But why does Volkswagen buck the V-shaped trend with its W-engine witchcraft? For a few good reasons.
First, a brief history. The odd Volkswagen engine layout traces its roots back to the 1980s and an equally odd six-cylinder—the fan-favorite VR6 motor.
At the time, Volkswagen was looking to add more power to cars originally designed around four-cylinder engines. Being that many conventional V6s feature a cylinder bank angle of 60-degrees, these six-cylinders were just too wide to mount transversely (for front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive applications).
To solve this, Volkswagen developed the super slim 15-degree VR6, which houses six offset cylinders under one cylinder head.
The modern W12 engine (figuratively, a “V” of two “Vs”) was the result of combining two slim VR6 layouts on the same crankshaft.
The main benefit afforded by this arrives in compact engine packaging. Whereas a V12 will extend six-cylinders deep into the engine bay, a compact W12 won’t intrude nearly as much—about as far as a V8.
This compactness allows engineers to mount the powerplant further back in a car’s chassis, providing a better weight balance and more room to package other ancillaries under the hood, which can include a front transaxle for all-wheel drive…à la Volkswagen Phaeton, Audi A8, and the Bentley Continental GT. Like their V12 cousins, W12 engines are also inherently smoother in operation than engines with fewer cylinders.
And the modern W12 is—dare we say it—even fairly green. The new Bentley Bentayga W12 packs both direct and indirect injection as well as cylinder deactivation, which make it 11.9 percent more efficient than its predecessor.
With a home in the new Bentley SUV, as well as other models from the Volkswagen Group, the W12 looks like it has the legs to power new models from the VW family well into the coming years.
In an odd twist of fate, it’s the VR6 engine that may not have the brightest future. It has quietly disappeared from European models like the Volkswagen Passat and CC as potent four-cylinders have filled in its niche. Let’s hope it continues to cling on.