Volkswagen’s concept cars have opened windows into the future of car design, technology, and performance

The Italdesign Machimoto VW concept

The 1986 Italdesign Machimoto was a mash-up of a motorcycle, convertible, and family car. (Photos courtesy of Volkswagen)

BY MARK MAYNARD

Concept cars have long been an appetizer to the public for what can or could be in their next mode of transportation. Over the years, Volkswagen has debuted a wide range of concept cars that have opened windows into the future of car design, technology and performance. These imaginative machines are intended to test an idea, a vision, or to showcase features that may one day end up on the road.

However, the majority of concepts are seen once in an auto-show display and then never packed away, never to be seen again.

For Volkswagen, the goal is to push the boundaries of what’s possible and get its customers and stakeholders to think about what could come next. A prime example is the new ID.4 EV that was born from the ID. CROZZ concept.

Here’s a look at eight interesting and influential VW concepts.

Italdesign Machimoto

Resembling more of an amusement test car than a road vehicle, the 1986 Italdesign Machimoto was a motorcycle, convertible, and family car mash-up.

Based on the Golf GTi 16V platform, the open-top roadster has flexible seating. The Machimoto’s tandem motorcycle-style saddle seats allow seating for six or nine passengers. The car’s steering was by a unique wheel that could transform from a handlebar style into a traditional steering wheel.

It is powered by a Golf GTI four-cylinder engine with around 139 horsepower.

Passengers were advised to wear a helmet while cruising in the prototype.

The Machimoto concept was featured in several Italian movies but never put into production.

Scooter

The 1986 VW Scooter was a concept for city driving. It was a nimble, three-wheeled, front-wheel drive two-door coupé.

Its drivetrain was a front-mounted 40-hp, 1-liter four-cylinder engine, and four-speed manual transmission.

A lightweight at just under 1,400 pounds, the Scooter has the bold styling of the 1980s and featured gull-wing doors.

Volkswagen would continue to explore the concept of zero-emissions and city “micromobility.” After Scooter, VW showed a pair of two-wheeled scooters at the 2019 Geneva auto show.

The thrifty VW Scooter concept

The VW Scooter concept was a study of zero-emissions and city “micromobility.”

Futura Concept

The Volkswagen Futura was unveiled in 1989 as an Integrated Research Volkswagen — IRVW. The futuristic minivan with gull-wing doors featured electronic technologies far ahead of its time.

Its futuristic features included distance sensors, parking- and braking-assistance functions, a navigation system, an onboard computer, and an electric parking brake.

The Futura concept got instant attention for its futuristic doors that opened upward, not out. The door design was to provide easy access to the front and rear seats.

It was powered by an 82-hp engine with a mechanical supercharger and an evaporation cooling system.

The Futura never made it to market, but its original design elements were applied to the production ID.3 at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show.

The futuristic VW Futura concept minivan

The Futura was a futuristic minivan with gull-wing doors.

W12 Nardo

The W12 Nardo is a supercar unique to Volkswagen. It was a design to test the W-configuration engine. And it ended up breaking records.

First introduced as the W12 in 1997, the Nardo was re-introduced in 2001 and named after the famous Nardo Ring test track in Italy.

An Italian design team was tasked to design a vehicle to accommodate VW’s Syncro 4WD system and a 12-cylinder engine in a W-configuration. Such an engineering integration had never been done before.

Weighing 2,646 pounds, the 600-hp W12 Nardo could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds.

In February 2002, the W12 Nardo concept set out to break records. The test pilots drove for 24 hours straight, covering 4,909.8 miles. It was an accomplishment that went farther than any other car had managed to travel in the same amount of time.

The W12 Nardo did not go into production (but it is familiar as the Audi R8). The engineering helped establish a new type of engine that would be used in the midsize VW Passat sedan, multiple European VW models, and most notably, the Bugatti Veyron.

The VW W12 Nardo race prototype

The W12 Nardo exudes speed when standing still.

Magellan

Named in the spirit of the great explorer, the Magellan concept was part car, part SUV and part truck.

Volkswagen’s Design Center in Spain created the concept in 2002. It was revealed around the same time as the first Touareg SUV went on sale.

The all-wheel-drive Magellan concept had 19-inch wheels and an air suspension. Its interior could seat six among three rows in a 2+2+2 layout.

Other notable features included a removable navigation system, dubbed “G.P.S. to Go.” The nav module could be used outside of the vehicle for biking and hiking.

The 2002 Magellan concept for outdoor enthusiasts

The 2002 Magellan was designed for outdoor enthusiasts.

EcoRacer

The lightweight EcoRacer diesel sports-car concept was part coupe, convertible and speedster. Revealed at the 2005 Tokyo Motor Show, the EcoRacer was a design quest to be the most economical sports car of all time.

Its carbon fiber body helped hold the curb weight to just 1,874 pounds. Powered by a midmounted 136-hp,1.5-liter diesel engine, the EcoRacer could accelerate to 62 mph in 6.3 seconds. It had a top speed of 142 mph.

It is the roof that is the EcoRacer’s most unique feature. The driver could transform the EcoRacer from a coupe into a convertible by removing the hardtop. The windscreen and frame could then be removed to create a speedster.

The EcoRacer was a research vehicle to unite economy and performance under a styled “roof.”

The 2005 VW EcoRacer concept

The 2005 EcoRacer can transform from coupe to convertible to a roadster.

XL Sport Concept

The hyperefficient 2014 XL Sport was built for speed. Propelled by a two-cylinder engine, the two-seat coupe could accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in about 5.7 seconds.

Its wing doors are hinged at two points that allow for an upward and forward swivel. And its dashboard was designed for motorsports and includes an individual lap timer and oil pressure display.

The 2014 XL Sport supercar prototype

The XL Sport was a supercar for enthusiasts of the eco-minded XL1.

Atlas Tanoak

The Atlas Tanoak debuted at the New York International Auto Show in March 2018. A V-6 gas engine powers the midsize, dual-cab pickup concept. At the time, it was the world’s first pickup to be based on Volkswagen’s modular transverse toolkit (MQB).

Tanoak is named after a species of evergreens native to the California coastline.

The Tanoak was based on an extended-wheelbase Atlas SUV, but the concept is longer and could seat up to five passengers. The concept’s V-6 drivetrain mirrors the 2021 Atlas with 276-hp V-6 and eight-speed automatic transmission with 4MOTION all-wheel-drive.

The Atlas Tanoak concept

The Tanoak name is from a variety of evergreen native to the California coastline.