The Tokyo Motorshow this year was the 37th one and since the 1990s, this motorshow has been regarded as having the same status as the more established ones in Europe. Manufacturers now unveil both production and prototype models at the Japanese venue and this year, VW gave a prototype its world premiere there.
The prototype – called the concept R – is said to present a new sportscar design philosophy and the design team, led by Murat Günak (VW Brand Group) and Peter Schreyer (VW Brand), has attempted to show with the roadster design how a sportscar packed with aesthetics and emotion could look in the foreseeable future with the internationally successful VW label. The 4.16 metre long, 1.78 metre wide and just 1.25 metre high two-seater has a convincingly powerful body and an interior that conquers virgin territory in terms of style in every detail.
The basis for the highly dynamic exterior design forms a very clear linear structure, which distinguishes all of today’s Volkswagens. But these lines are set sharper than ever and, with a new appearance, frame extremely exciting and well formed surfaces. This new three dimensionality in the important body elements forms, with the virtuosity of a concept bearing the slogan “anything is possible”, a path to tomorrow’s foreseeable world.
The concept R is said to continue where the Phaeton, Touareg, New Beetle Cabriolet and Golf make their mark to further enhance dynamics and emotion with crystal clear structures and functional levels by placing itself ahead without compromise as a forerunner of Volkswagen design.
A particularly avante garde element can be seen in the front end with its newly-designed VW radiator grille and large V-shaped air cooling inlet below. The chrome badge, integrating the VW badge in the centre, is where air is drawn in for the V6 engine to and the new look of the eye-like headlights creates a face that can immediately be associated with the Volkswagen Brand tradition, even though a complete reinterpretation of the design has been possible. The designers were conscious in their efforts to instil in the front end of this sports car the agility and vigilance of an animal about to jump.
The bonnet of the front luggage compartment (this is a mid-engine car, by the way) continues the vee of the radiator grille extension and contours it upwards to the A pillars. This vee is stressed by two flowing protrusions that separate the wings and bonnet contour on the left and right. The wings are designed more as independent and powerful structures and on both sides feature a further inlet for cooling of the front brakes.
The headlights integrated in the wings with outer, round main element and an inner part narrowing to a point towards the centre of the vehicle. In line with the Phaeton, Touareg and new Golf, the wing area is extended prominently to the front above the headlights like an eyebrow and underlines in this way the athletic character of the concept vehicle.
As soon as they are switched on, a lens begins to open on each side. Before the aperture widens, all that can be seen is a narrow beam of light and then the full lighting power becomes available for dipped or main beam. The optical effect of this focussing of the “vehicle eyes” makes the “concept R” appear to come alive, in line with the whole characteristic design.
The way future and past can be combined in a fascinating way is shown in the front end with a stylistic homage to the world of sports cars of the 1950s: the tank filler neck on the left of the bonnet is finished as an independent style element.
The flank of the concept R is distinguished by a very flat waistline, rising to the centre of the rear wheelarches; naturally round, heavily contoured wheelarches; and a very short rear overhang. Like the New Beetle, there are just three prominent lines that form the silhouette of the concept R: two semi-circles each for the high rise of the wheelarches and one straight line closing to a semi-circle at the rear of the waistline.
Furthermore, the three dimensionality of the design is emphasised in the side rear end area: The surface of the wings above the prominent semi-circles of the wheelarches is drawn into the rear end and is visible only from the rear to form an extremely powerful and independent unit. Similar to the new Golf, the tail lights have a transparent finish, even when seen from the side, and form an important style element thanks to their crystal clear appearance.
To ensure the homogenous silhouette of the concept R is not interrupted unnecessarily, the doors are integrated unobtrusively into the design. To support this, the outer door handles are manufactured from a narrow but solid thin aluminium strip. Thanks to the keyless access system integrated here, all that is needed to lock and unlock the door is light contact with the handle as it ejects.
Ass with the front end, the boot forms a vee, enhanced by a dynamic edge. The tail lights correspond in their form with the headlights. When activated, the light is built up in three stages as three LED blocks light up in succession. The tail lights have a round, lens-like outer main element to mark the style. In addition, the second, trapeze shaped part of the tail lights is integrated in the rounded wing edges, reminiscent of the rear of a muscle-packed animal.
