Volkswagen

Editorial | Volkswagen to end World Rally Championship commitment

Another week, another Volkswagen Group motorsport project gets canned. After the end of Audi’s Le Mans campaign, now comes the closure of VW’s highly successful rally programme. ESM’s Editor reflects.

VW Polo R WRC

Just three days after winning the 2016 Rally GB, along with more World Championship titles, Volkswagen officially that there will be no 2017 WRC campaign. The official reason is that the brand must ‘realign’ priorities in the face of enormous challenges. Whilst the statement from Volkswagen is at pains to avoid any reference to last year’s emissions scandal, this is clearly a knock-on effect from dieselgate.

With litigation and product recalls requiring Volkswagen to set aside billions of euros, continuing an expensive motorsport campaign in the WRC becomes a difficult thing to justify. In addition, it may well be that the Volkswagen brand wants to keep a low profile until the fall-out from dieselgate is completely sorted. It’s worth noting that VW-branded cars didn’t appear in this year’s latest Forza Horizon 3 game on the Microsoft Xbox, due to undisclosed licensing issues. Having been paraded through the global media as a cheat, perhaps Volkswagen wants to avoid rubbing noses in the dirt. Literally.

VW Polo R WRC

What’s more depressing is that Volkswagen Motorsport’s campaign with the Polo R WRC has been nothing short of flawless. From entering in 2013, to now, Volkswagen has taken 42 rally wins from 51 entries – that’s more than 83%! It means the Polo R WRC has notched up four drivers’ titles with Sébastien Ogier, four co-drivers’ titles with Julien Ingrassia, and four Manufacturers’ championships. Whilst cynics and critics will point to contemporary WRC being at its lowest ebb in generations – they’re not wrong – it’s still an amazing performance.

(more…)

Twin Test Review | VW Polo GTI vs SEAT Ibiza Cupra Black

On paper these two VAG family cousins share many similarities but, peel back the surface, and you’ll discover that things aren’t quite so homogenous. Which Spanish-built supermini wins out though?

SEAT Ibiza Cupra vs VW Polo GTI

If you’ve read our review of the SEAT Ibiza Cupra you’ll know there is a lot to like about this condensed hot hatch. However, sharing a powertrain and platform with the Polo GTI, through Volkswagen’s tried and tested badge-engineering, opens up obvious comparisons. We’ve broken our review down into several key areas, and found that things aren’t quite as predictable as you might imagine. Let’s get down to it:

Styling

This is evidently a subjective area, and neither Cupra nor GTI could be considered unattractive designs. Whether you prefer the basic Polo or Ibiza shape is personal taste, so we concentrated on the actual effort made to transform regular supermini into a hot hatch.SEAT Ibiza Cupra vs VW Polo GTISo what sets the GTI apart is the fact it looks more bespoke compared to the rest of the Polo range. From the red trim running across the grille into the headlights, to the honeycomb mesh and the GTI branding, it feels more special. Yes, it might be a scaled-down pastiche of the Golf GTI, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

On the other hand, the Ibiza Cupra struggles to separate itself from the hundreds of FR-badged imitators. Where it does differ is often through fussy styling, like the trapezoidal centre-exit exhaust or fake vents in the rear bumper. It’s still a good-looking car, but doesn’t quite do enough to make things feel distinctive. (more…)

Photo Gallery – 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed – Paddock Action

Despite weather that threatened to make Goodwood seem more like Glastonbury at times, the 2016 Festival of Speed proved to be as impressive as ever. ESM was there, for two days this time, getting up close and personal with as much of the machinery as possible. We could write 1,000s of words but, instead, we’ll give you the pictures first. 2016 Goodwood Festival of SpeedTrying to pick which photos to feature isn’t easy given the ridiculous selection of race and road cars on offer at the Festival of Speed. To try and keep things simple, we’ve broken it down into three galleries: the highlights from the paddock, what the manufacturers brought to the motor show, and cars in action tackling the hill climb. In this first gallery we’ve covered our favourites from the various paddocks at Goodwood, where it’s possible to be inches away from priceless racers and motorsport icons. We’ve also included what we found after the (long) trek to the rally stage at the top of the hill, and a special feature on BMW.

2016 Festival of Speed – Main Paddock

BMW Paddock Highlights
BMW was the featured marque at the Festival of Speed, so the brand accounted for a lot of the cars on display. Including one particular car that’s very dear to ESM’s heart.  (more…)

New – Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S takes Nürburgring record

Did you honestly think everyone had forgotten about hot-hatch Nürburgring lap times, after Honda’s Civic Type-R effort last year? No, of course not. So what better way for VW to celebrate 40 years of the Golf GTI than by setting a new Nordschleife record of 7:49.21.

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S We’ve already seen the regular GTI Clubsport, and it’s actually on sale now, but the ‘S’ version has been cranked up to 11 to ensure it can beat that pesky Civic around the ‘ring. That means more power, less weight, and a special Nürburgring mode for the driving profile selector. Yeah, we’re not convinced ‘engage Nürburgring mode‘ is quite catchy enough for us to consider rebranding. Sorry, Volkwagen. However, we can say the S has cured the slight indifference we felt  from first reading about the normal Clubsport when announced last year.

