more left field items offered by VW. In its most basic form the engine was half a Bugatti Veyron W16 or two-thirds of a Bentley W12 (minus the turbos). Producing only 275bhp from its 4-litres isn’t exactly staggering, but did result in comical fuel consumption – around 16mpg! For the 170 people who bought one in the UK they suffered soul destroying depreciation, followed by the realisation they should have just bought an Audi. Pointless; but that’s why I like it.
2002 – Present Volkswagen Phaeton
If the W8 was pointless, the Phaeton took Piech’s narcissism to an entirely new level. Intended to test the technology for the Bentley Continental GT, the Phaeton was also made to make the automotive world realise no market was off limits to VW.
The brief for the Phaeton was that it must be able to hit 300kmh, whilst maintaining an interior temperature of 22′C, even when it was a roasting 50 degrees outside. God knows how much time and money went into the design of this beast, along with the epic Transparent Factory. In particular I love the fact it came with the massive V10 diesel engine, offering up a house-demolishing 553lb ft of torque!
I occasionally pass a Phaeton on my way to work – sadly not a V10 diesel – and it always makes me smile. Knowing a) that somebody lost a boatload of money buying it, and b) the sheer level of engineering underneath is cause for celebration.
2000 – 2002 VW Polo GTi
There is, of course, more than a hint of bias in this inclusion. Having owned a 6N2 Polo GTi for several years, before changing it for an ill-fated Audi S3, it does hold many fond memories for me. Even now I can still remember the specifications: 1.6 litre 4-cylinder with 125bhp and 112lb ft of torque, gave 0-60mph in around 8.5 seconds and a top speed of 130mph. The same engine would go on to power the Lupo GTi which managed to sell even fewer examples than its Polo brother (900 vs 3400).
At the time road-testers praised the upmarket looks and interior of the GTi, along with its respectable equipment count. But it came under fire for a lack of driver involvement and uninspiring handling. To be honest, the latter never really bothered me; I’d tweaked my example so much it went far beyond the original specification!
In the years since the 6N2, the Polo GTi has evolved to be an even closer miniature clone of the Golf GTi. It may be quicker, bigger and fancier, but for me there will always be an endearing charm to my version.
2006-2010 Volkswagen Jetta GLI
So we begin back where we started; looking at a Golf with a fat arse. The GLI has been available as US market mainstay for a number of generations, providing the sedan alternative to the Golf (or Rabbit) GTI. I especially like the Mk5 version for looking so much like the GTI, even down to the wheels and trademark grille, but then wedging a massive trunk at the rear end. Mechanically it was identical to the Golf, using the 2.0TFSI engine with 197bhp sending power to the front wheels. Performance was slightly blunted compared to the GTI, owing to the extra weight of all that junk in the trunk, but it still makes for an effective compact sedan.
In the UK, Volkswagen decided not to include the actual GLI model in its lineup. Instead it offered a curious TFSI version that used the GLI engine in a regular Jetta body; another wolf in sheep’s clothing. Even more curiously, Volkswagen USA also produced a special limited edition diesel Jetta TDI Cup edition in 2010:
Intended to celebrate the USA only race series, this bespoke limited edition matched an aggressive race-derived bodykit to a 170bhp 2.0TDI motor. As a former diesel Jetta owner, this across-the-pond model represented the zenith of derv compact VW saloons to be admired and lusted over. Unfortunately, given the UK’s lack of interest in the Jetta, there was no chance of an offering such as the TDI Cup over here.
So there we go. A collection of the Volkswagen Group’s more unique offerings.