Earlier this year, I was heartbroken to learn that Volkswagen has moved on from its fabled VR6 engine. The powerplant, over three decades old and famous for its Wookie soundtrack and compact packaging, now exists only in two Chinese models. Well, that’s not the case any more thanks to HPA Motorsports, a tuner in Canada. Not only is the VR6 sticking around as a crate engine, but HPA will sell you it with a whopping 550 HP.
Back at the Chicago Auto Show in February, Volkswagen announced that the 2024 Atlas crossover SUV would come with just one engine option, a 2.0-liter turbo four making 269 horsepower and 273 lb-ft torque. As an owner of way too many Piëch-era Volkswagens, this alarmed me. For 32 years, Volkswagen fitted various cars in its once-colorful lineup with the legendary VR6. Once Volkswagen’s go-to engine for six-cylinder performance in four-cylinder engine bays, the automaker began pulling the mill from its lineup. In 2017, the VR6 could be found in the Volkswagen Atlas, Touareg, Passat, CC, and Porsche Cayenne. The last Golf to get a VR6 was the 2008 R32 and the Jetta hadn’t seen a VR6 since 2005.
By 2019, the only remaining vehicle in America with a VR6 was the Atlas. China would get VR6 power by way of the Teramont in 2017, Volkswagen Talagon in 2021 and the Audi Q6 in 2022, but that was it — the VR6 was living on borrowed time. With the Atlas moving to solely four-cylinder power, Americans are left without a VR6 of any kind, and it’s only a matter of time before Volkswagen eventually yanks the VR6 out of those Chinese market crossovers.
This is where the popular Volkswagen tuner HPA Motorsports comes in. The shop will soon offer Volkswagen enthusiasts what it calls the VR550T, a 2.5-liter VR6 featuring 550 HP and 550 lb-ft torque of delicious power.
What Made The VR6 So Awesome
Now, some of you might be wondering why you should care about the VR6. If you aren’t a fan of Volkswagen, you may even be wondering what the heck a VR6 even is. You’ve come to the right place. I’ve explained the VR6 story before, so I won’t go through my whole spiel again. I’ll just tell you what you need to know:
The VR6 engine is a rare configuration: it’s a compact V-engine that takes some attributes from an inline. The “V” in the VR6 name refers to “V-Motor” while the “R” refers to “Reihenmotor”, or inline-engine in German. Smash it all together and you get V-inline engine.
[In 1991], the Corrado and the Passat B3 would have the option of a 2.8-liter VR6 making 178 HP and 172 HP, respectively. The VR6 was a triumph in packaging. It allowed Volkswagen to shoehorn V6 power into an engine bay that normally housed a four. For example, when the Corrado launched, the most powerful engine was a 1.8-liter G60 supercharged four making 158 HP. The VR6 allowed that modest gain to 176 HP and later, 188 HP. Back in the days before turbocharged four-cylinder engines were as ubiquitous as they are now, this allowed VW to put down some respectable grunt in a small package.
How Volkswagen did it was pretty genius, too. Instead of having a 60-degree or 90-degree angle between cylinder banks like you’d see in a typical V-engine, Volkswagen’s VR6 would initially space them out only 15 degrees. The cylinders would be staggered and thanks to the compact packaging, these were technically V-engines that shared a common head.
The VR6 wasn’t just Volkswagen’s way of packing a small car’s engine bay with more firepower. The engine formed the basis of the VR5, essentially a VR6 with a deleted cylinder. It also became the architecture behind the famous W engine, which found itself in everything from the Passat to the Bugatti Veyron and beyond.
VR6 engines have been a popular choice of German car enthusiasts and it’s easy to see why. These engines have a distinctive roar and their small packaging means you can shoehorn them in engine bays perhaps a V8 might not fit. In its final form here in America in the Atlas, the VR6 was 3.6-liters with a 10.6 degree bank angle and punched out 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft torque.
The VR6 Gets A Stay Of Execution
While Volkswagen may no longer sell the VR6 in America, you will be able to get a VR6 crate engine from HPA Motorsports in British Columbia, Canada. If you have no idea what HPA is, I’ll give you a quick rundown. The shop was opened in a garage in 1990 by Marcel Horn. As Horn explains, in 1987, before he could even legally drive, Horn was introduced to Volkswagen, which sparked a love that has remained ever since. In 1991, the company branded as Highwater Performance Autostyling before just shortening to HPA Motorsports.
Since then, HPA has gained fame for some serious VR6 builds. The company’s twin-turbo Volkswagen Golf R32 got a Gran Turismo Award for “Best in Show” in 2004′s SEMA show. That car also found its way into the media via Gran Turismo 4, Gran Turismo PSP, Gran Turismo 5, and Gran Turismo 6. HPA won a Gran Turismo Award ‘Best in Show’ again in 2007 for its nutty 565 HP Audi TT.
