Why Volkswagen is returning to rear-engined cars after a long hiatus

The I.D. Concept Volkswagen unveiled at the 2016 Paris auto show wasn’t just another design study built to turn heads under the spotlights. It was the harbinger of a new era for the German brand, one that places an unprecedented (and unabashed) focus on electric cars and connectivity.

It also inaugurated a modular platform capable of underpinning an entire lineup of battery-powered models. And, it signaled Volkswagen’s return to a rear-engined, rear-wheel drive configuration after a long hiatus. Here’s why the layout is making a comeback.

Christian Senger, the head of Volkswagen’s e-mobility department, reminded us the original Golf introduced in 1974 carried about 60 percent of its weight over the front axle. This configuration helped give the Golf better traction on slippery surfaces and made it sure-footed to drive even on dry roads.

Volkswagen has followed this basic formula ever since but going electric throws a wrench into the system. The lithium-ion battery pack that occupies most of the space between the axles makes the entire powertrain heavier than even a big-block V8 engine.

“With a long-range car, you have no chance to place 60 percent of the weight on the front axle,” Senger told Digital Trends. Placing the electric motor over the rear axle means even cars with the smallest available battery pack will have enough weight over the driven wheels to provide traction on wet or icy surfaces. Senger and his team have tested early prototypes of the production-bound I.D. hatchback, which will enter production next year, and found it performs better than other two-wheel drive cars on the market, like the Chevrolet Bolt.

Some members of the I.D. family will offer dual-motor all-wheel drive. In simple terms, Volkswagen will add a second electric motor to the front axle to create a through-the-road system. This will be done primarily for performance reasons, not to give the car more traction.

Adding another power source isn’t an option, however. MEB-based cars will be all-electric, all the time. Senger explained the platform isn’t prepared for any type of range extender (like the two-cylinder engine BMW offers on the i3) or any fuel type other than electricity. “We’re not making compromises,” he asserted.

Volkswagen designed the MEB platform with autonomy in mind, too. The company plans on adding new features to MEB-based cars on a yearly basis, sometimes through an over-the-air updating system. Don’t expect to see a Volkswagen drive itself down a highway without a human behind the wheel anytime soon, though. The I.D. Vizzion concept (pictured) introduced last month at the Geneva auto show is a glimpse into the long-term future, not a preview of what’s coming soon.

“An I.D. car with no steering wheel won’t happen before 2025,” Senger stated.

Product Review

In the 2019 Porsche Macan S, life starts after the "curves ahead" sign

The roster of models challenging the Porsche Macan grows annually. The German firm updated its smallest, most affordable SUV with a new engine, more tech features, and subtle design tweaks to keep it looking fresh.
News

World’s fastest electric race car to display at Petersen Museum

The Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak race car smashed the all-time record at the hill climb for which it was named. The all-electric VW record-holder will be on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles until February 1, 2019.
Cars

Volkswagen may be planning a tougher challenge for its all-electric I.D. R

The Volkswagen I.D. R electric race car may head to the Nürburgring in 2019 for a lap-record attempt, according to a new report. Volkswagen will reportedly aim to set the quickest lap time ever by an electric car.
Cars

600-hp, $155K Polestar 1 is the alluring Volvo coupe you’ve been waiting for

Volvo's return to the coupe segment just took an interesting turn: the model will join the Polestar lineup, and it will get a 600-hp plug-in hybrid powertrain. The Polestar 1 will be built in China starting in 2019.
Cars

The Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake is the sexiest wagon ever

Aston Martin has revealed new photos of the limited-production Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake. The Vanquish Zagato line now includes the Shooting Brake, Coupe, Volante, and Speedster, each with bespoke styling.
Cars

Nissan and Italdesign’s GT-R50 concept will become a $1.1 million reality

The Nissan GT-R50 is a customized sports car built to celebrate the 50th anniversaries of both the GT-R and design firm Italdesign. Underneath the sleek bodywork sits a 710-horsepower engine fortified with race car components.
Mobile

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.
Cars

Ford’s new Shelby GT500 Mustang will have 3D-printed brake parts

Ford's new $45 million Advanced Manufacturing Center will focus on emerging technologies, including 3D printing. One of the staff's first jobs is to print parts for the 700-horsepower Shelby GT500 Mustang.
Product Review

Audi built an electric SUV for buyers who want gasoline-free to mean stress-free

We finally got to spend time behind the wheel of the electric 2019 Audi E-Tron bustling cities and arid desert of the United Arab Emirates to see how it compares with Jaguar and Tesla's competitors.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Folding canoes and ultra-fast water filters

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Cars

This freewheeling Army truck-turned-tiny home is a labor of love

Most tiny homes are models of efficiency but one British metal worker has redefined the idea, converting an old Army truck into a mobile tiny home that comes with a bed, a sofa, a shower, and a beer garden.
Cars

Take a friend stargazing at 202 mph in the 2019 McLaren 720S Spider

McLaren has introduced the 2019 720S Spider. As its name implies, it's a convertible variant of the 720S coupe. The company promises the Spider retains the coupe's dynamism and agility thanks in part to the widespread use of carbon fiber.
Cars

Gateway’s born-again Ford Bronco boasts classic style, 2018 muscle car power

Illinois-based Gateway Bronco has received a license from Ford to make brand-new examples of the first-generation Bronco. Every build starts with a Ford VIN and a donor vehicle, but Gateway upgrades every part of the car.
Cars

Bloodhound’s plan to build a 1,000-mph car has run out of gas

The Bloodhound supersonic car (SSC) project has officially shut down. The upside is you can now buy a 135,000-horsepower car powered by a jet engine and a cluster of rockets for $319,000.