From the archives: driving 2009’s Volkswagen Bluesport concept | Top Gear
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From the archives: driving 2009’s Volkswagen Bluesport concept

A throwback to our drive of the diesel-powered Bluesport, which so nearly became VW’s open-top MX-5 rival

Published: 05 Nov 2021
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There’s nothing complicated going on here. This car has the simplest possible job to do. Simple, but terrifyingly difficult. A job that has been sidestepped or flunked or bottled by the best car makers in the world. VW’s mission is to make a credible rival for the Mazda MX-5.

Look at the corpses littering the verge. In its 20 years the Mazda has swatted away the MR2. And the MGF and TF – I don’t count the current version, as it’s an automotive zombie. The Fiat Barchetta. The low-spec, low-power BMW Z3, which went all posh on us for the Z4. The Honda CRX del Sol, which was a joke half-coupé contraption anyway. Overcoming the barriers that defeated those cars won’t be easy. But VW has become, over the past five years, a carmaker highly unaccustomed to failure. 

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Volkswagen BlueSport Top Gear

This feature was first published in Issue 194 of Top Gear magazine (2009)

Just at the moment, sorry to say, the Bluesport is but a concept. On the other hand it’s highly realistic and it’s carefully engineered on the strict basis of using real Volkswagen components and meeting worldwide laws. It’s cleverly packaged too, serving up enough space inside for tall folk, even with the roof up, and decent sized boots front and rear. Oh yes, and it even has a proper roof.

Project leader of the concept is a genuine petrolhead, Marco Fabiano. “My dad worked for VW and I was born in Wolfsburg but i call myself Italian,” he pleads in his thickish German accent, and I guess being Italian is a good background to get the spirit of a small sports car.

His engineering was diligently free of mission creep. “The MX-5 was always the target. It was always going to be mid-engined and cheap because we already have the more expensive front-engined Audi TT in the group. And it was always going to be a lightweight four-cylinder car.” Not that this is a limit on performance – he grins at the idea of a Bluesport with the 265bhp Scirocco R engine.

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Doing things with a bewildering array of engines is part of the VW method. To rattle the Mazda’s cage, it’ll have the terrific little 1.4TSI engine, now available up to 180bhp. But the show car has got a diesel. Which might seem strange until you look at the bigger picture: it was unveiled at Detroit, and VW is currently trying its best to drill it into the resistant American collective consciousness that diesels are a better eco-option than hybrids.

Anyway, a diesel it has, so a diesel I must drive. And very well it drives too, for a show car. Most of the body is real steel, and the suspension parts are mainstream. The engine is the regular VW 2.0 diesel, hopped up to 180bhp, feeding a DSG. We usually have to drive concept cars in captivity, but this is road-registered and I’m up an Alpine pass with it. There is a 62mph speed limiter, but up this road 62mph is actually quite speedy.

It has a proper mid-engined way about it. The lightweight front end almost guides itself into corners, the steering has some feel – which is a delightful shock in a concept – and the tail squats and grips feverishly on the exit. The ride is ok too, helped by the fact that the engine is right by your spine. But beyond saying it’s obvious there’s awesome potential, there’s no point in getting too deep into the chassis, because the parts would change for production. The concept has Polo front suspension and Golf rear, but the real thing would use the new MQB components set that’s in the Audi A1 and will eventually support all the group’s transverse-engined cars. That would also supply electronics and some sheetmetal – the biggest unique Bluesport underskin component is the engine cradle, but they know how to do that at low cost and light weight with hydroformed aluminium.

VW calculates 0-60mph in 6.2 seconds with this drivetrain. But the diesel engine doesn’t suit the car – it’s like an axe handle on a scalpel. You want something with more precision, more fizz, more enthusiasm. A petrol engine, in other words. VW reckons the diesel will do 66mpg on the combined test, but that economy isn’t just down to the engine, it’s also the lightness and low drag and stop-start system, so we could expect a TSI to be thrifty too.

I left the styling to last because you’ll have drawn your own conclusions, but it matters awfully. It looks wonderful. Which you can’t say of the other failed MX-5 rivals. The nose smiles but avoids cuteness, the sides are given swoop by the wheel arches, and the tail-lights draw the eye outwards, exaggerating the low look. It’s the work of a team under Thomas Ingenlath at VW’s advance design studio in Potsdam. Unless someone makes a stupid decision, a production version wouldn’t need to be watered down much. Though the interior likely wouldn’t survive intact. I can bet those lovely magic-eye red-to-blue heating controls would go. Boo-hiss.

But they’d have to go because they’d be insanely expensive. The point of this car is that it’ll be fun, well-made and cheap. The bigwigs will make their no-or-go decision during the next month or two. If it’s a yes, expect the car in two years. Sure, other car makers have failed, but take a look at this and ask yourself whether it could possibly go wrong. Thought not.

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