Although visually striking, most auto show concepts are about as fun to drive as a homemade kit car, barely able to turn a wheel under their own power and limited to brisk walking speeds. Not so the Volkswagen Concept BlueSport, which is more of an early prototype than a humble design exercise. After an entertaining two-hour drive through the Bavarian Alps, we are convinced that the BlueSport – whose approval by VW brass is only a formality – has the potential to become a hit. The hikers, bikers, pedestrians, and fellow motorists along our route seemed to agree; we would have seen even more thumbs-up had the fans not been so busy taking pictures and videos with their mobile phones.
In VW-speak, blue equals green. Many of the brand’s European models offer BlueMotion packages, which can include taller gearing, low-rolling-resistance tires, aerodynamic aids, even automatic start/stop and brake-energy regeneration. In the Concept BlueSport, the latter two features are activated by an Eco button on the steering wheel. There’s also a Sport button, which quickens the shifting of the six-speed dual-clutch transmission; it also ensures later upshifts and earlier downshifts, and it speeds up the steering and throttle action. In the concept car, the transmission is mated to a 180-hp, 2.0-liter turbo-diesel. This combo is good for 55 mpg in the city yet can accelerate the mid-engine roadster from 0 to 62 mph in 6.6 seconds and provide a top speed of 140 mph, according to VW.
The 2.0-liter TDI is one of a plethora of engines planned for the car – the U.S. market, however, likely would start out with only VW’s ubiquitous 2.0T gasoline engine (200 hp) and a manual or a dual-clutch automatic transmission, with a 1.4-liter (140-hp) option made available two years later.
The roadster’s target weight – distributed 45/55 percent front-to-rear – is 2650 pounds. An aluminum hood and trunk lid help keep the fat off, as does a manual soft top that weighs only 60 pounds; an optional power roof also will be available. Although the BlueSport measures a compact 157 inches in length (within an inch of the Mazda Miata), it accommodates two luggage compartments: a 4.0-cubic-foot trunk in the front and a 2.5-cubic-foot bin aft of the transversely mounted engine. Although the frame-filling tires fitted to the concept car (235/35WR-19 in front, 245/35WR-19 in back) will be available at extra cost, the bulk of the range probably will be shod with sixteen-, seventeen-, and eighteen-inch rolling stock. With this wide variety of wheel sizes, VW is planning larger brakes for more powerful models. The number of gears operating inside the dual-clutch box also depends on power and torque – it’s seven ratios for small-displacement units and six for 1.6-liter and larger engines. The chassis borrows the strut-type front suspension from the next Polo and the multilink rear suspension from the new Golf. The steering of the concept car has been pulled off the Polo parts shelf, and the four disc brakes were originally intended to decelerate the discontinued Golf R32.
Even on rough mountain roads, the BlueSport has a pliant and composed ride. Sure, the wide tires tramline a bit, and the steering tends to be overly attentive around the straight-ahead position, but it’s still a remarkable effort. Light, energetically geared, and not overdampened, it remains communicative even when you wind on a handful of lock. Another asset the engineers have dialed in to this special Volkswagen is the synchronized effort and travel of major controls such as brakes, steering, throttle, and shift paddles. As a result, this allegedly unfinished car drives in a remarkably smooth and balanced manner.
Despite the fact that it’s a show car, we pushed it hard over many miles of public roads and it drove almost like the real thing – with crisp steering, responsive brakes, well-sorted spring and damper setups, and a solid body.
If VW can transfer the essential shape and spirit of the Concept BlueSport to the production model (due in mid-2012 at a base price of about $30,000), the company will have a surefire winner.
length: 157.1 in
width: 68.9 in
wheelbase: 95.7 in
cargo space: 4.0/2.5 cu ft (front/rear)
55 Miles per gallon, The Concept BlueSport’s city fuel economy, as measured on the European test cycle. That rating was achieved with the car’s Eco mode engaged, which activates an automatic stop/start feature on the 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engine.