The rear-engine Volkswagen is coming back. Sources deep inside VW's headquarters have indicated that the company currently is working on a rump-motored, water-cooled small car, one that mimics the original Beetle in both layout and purpose.
Here's what we know so far: Volkswagen's reinvention of its iconic people's car will have its engine situated on top of the transaxle and a radiator in the nose. Three wheelbase options and two body styles will be offered worldwide, but only two variations will come to the United States: a 130-inch-long Beetle reincarnation aimed at the Smart ForTwo and a no-frills, four-door notchback likely to be marketed as a smaller, cheaper Jetta. Pricing will be in the $10,000-to-$14,000 range.
Other details? As a cost-reducing measure, power steering won't be offered, but ABS, satellite navigation, and a sunroof will be available. Although third-world countries will receive a two-cylinder engine (emerging markets may even get a one-cylinder unit), U.S. cars will likely be powered by a turbocharged and direct-injected three-cylinder. According to our sources, reviving the rear-engine everyman's Volkswagen was largely Ferdinand Pich's idea. Pich--the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the man behind the original Beetle--reportedly convinced VW chairman Martin Winterkorn that the dynamically challenged rear-engine layout was charming enough to succeed.
We don't doubt that a rear-engine layout can be made to work safely in an inexpensive small car. One executive has admitted that the company plans to "install [stability control] to address handling issues." But we're still not sold on the rear-engine idea.
VW long ago abandoned the people's car demographic for richer climes. Most recently, Pich's grand vision for the brand lay in cars like the failed Phaeton. Now it's back to a bottom-of-the-market, rear-engine econobox? Considering the holes and lackluster offerings in VW's mainstream lineup, maybe its leaders should resist going off on wild tangents and concentrate on VW's core business: building cars for--you guessed it--ordinary people.