Volkswagen has a reputation for being cars that are both fun and frugal. Sometimes they can even be quite luxurious. But when it comes to high performance and sports cars, VW doesn’t always get all the respect it deserves. That’s why we’re here to set the record straight, to offer a list of some of the finest and fastest Volkswagen cars (and trucks) of all time.
Now, we didn’t add every single VW-badged performance machine to this list – you do have errands to run eventually, after all. And some of the classic models might not be absolute road-burners compared to today’s sports cars. But, remember, for their time they didn’t need to make any excuses in the face of the competition. In fact, the engine found in the early-1990s Corrado VR6 would eventually be re-engineered for use in cars from the likes of Bentley and Bugatti. Yes, that Bugatti!
So sit back, but don’t relax too much. Because these VWs are about to get your pulse racing!
10. Golf GTI Clubsport S
This Golf GTI on steroids is meant to challenge rivals like the brand-new Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus ST, and the rest of the hot hatch segment (most of which never make it to our shores). Sadly, the same can be said for this 306-horsepower VW, of which only 400 were built. All that power is sent to the front wheels only, unlike the Golf R that also made our rankings. That could spell torque steer disaster, had Volkswagen’s engineering team not expertly dialed in the suspension, handling, stability control and throttle response. It’s so good, it makes us mad it’s not sold here.
9. Golf R
Right now, this is the range-topping Golf in the U.S. market. We love the subtlety of this pocket rocket, though some might prefer a performance car with more visual kick. If you like going fast and not getting tickets, however, this four-wheel-drive sports car is ideal. A 292-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder comes with your choice of 6-speed manual, or optional 6-speed automatic fitted with paddle shifters. Rapid and refined, this is a hot hatch for grown-ups.
8. 2002 Beetle RSI
On the other hand, VW isn’t always so demure when it comes to pumping up its product with power – not to mention an outrageously awkward rear wing. The 2001-03 Beetle RSI is an unlikely sports car, that’s for certain. It’s kind of like having a Pug as a guard dog (but somehow sillier). Fitted with a 221-horsepower VR6 engine, 4Motion all-wheel-drive, lowered suspension, along with larger multi-spoke alloy wheels, the Beetle RSI remains one of VW’s unlikeliest performance heroes. We love it, even if we don’t totally understand it.
7. Beetle GSR
Like the RSI, the Beetle GSR used the cutesy “Bug” as its base. This time around, the finished product didn’t look like it was conjured up by high schoolers doodling during detention. The GSR is a perfect sleeper performance car – if you ignore the screaming side decals, and yellow with black racing stripe paint job. You could always choose the optional grey exterior, though that seems downright dreary in comparison. A punchy 210-horsepower turbo 4-cylinder gives this retro-themed VW its bite. Though, admit it, you want to buy it just for the wacky paint job, don’t you?
6. 2007 Golf R32
Once it finally arrived in the U.S. market back in 2007, four years after going on sale in Europe, the R32 cemented itself as the thinking man’s hot-hatchback. Ahem, remember what we said about the current Golf R? A 3.2-liter narrow-angle VR6 was under the hood, while all-wheel-drive made certain the power was always a match for any driving conditions. It was even posh inside, too. Punch the gas pedal and this 250-horsepower VW needed only about 5.5 seconds to zip from 0 to 60 miles per hour.
5. 2002 Phaeton W12
In some ways, the Phaeton is VW’s equivalent to the Ford Edsel. In terms of sales and marketing expectations, this luxurious sedan was a complete and utter disaster. Why spend upwards of $100,000 on a car when, for the same money, or far less, you could have a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes-Benz? Yet, as a car, the Phaeton was an over-engineered peach. Smooth, fast, powerful and loaded with features, when it was powered by the optional 444-horsepower 6.0-liter W12 engine, and fitted with all-wheel-drive, the Phaeton had a top speed of 155 miles per hour and accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6.0 seconds.
4. Scirocco R
We sure wish VW would change its mind about this car. The Scirocco is based on the Golf platform and shares the same powertrain options. But the financials of selling this sleek and sexy alternative to the more upright GTI hatch in the U.S. have never quite been ironed out, apparently. Our pick would be the Scirocco R, which comes powered by a 261-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. Hit the accelerator and, as the 6-speed dual-clutch automatic winds its way through the gears, this front-wheel-drive coupe needs less than 5.5 seconds to run from 0 to 60 mph. Since it doesn’t have the four-wheel-drive system found in the Golf R, the Scirocco R is lighter and that much faster and more nimble (okay, it’s worth noting the Golf R would spank it in snow).
3. 1993 Corrado VR6
Chunky and destined to become a future classic, the VW Corrado is an unsung hero of the VW performance realm. Those blocky lines alone give this car tons of visual attitude. Then, in the early-1990s when VW made it one of the first models fitted with its then-new VR6, narrow-angle V6 engine, the Corrado was well and truly a world class sports coupe. Accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour took something in the region of 6.5 seconds. More to the point, the Corrado is now rare and relatively underappreciated – and remember, that VR6 engine evolved into the motors now found in Bugattis and Bentleys! Drive one. Buy one. You’ll thank us down the road.
2. 2004 Touareg W12
What is a large and heavy SUV doing in this list? Despite its tongue-twister of a name – say “TWAH-reg” – this hulking VW packed plenty of firepower when equipped with the W12 engine. Total output was 444-horsepower when the Touareg W12 broke cover back in 2004. The run from 0 to 60 miles per hour took less than 6.0 seconds. Thankfully, VW opted to limit this beast to an electronically-governed top speed of 155 mph.
1. Nardo Concept
Okay, the VW Nardo Concept never made it to production. So, adding it to our rankings is bending the rules, a bit. But consider all the outrageous machinery that this two-passenger supercar inspired. The W12 engine behind the cockpit would eventually makes its way into luxury cars like the Audi A8 and VW’s own Phaeton luxury sedan. It would also migrate to the Bentley Continental GT and, with a few more cylinders and four turbochargers, lay the groundwork for the 1000+ horsepower engine in the Bugatti Veyron. It all started here, in a VW dream machine back in 1997.