Volkswagen Golf Design Vision GTI review

25 Nov, 2013 11:00am Paul Bond

It's only a one-off, but the Volkswagen Golf Design Vision GTI is one of the fastest hatchbacks ever


Often driving a concept car exposes glaring dynamic flaws but the Volkswagen Design Vision GTI sounds – and goes – just as fast as its looks suggest. The 3.0-litre V6 engine delivers astonishing performance and noise and it will be used to power a range of future production cars from VW. Still none are likely to look quite as good as this spectacular – and priceless – GTI concept.

Could this new Volkswagen Golf Design Vision GTI be the ultimate hot hatch? Built to wow VW’s diehard fans at the Worthersee tuning show, and preview the future of the GTI brand, the concept has the kind of mechanical firepower that could embarrass even the most hardened supercars. We were lucky enough to drive it just two days after it made its North American debut on the glittering LA Motor Show 2013 stand.

Volkswagen Golf GTI review

When we arrive at the makeshift circuit, the concept looks rather different, with the dramatically styled bodywork covered in a thick layer of road grime and dust that adds a welcome dose of reality and extra menace to the jaw-dropping looks.

Rather than starting from scratch, the Design Vision borrows details from iconic GTIs both past and present, but each element has then been wildly exaggerated for maximum visual impact. The concept might share its MQB chassis with the production car, but it is significantly wider and lower than the car that comes straight out of the factory.

The concept has shorter rear overhangs and 20-inch wheels that are pushed 56mm further apart at the front and 64mm at the back for much a stronger stance. Intricate side vents and strakes along the front bumper combine with a rear spoiler and diffuser that add downforce, but by far the biggest change from the normal GTI is lurking under the bonnet.

A twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre VR6 with a thumping 496bhp is sent to each of the four wheels via a six-speed DSG automatic gearbox and means this particular hot hatch rockets from 0-62mph in just 3.9 seconds - faster than a Porsche 911 C4S – and can reach 186mph.

Push the small red starter button on the slim Alcantara steering wheel and the new powerplant thunders into life. Creeping away carefully at first, once on the straight we floor the throttle and the noise that filters back into the sparse cabin is pure rally-bred WRC racer – with spine-tingling crackles on every downshift.

Grip from the enormous 275 cross-section rear tyres is very impressive and there is plenty of bite from the ventilated carbon ceramic discs. There are three driving modes: Street, Sport and Track, and flicking between the modes changes the engine mapping and damper settings – but we only drove using ‘Track’ mode.

Volkswagen Golf review

Despite this (and a very bumpy, rutted test circuit) the concept rides surprisingly well for a car with such an extreme suspension setup, and shares the same pliant composure as the standard car. Large bumps still jostle you around, but only the occasional creaking piece of interior trim and stones pinging off the wide arches alert you to the fact that you’re driving a show car. The steering is strangely light and we weren’t allowed to make any sharp turns – but even this brief drive was enough to showcase the promise of this drivetrain.

The interior is more Lamborghini than VW, with carbon-effect trim and simple grey Alcantara covering most of the surfaces, and the racing theme is continued with the Recaro seats and four-point harnesses. The rear seats have been taken out to make way for a carbon-effect cross beam and a pair of matching helmets.

Sadly, we have to stop after a few quick laps to stop the hot exhausts melting the delicate plastic diffuser - but the brakes, gearbox and engine feel impressively sturdy considering that the Design Vision is purely a one-off museum piece.

Key specs

  • Price: n/a
  • Engine: 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo petrol
  • Power/torque: 496bhp/560Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 3.9 seconds
  • Top speed: 186mph
  • Economy/CO2: 28mpg/169g/km (est)
  • Equipment: 20-inch alloys, matching race helmets, alcantara bucket seats, racing harness, carbon ceramic brakes, aerodynamic body kit, diffuser
  • On sale: Never