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Preview: Volkswagen Golf GTE Sport Concept

The first instalment of our VW European adventure covered the almighty Golf R Variant, but that was simply part of the journey. The destination was the GTI Treffen at Worthersee, a small sleepy town in Austria that for one weekend every May (the weekend of their Father’s Day in Germany) becomes an absolute orgy for GTI and VW fanboys… er, I mean aficionados. Yes, yes, aficionados, I quite like that.

However, as part of our slow, teasing buildup to the grand event (who’s to say we can’t pick up a trick or two from car manufacturers), this post will cover Volkswagen’s corporate contribution to the revelry, an absolutely mad-scientist concept car: the Golf GTE Sport concept.

For starters, it’s a plug-in hybrid. But who cares about that stuff? More importantly, GULL WING DOORS! On a GOLF!!! Believe it or not, that is not the best part. The best part is the interior. Now this is a concept car interior. The buckets are luxe-modern suede-lined sport seats with five-point racing harness that are integrated right into the cabin’s interior shell. The centre console is armrest-high right up to the dash, creating a twin-cockpit environment for driver and passenger.

The steering ‘wheel’ looks straight out of an airplane or race car, and the gauges are Tron meets The Last Starfighter. (That’s a compliment in case you’re wondering.) The three tier gauges display the most commonly checked information like speed and range in the most forward panel, in a position closest to a driver's field of vision with eyes on the road, and the nearer screens each display subsequently less crucial information. There is also a virtual 'driving line indicator' of the type we see in the latest racing video games like Forza Horizon or Gran Turismo 4. Also cribbed from aeronautical design are some overhead toggle switches to activate the different power and efficiency modes. Meanwhile, the passenger can track some basic info like speed and gear in their own little "Info Mode" or look up acceleration and g forces in "Data Mode"

Okay, the doors and interior are pure fantasy, exactly the way we love our concepts, but take note of the styling: this is far more angular and sharp-edged a design than we’ve seen from VW, so could we perhaps see something of an Art & Science design direction for Volkswagen? I can’t say that I object as I both love that Cadillac design wave and think that VW could inject a bit more drama into their vehicle lines. The press release was particularly proud of the split C-pillar that contributes to aerodynamic downforce and brake cooling and has its roots in the bonkers GTI W12-650 that was presented at this same event in 2007. According to the press release, "This C-pillar concept... has reached a degree of perfection that allows it to leave the show car stage and – as a design vision – bridge the gap to the Golf GT models of the future." Could we see a split C-pillar on the next generation of Golf GTIs and Golf Rs? It's a design flourish normally reserved for such exotica as the Ford GT or others, so it would be a coupe for VW to offer it on such a humble but storied franchise.

The hybrid motivation isn’t terribly far-fetched, with a variety of experimental electrics under Volkswagen Auto Group’s belt, from the R8 E-tron electric super car to the super light, super streamlined, diesel hybrid XL1 and on to more ordinary stuff like Volkswagen E-Golf (a California compliance car not available in Canada) and the A3 E-tron plug-in hybrid (and its European twin VW Golf GTE).

However, the Golf GTE shares one important bit with VW’s World Rally Championship entry, the Polo piloted by Sebastién Ogier (who has captured the title the past two years), namely the 1.6L turbo-four, tuned in this experiment to deliver 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. It is here that we must Pair that with one electric motor integrated into the six-speed DSG dual clutch transmission (as in the A3 E-tron), plus another on the rear axle to turn this into an all-wheel drive affair, and we have one ballistic hybrid concept. Both electric motors produce 85 kW (113 hp) of power, but front motor twists out 243 lb-ft and the back one 199 lb-ft. Hybrid math combines those to achieve maximum of 395 hp and 494 lb-ft of torque.

The car can be driven solely by its electric motors, and in fact that is its default preference, but where’s the fun in that? Flick on “GTE Mode”, and start burning hydrocarbons and electrons and rubber, and the AWD will launch the GTE to 100 km/h in 4.3 seconds and on to a top Autobahn speed of 280 km/h. One nifty aspect of the design is that power for the rear electric motor is routed through the front electric motor by wire, eliminating the need for a mechanical drive shaft, saving weight and space.

When not heartlessly murdering our ozone, the GTE can parsimoniously tootle around to the tune of 2.0 L/100 km in the wacky Euro cycle taking full advantage of its electric and hybrid modes. A standard GTI is rated at 6.0 in that system compared to 9.4/6.9 L/100 km by Natural Resources Canada. So, still pretty darned efficient.

Its electric-only range is pegged at the same 50 km as the A3 E-tron and European-market GTE (like an electric GTI) upon which this GTE is loosely based. That GTE shares the Audi A3 E-tron’s 1.4L turbo, transmission-electric motor setup and 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery, tuned for a sporty 201 hp. It doesn’t look anything like this concept, just an ordinary GTI with a funny grille. The GTE Sport’s most significant upgrade over the GTE, aside from the WRC-derived 1.6T gas engine and dual-motor AWD and fantastic styling and wild interior, is its lightweight contruction. Extensive use of carbon-fibre in the body, leveraging VW’s development of the XL1 ‘1-litre car’ shave likely hundreds of kilos, though VW aren’t saying exactly how much.

While the Golf GTE Sport is a flight-of-fancy concept, it holds some promising developments for sporty AWD hybrids, but VW also introduced a much more practically minded ‘concept’ in the Golf GTI Clubsport. Set to launch next year in honour of the GTI’s 40th anniversary, it will put down 261 hp, with a boost option giving it another 10 percent for a kind of push-to-pass feature, custom interior and a downforce-inspired body kit.