Between the tail lights there is a very thin strip of diodes for the third brake light. The designers worked the VW logo into the space above this in the centre. Not until the roadster is seen up close is it possible to see the chrome concept-R lettering on the engine/soft top cover (mid-engine, fully retracting cover) as part of an outlet on the V6 engine. The chrome twin tail pipe of the exhaust system, finished again in the shape of a V, is a stylistic feature of the “exhaling” 6-cylinder engine. At each side of this, there are two additional large air outlets that are designed like a diffuser.
The interior of the concept R shows fascinating form and function in harmony. The interior designers and design engineers developed an interior that has the layout, operating and information spectrum of a ‘time tunnel that paves the way to the future’.
A so-called OLED screen (flexible in shape and form with extremely high lighting power) breathes even more “life” into the concept R…in a way that is as unusual as it is unexpected. The typical VW emblem in the steering wheel is no longer a tangible reality; It can now be found stored in the round display. As soon as the driver switches on the ignition, that is, when the concept R is switched to stand-by, the VW emblem begins to pulsate. When the ignition is activated, the pulsing stops. Even though the VW logo is generated digitally by a display, it has a tangible appearance as if it were made of chromed metal.
A completely new ergonomic feature is found in the concept R: the two bucket seats are not adjustable – in fact, there is no way of adjusting them at all. Instead of the seat, the driver moves the polished aluminium operating and information block of the instrument panel, including steering wheel and pedal cluster, back or forth.
The adjusting mechanism is operated electrically. At the press of a button, the front passenger can also find an optimal seating position by moving a highly polished support element back or forth in the footwell. The seats are mounted rigidly but feature innovative suspension, adapting to the contours of the body, not the other way around.
Thanks to a sophisticated and newly-developed carrier mechanism, the seats are self-sprung and the hardness of the springs can also be adjusted. The seating comfort is enhanced even further by active foam used in the seat structure, which is covered in deer leather. Developed for space travel and adapted for expensive office furniture, this foam is being used in a sportscar for the first time. It adapts perfectly like a modulated counter-structure to the individual contours of each body and thereby contributes towards an unusually high level of comfort and provides good ergonomic properties.
Another seat feature is one that promotes safety: when the driver and co-driver enter the vehicle, the head restraints are moved forward automatically by 5 cm and thereby adopt an optimal position in terms of safety.
An optical and technical highlight of the concept vehicle is the instrument panel and centre console. All areas of the operating elements and displays, and also parts of the three-spoke steering wheel, are finished in polished aluminium. As a contrast, the dash crossmember is covered in dark deer leather to avoid reflections from the windscreen.
The air vents in the centre console, designed with a turbine appearance, display the selected temperature digitally and can be turned like a dial to set a new value. The combination of display and operation is as simple as it is remarkable. The hand is reached out intuitively to a point where the driver expects the function to be and where the temperature change can be felt directly.
A further novelty are the instruments themselves. The hardware provides digital information here too (with, in places, analogue characters), and here, as the project develops, ultra-modern OLED screens will also be featured. Right at the heart of development work was again the need to interpret the harmony of form and function in a fascinating and new way.
So what’s the heart of the concept R? A 3189 cc V6 which delivers 195 kW/265 bhpto accelerates the roadster in to 100 km/h in a mere 5.3 seconds and then on to a top speed of 250 km/h (if a governor is not fitted, VW engineers say the car should be able to get up to 270 km/h). Incidentally, the sound of the engine can be varied at the turn of a switch!
No less than 350 Nm of torque (at 2800 rpm) is transferred to the rear axle and then to the road via the highly innovative Volkswagen direct selection gearbox (DSG) 6-speed gearbox. Introduced a year ago, this automatic transmission is the first in the world with a dual clutch system to enable shift times of milliseconds. Such gearboxes have already been used in motor ports, but the uncomfortable shifting due to inadequate means of mechanical and electronic control made them unacceptable for use in production cars.
Volkswagen engineers solved the problem of exacting demands in design; in addition to numerous new hydraulic components, a complex Mechatronic was developed which first made possible the DSG to be used in the Golf R32. The gearbox works so well and offers such sporty driving that it could be the breakthrough for the automatic gearbox in Europe – where the manual gearbox still dominates today.