VW up! Loses the Fun: Engine, Power Will Be Up Front

Justin Berkowitz
by Justin Berkowitz

The reason most people don't take concept cars too seriously is that manufacturers not only exaggerate styling, but often make major engineering changes to concept cars that kill the concept. To wit: Volkswagen's up! concept car this year (probably going to be using the Lupo namplate, just as the iroc concept car became the Scirocco), was a cleverly packaged rear engine, rear wheel drive city car. It was supposedly going to offer 2-3 cylinder engines, depending on the market. Today the German car pub Auto Zeitung has news that the up! production model will be significantly less interesting. In the name of costs, the rear engine gives way to a front engine. The rear wheel drive of course becomes front wheel drive. And the frugal 2 or 3 cylinder engines? Try small displacement straight 4s. So overnight, our Beetle (or smart) inspired city car has become just another car. That is the last thing Volkswagen needs to compete in the booming market for cars in developing countries.

Justin Berkowitz
Justin Berkowitz

Immensely bored law student. I've also got 3 dogs.

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  • Nikita Nikita on Jun 20, 2008

    "It makes some sense, really. Even the original Beetle, interesting as it was, wasn’t as well-packaged as the front-drive/front-engine Mini. A rear-engine, rear drive car has little or no cargo space. To get useful space in a small car, you need to go upwards. You can’t effectively do this if your rear cargo space is taken up by powertrain components. Accordingly, the front cargo area can’t go up very high without compromising aerodynamics or visibility." The Mini was a box and the Beetle was round, that was the main difference in packaging efficiency. My father had a 1970 VW Squareback and it had all kinds of useful passenger and cargo space for its size. The main reason for using FWD today is that everyone else uses it. To do anything different requires custom engineering instead of using off-the-shelf parts and designs. Existing manufacturing infrastructure favors FWD at this point in automotive history. That is why they will use it.

  • Psarhjinian Psarhjinian on Jun 20, 2008

    nikita, You're right about the squareback, but I'm afraid that there's no way a rear-drive car will ever realize the same packaging efficiency as a front-driver, except in zero-cargo city cars. That engine has to go somewhere: ** If it's attached to a rear transaxle, it'll eat cargo room. This frees up the hood, but because the hood needs to be low and short (and the steering assembly and front suspension eat space), it's not much. ** If it's up front, but runs the rear wheels, there's a driveshaft and more complex rear suspension (usually). There's more cargo space available, but less passenger space than R/R. ** If it's attached to a front transaxle, all the steering, complex suspension, accessory and powertrain components are crammed underhood--good use of space since the hood is "wasted" for packaging purposes. Use a simple rear suspension (a torsion beam) and you have a very low rear load floor and a lot of cargo space. Both my Saab and Fit are testaments to the packaging efficiency of a front-drive+semi-IRS and no rear-driver that occupies the same footprint and uses the same body style can come close to their cargo space. Front drive does have a lot of market interia behind it, but that's because it's the best choice when you're trying to maximize economy and packaging efficiency. For a given length and width, and excepting cases where you need rear- or four-wheel-drive (like towing very heavy loads), a front-drive, front-engine car will always have the most usable interior space. There's a reason why most economy cars and minivans are front-drive: until someone makes an effective in-hub motor, it's the best choice.

  • Stingray Stingray on Jul 10, 2008

    Man, in-hub motor... now THAT would be very interesting. One motor per wheel, electric drive, fuel cell powered. Or plug in hybrid with maybe a small turbine to recharge the batteries. The turbine could also be configured to burn: gas, CNG, diesel, biodiesel, ethanol, etc...

  • Silvermink Silvermink on Jul 10, 2008
    TomAnderson: The best example of this? http://www.edmunds.com/media/news/column/letterstotheeditors/03.sept2/vw.microbus.500.jpg became http://www.vwroutanminivan.com/vwnews/2008-vw-news/vw-routan-photos/vw-routan-1s.jpg WTF, guys? Really like the concept. The production version, on the other hand, looks like they stole an Odyssey and stuck a VW logo on the grille.