Volkswagen EcoRacer and Concept R

Volkswagen has resurrected plans for an affordable, mid-engined coupe and roadster as part of an image building campaign as it sets about fulfilling its ambitious target of selling over five million cars a year by 2018.

According to Volkswagen chairman, Martin Winterkorn, the company is planning to unveil a concept version of a lightweight two-seater at the LA motor show in November. If reaction is positive enough then the new car, which has been styled under the leadership of Walter da Silva, could be in showrooms as early as 2011.

“We are working on a mid-engined concept for the Los Angeles motor show,” a senior source revealed to Autocar, “It is the fifth time in as many years that we have created such a car but this time, more than any other, the signs are looking good that we will get a production green light.”

The new Volkswagen roadster is described as being a cut-priced alternative to the Lotus Elise, designed to be stylish and lightweight while offering genuine performance and class-leading fuel economy.

Power will come from mid-mounted four-cylinder petrol engines, with Volkswagen’s 168bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol engine and a new 125bhp 1.6-litre TDI common-rail diesel both being considered for use. Drive will be supplied to the rear wheels by a seven-speed DSG gearbox.

Anticipate a production version weighing in at under 1000kg, and being capable of combining Golf GTI levels of performance – 0-62mph in just under 7 seconds – with economy to rival a diesel Polo –about 63mpg combined.

The car will likely be built around an aluminium spaceframe, using the expertese of VW’s daughter company Audi. This link is driving specualtion that there may be an Audi version of the car, a so-called R4. Rumours of this car have existed for almost two years, despite official denials out of Ingolstadt. It would have different styling to the Volkswagen version and would likely run more powerful four-cylinder engines than the VW derivative, with Audi’s new ‘EA888’ based 211bhp 2.0-litre TFSI petrol engine and an upcoming 204bhp twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre TDI common rail diesel highly tipped.

In a further development, Volkswagen majority shareholder Porsche is said to have shown interest in the new project, opening the way for a possible resurrection of the 914.

Volkswagen first hinted to plans for a mid-engined coupe and roadster with the Concept R back at the Frankfurt motor show in 2003. It was followed up by the spartan Eco Racer (a R&D exercise rather than a fully fledged design concept) wheeled out at the Tokyo motor show in 2005.

According to Volkswagen insiders, two more mid-engined concepts were created but never revealed to the public. If the car is given a green light it could be assembled by Volkswagen’s long-term partner, Karmann, in Germany.