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.