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First Impressions:
This midengine Frankenstein with a twin-turbo 641-hp W12 is the kind of monster that only Volkswagen could make.

641-hp twin-turbo W12
6-speed automatic
Rear-wheel drive
Not available in stores
Monster Midengine GTI With W12 Power

Here's the golden rule of driving priceless, one-off concept cars such as the Volkswagen Golf GTI W12-650: Don't screw up. Misdemeanors will be frowned upon, chiefly because any damage is unlikely to be fixable outside of a specialist prototype maker, and at considerable expense.

Yet this important item of information appears to have eluded the driver of this very special GTI, in which we are presently an increasingly anxious passenger. Furthermore, the photographer has just asked him to showboat for the camera, thereby blocking all of his neural pathways to common sense.

First pass around the corner: understeer. Second pass: lift a little, twitch of the tail. Third pass: lift a lot, have massive spin, become engulfed in choking tire smoke. Fourth pass: more circumspect, so back to understeer. Fifth pass: more speed, even bigger spin onto the grass, sliding sideways toward another section of the track where a lip of concrete threatens to trip us into a barrel roll.

Whew. No flip. Nervous laughter. Sudden recall from my driver that this Volkswagen-built Golf GTI W12-650 is a one-off showcar, and the dents won't just polish out.

What To Do With a W12 From a Leftover VW Phaeton
Still, my man can be forgiven his indiscretion, as he isn't alone in his infectious enthusiasm for this midengine, twin-turbo two-seater Golf. We first catch up with this madcap 641-horsepower (650 PS), rear-wheel-drive car on a disused air force base near Berlin. Marc Lichte, the Volkswagen designer responsible for the GTI W12's exterior look, has barely said hello before he explodes into a passionate description of his favorite design features of the car (the unique C-pillars, since you asked).

At first, this car looks like something we've seen before from one tuning outfit or another, and even the carbon-fiber roof panel doesn't seem unusual. Then you get closer. Aft of the B-pillars, the roof dips downward and the rear windows pinch inward. This creates those flying-buttress C-pillars, which funnel air to radiators hidden behind them. As the pillars wrap over onto the roof, they also form an aerodynamic spoiler. A large rear aero diffuser also helps keep this car on the ground.

Next you'll be distracted by a large lump of alloy sitting where the rear seats should be. Beneath a pair of Frisbee-size cooling fans integrated into a carbon-fiber shroud, you'll find a twin-turbo 6.0-liter W12 engine from the Bentley Continental GT. (It's also found in normally aspirated 444-hp guise in the nose of the VW Phaeton.) The engine is cradled in an aluminum subframe, which adds another 6.3 inches to the width of the car.

"It's up to you guys to spread the word, help drum up demand, help persuade our management to make the W12," Marc Lichte insists in evangelical tones. "It would be comparatively easy to do, because all the parts are off-the-shelf items from the Volkswagen Group — it's a Bentley engine with a Phaeton gearbox mounted on the back, Audi RS4 front brakes, Gallardo rear brakes and suspension, and the platform is Golf."

Lichte believes that VW overlord Ferdinand Piëch is a fan of projects like this. Lichte is clearly mad.

The Insanity Gene
The fact that the GTI W12 has been built at all is evidence that Volkswagen still has an insanity gene in its corporate DNA. Particularly as this project has been conceived simply to wow the crowd at the annual GTI festival in Wörthersee, Austria, which has been held every year since 1982.

This isn't the first time VW has put an engine in the back of a car. The Scirocco II BiMoto concept car premiered in 1981, and the idea was to build 200 and thus qualify for Group B rallying, where the Audi Quattro was cleaning up. The development car had two 1,791cc engines, each producing 180 hp. It was timed to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and to 100 mph in 11.6 seconds, nearly as quick as the Audi. The twin-engine VW almost went into production as the Scirocco 360/4, but sanity ultimately prevailed.

The silhouette of the GTI W12 looks like that of a regular Golf, and it has the same 101.5-inch wheelbase. It sits 2.8 inches lower and rolls on 19-inch wheels. Oddly enough, the W12's compact dimensions make it possible to concoct a package like this. All of this weighs 3,770 pounds, some 620 pounds more than a stock GTI.

Off the line, the Golf W12 is quick, but not extraordinary. VW claims 100 kph (62 mph) comes up in 3.7 seconds. In part that's down to the fact that the engine has been artificially reined in to about 60 percent of its full potential in the first two gears. Then, as the gearbox slides into ratio number three, the gale of horsepower becomes a tornado, and this hatchback-shaped projectile assumes supercar pace. The tach is redlined at 7,500 rpm and the engine happily slams into it.

Hey, Watch This!
From outside the GTI W12 sounds like a big, ballsy powerboat as it passes by. Once inside this GTI, the growling bass resonating through the bulkhead gives this car a sense of latent strength. The other sound you hear is that of the cooling fans, working overtime to blow cool air to the turbocharged horsepower in the enclosed engine bay. There's a toggle on the dash to trigger a fire extinguisher system, just in case those exhaust gases get so hot that we suffer some kind of rapid oxidation event.

Apart from the white leather upholstery and trimmings, the only other striking difference from a stock GTI is the lever for the automatic transmission. It's a six-speed Tiptronic automatic, not a DSG, as only the full automatic can withstand the 553 pound-feet of torque from the twin-turbo W12.

Though VW rates the car's top speed as 202 mph, there's only space on this airfield to spool it up to 145 mph. Still, it's hard to be disappointed when you remember that this is an undeveloped, one-off showcar.

Just how "undeveloped" becomes apparent in a sphincter-tightening way as we brake hard at the end of the runway and the Vee-Dub twitches left abruptly, threatening to spin.

Not Ready for Prime Time
As we soon discover, the transmission is the GTI W12's weakest link. While the gearchanges are smooth, the shift strategy hasn't been programmed for spirited driving, so the transmission is never in the right ratio through a sequence of corners.

The first proper corner also reveals that there's a lot of work to be done in chassis setup. As you turn in, the previously lifeless steering starts to feed back some information. But what it's telling you — and this is backed up by feedback from the seat of your pants — is that the tail is swinging around at a surprisingly rapid pace.

Gently backing off the throttle restores the equilibrium. So we give it another go. Again the onset of oversteer is sudden and the breakaway point of the rear tires seems unpredictable. A spin teaches you that if you wait for the tail to go of its own volition, you won't catch it. You simply have to keep on playing with the steering and the throttle (like my friendly VW test driver did) in order to find the right cornering formula.

Instead of driving the Golf W12 rationally, you need to drive it like a rally car. As you approach the corner, lift off abruptly, and then as the tail swings out, get back on the power — the trick comes in figuring out just when. Once in a dozen times (if you're lucky), you won't plow the front tires or simply spin down the road in a cloud of dust and debris, and instead hold a beautiful, tire-smoking powerslide.

It's not likely that the Golf GTI W12-650 is headed for production any time soon. Yet all credit to Volkswagen for having the imagination to sanction it in the first place. GTI drivers will be talking about this car for a long time.

- Insideline
 
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