Driven! Volkswagen GTI W12-650

Driven! Volkswagen GTI W12-650

Assisted by numerous fans of all shapes and sizes, the hot air exits the vehicle through the diffuser-type rear bumper that incorporates four large-diameter chrome tailpipes. The engine is mounted north-south. It lurks beneath a carbon fiber cover, and despite that little separation pane, the heat inside the cramped cabin is scorching my lungs after only ten laps.

Air Conditioning? I wish.

This GTI is strictly a two-seater, and since the W-12 is not of the compact kind, you sit quantifiably closer to the wheel and more upright than in the front-wheel drive original. Featuring tall side bolsters and a sweaty Alcantara trim, the minimalist seats are flanked by two stripped-out door panels.

With the exception of the aforementioned auxiliary gauges and five (functionless) relocated rocker switches, the dashboard is in principle pure Golf. This, however, definitely does not apply to the noise pattern created by the 6.0-liter twin-turbo powerplant.

They could have tuned it for a more sonorous intake burble, for a quadrophonic mid-range rumble and for that magic full throttle high rev roar, but all they did was to remove the filters, so the engine note is mean, deep, metallic, monotonous, hollow and loud. Very, very loud.

It took almost one full hour to tame this beast, and "tame" always remained a highly relative term. But with tires as bald as Kojak's scalp and as sticky as hot licorice, the chassis soon built up so much grip even on this lab surface that the slides became kind-of controllable, and that going ten-tenths didn't automatically feel like throwing your life away.

Both the steering and the throttle prefer subtle and well timed inputs, but the real art of mastering this monster Golf lies in synchronizing these two complementary elements. Quite soon, the brakes felt like they were no longer sufficiently powerful, so I started supporting them with successive downshifts. When the transmission deigned to cooperate.

Fighting the white monster Golf can be fun, but it's so easy to get it out of shape big time, and when that happens you need all the room there is between the track's suspiciously tall blue-and-white curbs.

Although they had filled the fuel tank for this last stint, only 90 minutes later, we're running on empty again. Which is fine because Gross-Dlln is getting ready to shut down for the day, and because Big White needs to go back to the shop to be serviced. It needs new Yokohamas for a start, new brake pads, and a software update. It will also get shift paddles that work, ESP as key life-saving measure, and some fine tuning to the chassis.

What's the plan after that? Is VW going to repeat what Renault achieved with the R5 turbo and the Clio V6? Are we going to see a limited-edition GTI W12?

"Absolutely not," says one of the engineers. "No way," says the PR guy. "We haven't heard of such a plan", says the lady with the alligator purse. One is inclined to believe them because VW has got its plate full and because a 650-hp Golf may send out the wrong vibes to a community that is increasingly CO2-minded.

But then you let your mind drift back to the original GTI - same question, same answer: A production version? Definitely not. Hear, hear. 1.67 million GTIs later, denials in this department may not have to be taken totally seriously.

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