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More VW Golf GTI, R variants coming

Electric dreams: The Golf GTE petrol-electric hybrid is not out of the question for an Australian launch as Volkswagen works on its local electrification strategy.

VW set to boost its performance portfolio with returning GTI three-door and R wagon

Volkswagen logo27 Jul 2016

VOLKSWAGEN has confirmed that it will broaden its small car performance portfolio next year with the return of the base three-door Golf GTI, as well as the Golf R all-wheel-drive wagon, while the GTE petrol-electric hybrid is also on the cards for Australia.

However, none are likely to happen before the debut of the facelifted Golf ‘7.5’, which is expected to be unveiled at the Paris motor show in September and is due in Australia in the second half of next year.

As GoAuto reported earlier this week, the move to a base three-door is designed to boost the appeal of the money-spinning GTI range, which – along with limited editions such as the just-launched 40 Years special – will strive to raise the hot-hatch’s share of total Golf volume from about 17.5 per cent to 25 per cent the GTI enjoyed in the second half of the 2000s.

Additionally, the GTI three-door would fill the gap left by the soon-to-be-discontinued Scirocco R, which will have one last hoorah later this year with a limited-edition Wolfsburg is launched in Australia, and will not be replaced when production eventually ceases.

According to Volkswagen Group Australia (VGA) product marketing manager Jeff Schafer, the moves are designed to keep interest in the GTI buoyant, especially in the face of high-profile rivals such as the Ford Focus RS, Peugeot 308 GTi, and Renault Megane Sport.

“Yes, the three-door is something that we have our eye on,” he revealed.

“At the moment we have the Scirocco R which is doing a really good job for us in that two-door space, and we have it as a really focused product in Australia being exclusively an R model… but down the road I think there is room in the Golf range to look at GTI in a two-door.

“There are things we are exploring to see how we can broaden the appeal of the GTI. We don’t want it to remain stagnant, and looking into the future, we see some expansion of what we would consider a GTI or how we treat the GTI range. And the 40 Years is a great example of how we would broaden its appeal.” While the R AWD wagon seems almost certain to return sometime later next year or in early 2018, it will not be joined by a cheaper front-drive GTI wagon.

“I think the GTI concept is about a hot hatch,” Mr Schafer said. “The wagon is something we brought out last year in the R Wolfsburg, and it was very well received…. we sold the last one only a few months after it was released. So it’s something we will explore, but not in the really short term… but in the medium term, there are a lot of people who really appreciate it. And I think the R wagon actually properly fits the wagon product better than the GTI.” However, despite the growing number of sporty Golf variants, the Golf in GTD turbo-diesel guise will remain off the table – certainly as long as petrol prices remain low.

“We’re not really sure it really has a lot of legs at the moment,” Mr Schafer said. “Petrol engines are getting so good in terms of fuel economy and torque delivery… I’m not really sure what the advantages of a GTD would bring over a GTI… and not really sure how a GTD would fit into the line-up.” In fact, it seems more likely that the Golf GTE plug-in petrol-electric hybrid – which combines the GTI-style chassis with a 1.4 TSI engine and electric motor capable of delivering up to 50km of pure EV range – might have a greater chance of eventually coming to Australia than the GTD.

“Electrification is definitely something we have our eye on,” he added. “The group’s been pretty clear of its plans to offer more electrified vehicles moving forward. If you look at the market in Australia, to date it’s been quite small, but there’s always a bit of an S curve with new technology, and making sure the product you offer is what the market wants… and not just in the Golf GTE either.” While Mr Schafer claims VGA is happy with a 25 per cent combined GTI and R sales share of total Golf volume, he admits that the latter has eaten into the former’s popularity.

“We’re still around the 25 per cent mark when you incorporate the Golf R as well as the GTI models, so performance is still a strong part of the range and a really big part of what people see in a Golf,” he said.

“In fact, if anything, in recent times, the R has been the product that actually been stepping people up from GTIs.

“You could always say you’d want even more, but to see people embracing the product right through to the R is really very positive, and I think the GTI is the iconic part of the Golf range, and still the benchmark that everybody else is judged by in that segment.”

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