2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport S The Nürburgring mode tunes the suspension, engine, steering, and exhaust to best suit attacking the twisty German circuit. Racking up a decent ‘ring lap isn’t all about rock-solid suspension, due to numerous bumps and dips littered along the 12.9 miles of tarmac.  (more…)

Opinion – Seven fast estates we want to see built

The number of performance estates seems to have expanded massively in recent years but, here at ESM, that’s not enough for us. No, we’re greedy, and we want to see even more quick wagons on the market. To help we’ve come up with a septet that we think should happen.

Fast VW Estates

These aren’t just ‘pie in the sky’ ideas – we’ve picked out ones that, due to the wonders of modular platforms, could probably happen without too much engineering work. We’ve also rated them for desirability and feasibility, just to help point those manufacturers in the right direction…

1. BMW M3 Touring
BMW M3 TouringBMW has flirted with M Touring versions of the larger M5 twice in the past, and even went so far as building a concept E46 M3 Touring which never saw the light of day. Is now the time for a compact BMW performance estate?

The concept of a 431hp twin-turbocharged 3 Series Touring is rather appealing and, we imagine, adding M3 modifications to the estate bodyshell would make for quite an attractive proposition. Plus, BMW appears committed to covering every possible market niche these days, so this would just be one more addition. Think of it as karma for the 2 Series Active Tourer.

Sadly, market demand apparently means that this one falls quite far down the list of possibilities. BMW models are required to have global appeal and an M3 Touring is something that would seemingly only sell in Europe. Audi with the RS4, and Mercedes-Benz with the C 63 AMG, have somehow transgressed this problem, but the men in Munich aren’t convinced. Alpina is already doing a rather good job of building rapid 3 Series wagons, which doesn’t help our case.

Verdict
Desirability – 8/10
Feasibility – 6/10
Likelihood – 0/10 Probably more chance of an 2 Series Active Tourer M

2. Ford Focus RS EstateFocus RS EstateAlthough the hatchback might have only finally emerged, what better time to add a rapid load-lugger to the lineup as well.

The Focus RS hatch is a fairly awesome piece of kit, so making it more practical can only be a good thing, surely? Plus there’s already a Focus ST estate on sale, proving demand exists for quick wagons wearing the Blue Oval badge. With the Volkswagen Golf R notching up sales, there’s certainly buyers out there for estates based on extremely rapid hatchbacks. Plus, the thought of engaging Drift mode whilst on the way to the recycling centre has huge appeal.

Ford is already struggling to meet demand for the Focus RS hatch, so adding an estate variant might just be too much to handle. Although, as the RS is built on a regular production line with extra bits added later, surely there would be scope to squeeze a limited edition in there? There’s no precedent for RS estates, and we imagine that’s the excuse Ford would use to bat this away, but everything has to start somewhere. Also, this rendering by X-Tomi Design shows how good it could look.

Verdict
Desirability – 9/10
Feasibility – 8/10
Likelihood – 6.5/10 We’re still hoping on some ultra-limited edition opportunities.

3. Volkswagen Golf GTI Estate
04 VWYeah, this one pretty much only came to mind to help our OCD with VW’s current estate model range. As part of the performance estate lineup there’s a GTD, and an R, Variant but there’s no GTI version! That’s something which happens to unnerve us, ever so slightly, so we’d be a lot happier if Volkswagen just filled that gap. (more…)

Opinion – Should we get that excited about the 2017 WRC Polo?

With changes afoot for the 2017 World Rally Championship, why is EngageSportMode’s editor failing to get excited about the prospect of a 380hp Polo?

2017 Volkswagen Polo R WRC Concept

Here’s the deal. I’ve owned five different Volkswagen Polos in 14 years, including an R-Line and two different GTI versions. As such, it’s fair to say I’m something of a fan of VW’s supermini offering. I’ve also been into rallying since I was – to engage James May mode – a small boy, and have been mightily impressed with Volkswagen Motorsport’s complete domination of the WRC for the past three years. So why on earth am I not excited and entranced by the 2017 Polo WRC Concept show above?

The press release details should be whetting my appetite, even if the artwork rendering isn’t. The promise of more power – up to 380hp – in a lighter, wider, more extravagant body should be welcome news to any petrolhead. They’ll even be allowed to use an electronic centre differential to control the transmission of power, and the overall aim is to make the cars far more spectacular than before. With huge spoilers, flared arches and a ginormous rear wing the promise is certainly there. But what does that mean for us mere mortals who have to drive normal roads cars, and don’t get to play with WRC machinery? Probably very little. (more…)

New – Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR Racer

Volkswagen Motorsport doesn’t just do rallying. It also churns out touring cars like this Golf GTI TCR.

2016 VW Golf GTI TCRVW’s dominance of the World Rally Championship may be the jewel in the crown for the German company’s motorsport arm, but it’s also quietly confident about this new tin-top racer. Let’s qualify the ‘new’ statement a little bit first, however. You’re not mistaken about the fact it looks very similar to the Golf Touring Car Concept we featured last year. In short, it’s the same car but with extra honeycomb grilles and GTI badging.

