Over the past 40 years, the Volkswagen Golf GTI has become the standard of hot hatchbacks worldwide for its balance of performance and affordability. Yet one of the most memorable concepts ever to emerge from Volkswagen with the Golf GTI name pushed the performance side of that balance to the extreme.
The Golf GTI W12-650 was introduced in 2007 when Volkswagen designers needed a showstopping concept car to debut at Wörthersee. The VW-backed festival is one of the largest events for Volkswagen enthusiasts, with more than 100,000 visitors in attendance annually. Fans and locals gather along Lake Worthersee in Austria to bond over various Volkswagen vehicles, often with a special display of Golf GTI concepts.
Two months before Worthersee that year, Volkswagen designers began work on a concept that would combine elements from across the Volkswagen Group. To make it happen, the team started off with the simple body of the Mk5 GTI and kept the original production car’s doors, hood and lights. Next, they incorporated the twin-turbo W12 engine from a Bentley Continental GT that was good for 641 hp; as 12 cylinders physically can’t fit up front, where the four-cylinder turbo engine of the Golf GTI goes, they put the engine right behind the driver, creating a mid-engine GTI.1 To handle all that power, the concept borrowed the rear axle and brakes from a Lamborghini Gallardo, the front brakes from an Audi RS 4, and the gearbox of a Volkswagen Phaeton.
The body of the Mk5 was widened by 6.3 inches, the suspension was lowered by nearly three inches and the car was fitted for massive tires, measuring 12 inches wide in the rear and nine inches in the front. In addition to a reworked chassis, the finishing touches to the design included reshaped rear windows, a futuristic rear bumper and an expanded air intake section at the front.
The interior design for the concept car also reflected its racecar-like attributes. Outfitted in black Alcantara leather, the Golf GTI W12-650 had transparent switch guards for central functions, no door liners and even a fire extinguisher in the glove compartment.
Endowed with a W12 engine, the concept car had as much power as today’s Lamborghini Urus. With all that muscle and rear-wheel power, the concept car wasn’t the easiest to handle but it was certainly fun to drive. Comparable to a racecar, the Golf GTI W12-650 accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds and achieved a top track speed of 201 mph.2 Maybe one day there’ll be a faster Golf GTI on the shores of Lake Worthersee – but there will likely never be one quite as wild.