Volkswagen may be in a lot of trouble right now, but it still has its faithful. Like Jeep fanatics with the Easter Safari in Moab, Utah, Volkswagen’s true believers have Wörthersee, a massive meet-up held on an Austrian lake. And as hundreds of restored, modded, or slammed Volkswagens descend on the sleepy mountainous region from all over Europe for one week every year, the event becomes the temporary Volkswagen capitol of the world.
And like Jeep, Volkswagen rewards its faithful with concepts to show exactly what the brand is capable of. Every year since 2008, teams of apprentices from its Vocational Training program create concepts for the show, and to commemorate Wörthersee’s 40th anniversary, this year’s cars are more than enough to get your average Volkswagen tuner drooling.
The first car is the Golf GTI Heartbeat, a 395-horsepower tuner direct from the company itself. The car has a two-tone silver metallic paint job, with a contrasting dark gray front end and roof. A honeycomb pattern is splashed across the car, and carries on inside across the seats and headrests. But while the Heartbeat may be mostly show, its centerpiece is its 1,360-watt sound system. “During the creation of their dream GTI, our apprentices learn about the complexity of automobile production,” says Peter Christ, Volkswagen’s chief of Automotive Technology Training. “We select especially talented young people and give them an opportunity at an early stage to learn from experienced colleagues from the entire company – for example from the design departments, the MultiMedia Center, the pilot hall and the paint shop.”
If the GTI Heartbeat is too much show and not enough go for you, another team created the Golf R Variant Performance 35. It may look like the Golf SportWagen we get here, but believe us, this is much, much better. On top of the capable hauling characteristics we know from Volkswagen’s biggest Golf, the Euro-Spec R Variant has the all-wheel drive powertrain and all the go-fast bits from the hot hatch Golf R. In the hands of the company’s apprentices, the longroof gets its power boosted from the stock 292 to 345 horses, and has an even bigger 2,500-watt sound system.
And to prove that not all custom Golfs are more than big rims and sound systems, Volkswagen is unveiling the GTI Clubsport S, fresh from setting the world record for fastest front-wheel drive production car to ever lap the Nürburgring, and throwing down the gauntlet to its arch rivals, the Honda Civic Type R and Renault Megane 275 Trophy. This limited-edition, stripped down hot hatch is the most performance-focused production GTI to date, with its turbocharged 2.0-liter four tuned to crank out 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, good for a zero to 62 sprint of 5.8 seconds. Unlike the Heartbeat and Performance 35, you’ll be able to buy a Clubsport S if you’re lucky — Volkswagen plans on building 400 of them.
So while Volkswagen is in the midst of one of the biggest automotive scandals of all time, this trio shows that VW can still do hot hatches better than anyone else. And with the Heartbeat and Performance 35 built by the next generation of gearheads, it seems like it will continue to do so, come hell or high water.