2016 VW Golf GTI TCR 00

Volkswagen points out that the car which was used in certain rounds of the 2015 TCR International Series, was there to evaluate how competitive a Golf racer could be. Given that the ‘concept’ car took a win in only its second race, it’s fair to say that was sufficient to convince Volkswagen to go for a full campaign in 2016. The GTI branding is to commemorate on-track the 40th anniversary of the Golf GTI, whilst we’ve already seen the GTI Clubsport,which upholds honours on the road.

2016 VW Golf GTI TCR 00

(more…)

Friday Photo – Detroit 2016 Gallery

Red, white and – well, more red actually. Not the colours of the American flag, but the colours of pretty much everything on show at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show. Perhaps rouge is this colour of choice for motor show cars?

(more…)

Detroit Auto Show 2016 – Hefty Trends

As the first big event of the year, the North American International Auto Show offers the chance to spot trends we might see for the rest of the year. It also has the potential to prove if the US market is still obsessed with making the biggest stuff possible. 

2016 Detroit Auto Show

Pickup trucks are getting more outrageous
If there’s one vehicle that sums up the US automotive market in one fell swoop then it’s the pickup truck. But 2016 seems to be the year that manufacturers have truly gone XXL with their offerings.

Ford’s latest version of the F-150 Raptor was launched at the Detroit show a year ago but, twelve months later, it’s already been tweaked. Now there’s a SuperCrew version of the 3.5-litre EcoBoost powered machine so you can fit even more people or stuff inside. Although persuading people to get in the back as you make use of the new Terrain Management system in mud, rock or even baja mode might be a challenge!

Not to be outdone, Nissan premiered the Warrior concept version of its Titan X.D truck, again just one year after showing off the regular production version. With a 5.0-litre Turbo Diesel V8 engine, race-derived suspension parts, and a smattering of carbon fibre body panels it’s a formidable sounding proposition. Whether it becomes a reality remains to be seen.

Not quite as dramatically-styled as the Ford or Nissan, Honda is concentrating on practicality with the all-new Ridgeline. With a design that focuses on things which really matter to pickup buyers, like hauling sheets of plywood or drywall flat in the loadspace, or a 540 watt sound system mounted in the truck bed to improve your tailgating experience. Could it just be a little too sensible for its own good?

The big saloon isn’t dead!
2016 Volvo S90

(more…)

EngageSportMode Awards 2015 – Part Two

The EngageSportMode.com Awards for 2015 continues. No, we still don’t care that it’s now 2016, so just sit back and read which people and things caught our attention over the preceding twelve months. If you need it, you can find part one here.

2015 Awards p2

Person of the year – Max Verstappen
Max Verstappen 2015

You don’t need EngageSportMode to tell you that Formula 1 in 2015 was a pretty dire affair. Whether it was the comically tragic debacle of McLaren-Honda, the constant money worries for Lotus, or Lewis Hamilton wrapping up the title virtually unchallenged, there was little to be positive about. Apart from one young Dutchman in his debut season. Yes, Max Verstappen was by far and away our highlight of F1 in 2015.

Having a father like Jos Verstappen clearly helps, and it meant the rookie Toro Rosso driver wasn’t flung blind into the F1 arena. He topped the list of most overtakes in a season, making some quite astounding manoeuvres to pass 49 cars in total. For comparison, the driver average was just 26.8 passes. His only major mistake came at Monaco when he tangled with Romain Grosjean, but rare is the young driver who manages perfection throughout an entire season.

At ESM we hope Max manages to maintain the same momentum in 2016, as he clearly has a huge amount of raw talent. Whilst saying he is a potential championship winner might be a little too hasty, with his youth and the correct management, there’s no reason why he couldn’t do it one day. Providing the Red Bull driver programme doesn’t spit him out the other end with no seat, as has happened to others before.

(C) Ferrari Media

We also had to tip our hat to a previous winner of this award: Sebastian Vettel. Having suffered a torrid 2014 at Red Bull, the four-time World Champion joined Ferrari and instantly seemed revitalised. Taking three wins and a host of other podium finishes, he outshone teammate Kimi Räikkönen substantially, whilst also looking to be actually enjoying himself again.

Honourable mention – Sebastian Vettel

BTCC Driver of the year – Matt Neal (chosen by ESM’s BTCC Correspondent)
BTCC 2015 Snetterton

ESM’s BTCC driver of the year is, once again, not an easy decision or clear-cut. There were many stand-out drives over the season that caught the eye, but consistency was naturally the key. Drivers deserving a place on the shortlist include Josh Cook, with a staggering 22 JST wins out of 30, and Tom Ingram. Both had outright podiums of their own including a brace of seconds for Ingram. Despite their final championship standing only being 2 places apart, Ingram scored significantly more points so you would favour him as ‘young gun’ of the year, although he doesn’t claim driver of the year. (more…)