HPA’s exploits go as far as creating cars for Volkswagen itself, which include the Jetta RGT, Passat RGT, and Touareg RGT. Of course, these crazy quick builds all featured VR6 engines. This is all to say that HPA is known for making already great Volkswagens even better. Most recently, a Volkswagen Scirocco with an R32 drivetrain conversion showed up for sale on Cars & Bids. Who built that 565 HP beast below? HPA, of course!
We spoke with Marcel Horn and his team at HPA Motorsports to get the story behind this engine and why there are literal pallets of them at his compound. As Horn informed us, the VR550T project has been over two and a half years in development.
To give us some background, Horn explained how he even got the cache of engines. The basis of the VR550T is the DDKA VR6. This engine technically started life as a larger VR6, but due to displacement taxation in China, Volkswagen downscaled the engine to 2.5-liters. These engines are built in Germany and shipped to China, where they first found a home in the Teramont, also known as the Atlas here in America. Nowadays, you’ll also find the 2.5-liter VR6 in the Audi Q6 and the Volkswagen Talagon.
This wasn’t Volkswagen’s only special VR6 for China. There’s also a 3.0-liter VR6, an engine that Volkswagen fitted into 400 HP Arteon R prototypes. Apparently, Volkswagen considered turning the Arteon into an Autobahn slayer, then bailed on the project.
Horn continued by explaining that automakers will build more engines than they need in order to fulfill warranty replacements. Thus, these DDKA engines were built and sat, waiting for cars to go in if they were needed. However, the DDKA engine, which was certified for China 5 emissions, evolved into the DPKA, which is engineered for China 6 emissions. Horn says that the development cycle is two years and the changes to advance the engine to meet new standards made the old engines obsolete.
This meant there were a ton of DDKA engines sitting around with nowhere to go. They couldn’t be used in the aforementioned Chinese models and Volkswagen didn’t sell 2.5-liter VR6 models elsewhere. HPA Motorsports worked out a deal where the tuner would get those engines [Editor’s Note: Horn told me that his company has a good relationship with VW, and that the tuner even built two cars for VW for the 2005 SEMA show. -DT]. As a result, HPA now has so many DDKA engines on hand that it has enough inventory to build 50 special edition Golf Rs plus an additional 10 years of crate engines for enthusiasts. As Horn told us: “We have enough to keep us comfortable for the next ten years.”
A Reliable Powerhouse
The DDKA VR6 is a turbocharged engine making 295 HP and 369 lb-ft torque. So, when you see that HPA’s tuning gives the 2.5-liter VR6 a power bump up to 550 HP and 550 lb-ft torque, you might think you’re sacrificing reliability and durability for power.
Horn says that’s not the case. HPA has been in the business of building seriously potent VR6 engines since Volkswagen introduced the engine. Horn tells me that you could make a 1,000 HP VR6 to absolutely tear up drag strips and convert tires into smoke.
The goal for this crate engine was to give enthusiasts monstrous, supercar power for well under $100,000 without sacrificing comfort or reliability. The HPA team took two and half years studying it and benchmarked a durability cycle at 550 HP and 550 lb-ft torque. Horn tells me that the idea here is that you should be able to toss the keys of your VR550T-equipped car to your grandma and she should have no issues driving the car. Your car will be able to do grocery runs, the work commute, and road trips, but give you a burst of speed to raise your heartrate when you want it.
At first, HPA Motorsports will fit the VR550T into 50 special edition Golf Rs. These will get their own badging and serialized plaques. Modifications to the base engine include a different turbocharger unique cams and valvetrain, a reworked seal system, and the introduction of multi-point fuel injection. Horn tells us “it is a true supercar killer.”
If you want to raise the hairs on your skin, listen to this:
HPA’s builds aren’t shed builds either. The car you get will work as it should, including creature comforts like air-conditioning. HPA hasn’t released full specs just yet but says it’ll be available only for DSG-equipped vehicles at the moment. At launch, the focus will be on Mk7.5 Golf R models. Though, Horn says that the VR550T could fit into pretty much any MQB platform vehicle. That encompasses everything from Audi TTs to the Volkswagen Passat. HPA does have a distributor in the UK, so maybe even the owner of a funky Volkswagen Touran might get one of these engines one day. HPA has even talked about the potential for a Beetle RSI tribute.
At this time, HPA hasn’t announced pricing or any other details about its VR550T, but says to stay tuned for about two more weeks. All I can say is that as of writing, the price is nowhere near $100,000.
So for now, all you can do is drool over the possibilities. More options for engine swaps are always good and I’m just happy to see the VR6 alive and kicking in America in some form or another. Given the fact that HPA is sitting on a decade of these engines, it’s entirely possible that HPA keeps the VR6 alive longer than Volkswagen itself will.
(Images: HPA Motorsports, Inc., unless otherwise noted.)
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