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VW to build a 'Vel Satis that works'


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It's official: if you want your executive car to be taken seriously, it must have rear-wheel drive. That's why Volkswagen has done a deal with Maserati that involves the Italian company supplying rear- wheel drive componentry from its Quattroporte saloon. Although a final decision has yet to be made, the parts will underpin an all-new BMW 5-series fighter under development in Wolfsburg.

The car, codenamed C1, will be “a Vel Satis that works”, according to VW Group boss Bernd Pischetsrieder.

Volkswagen sources say the five-door hatchback will be powered by six- and eight- cylinder engines, and will feature a tall roofline that allows a high seating position. Due for release in 2007, the C1 will fill the gap between Passat and Phaeton. Its final form has yet to be determined although Pischetsrieder says: “I have a pretty good idea of what this vehicle should be like, but the designers have not yet come up with a concept that matches the shape I've got in my head.”

He makes no secret of the fact he believes rear-wheel drive is crucial for best-in-class driving dynamics. In fact, sources believe the Maserati componentry will also be used to underpin the next generation Phaeton, as the current model suffers from nose-heavy handling. If this is true, the next generation Bentley Continental GT will also shift to rear- drive, as the car is built on a shortened Phaeton platform.

Not everyone in VW Group is happy with Pischetsrieder's move. “We're supposed to be the BMW rival,” fumed Audi boss Martin Winterkorn when the deal was mooted. “But how can we do that with cars that have an engine stuck way out over the front wheels?” What possibly irks Winterkorn even more is that Modena insiders say they're looking at accessing three key Audi technologies – aluminium spaceframe body construction, the quattro four-wheel drive system, and a modern six-speed automatic transmission – as part of the contra-deal rather than anything from VW. All three would enable Maserati's planned Kubang crossover, a car that will compete with versions of Audi's forthcoming A7 soft-roader.

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