For those old enough to recall the earliest Volkswagens, the memory is inexorably intertwined with the sound of those Beetles sputtering around with their tiny little engines. Since that time, VWs and small engines have gone hand-in-hand.

No longer, as Volkswagen AG, Europe's emerging automotive titan, prepares to launch a range of large-displacement engines to do justice to its newly acquired premium brands. Recent acquisitions of Bugatti and Lamborghini are joined by Bentley in the expanding Volkswagen Group.

"We're really moving up," says Martin Winterkorn, VW executive vice president and head of technical development. "Our current targets are the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-series."

VW's premium-segment expansion is supported by a wide-angle approach to engines, with an extraordinarily broad range of upcoming large power units. Among these are W-8, W-10, W-12, W-16 and W-18 gasoline engines, and a V-10 turbodiesel.

Yes, you read right: W- arranged engines. The "W" configuration is derived by joining a pair of VW's now-famous "VR" narrow-vee engines, each having a 15-degree separation between two staggered banks of cylinders. Compactness is the main advantage (the "VR" German designation stands for Vee Reihenmotor, or "vee inline engine"). The two VR units then are joined at a 74-degree angle, in a layout approximating the letter "W."

In terms of capacity and power, the hulking W-16 is the family leader. It is comprised of a pair of VR6s - each with two cylinders added - to make the displacement 8L. Output is a massive 623 hp at 6,000 rpm, with peak torque of 561 lb.-ft. (761 Nm) at 4,000 rpm, of which 85% is available at 1,500 rpm.

The W-16 was created specifically for the midengined, 2-seat Bentley Hunaudieres unveiled at the 1999 Geneva Motor Show. The W-16 is considered a "possibility" for future Bentleys made at the Crewe, England, factory - under VW control since the 1998 takeover of the company.

Next comes the W-12, made up of two standard VR6s and developing 420 hp from 5.6L. Although in line for fitment in the upcoming VW sport/utility vehicle, it was first seen in production form as a power option for the Concept D1 on VW's new DL51 large-car platform, presented at the Frankfurt Motor Show last September.

Then there's the W-10 (two VR5s) as another engine option, also slated for the VW-badged production car based on the D1. This king-size executive sedan becomes the VW flagship, with assembly in Dresden, Germany, beginning in first-quarter '01.

The W-8 is of special interest as a project that extends the range of VW engines for its main-line cars, currently topped in size by the conventional (non-VR) 2.8L V-6 used in the Passat. With a volume of 3.7L, it has a pair of VR4s combined in the established "W" layout, and will be first fitted to a performance version of the Passat for a year-end launch.

"The big advantage over existing (VW Group) 90-degree V-8s is the smaller length and width (of the W design)," Mr. Winterkorn tells WAW. "That makes it suitable for upgrading cars like the Audi A4." In fact, WAW's sources say the W-8 eventually will be offered in the all-new A4 due this fall.

For cylinder count, the W-18 is the largest of the new big gas engines - and it departs from the VR-derived layout of the others. Displacing 6.3L, it consists of three 6-cyl. banks in a unique, ultra-compact, double 60-degree "broad-arrow" formation. Each bank is formed by combining two 3-cyl. 1,050-cc engines still at the prototype stage. Output is 555 hp at 6,800 rpm with peak torque of 479 lb.-ft. (649 Nm) at 4,000 rpm.

A stunning 6-throw crankshaft carries three connecting rods on each pin, with drive taken from the shaft center via a gearset. Six chain-driven camshafts operate 72 valves with variable timing, and there is direct injection, an adaptation of the system pioneered for the 1.4L engine of the high-mileage Lupo FSI.

The W-18 also features a water-cooled alternator, dry sump lubrication and a front axle differential with its hypoid gear oil reservoir incorporated in the crankcase.

The gorgeous W-18 was fitted to the all-wheel-drive Bugatti EB 218, first seen at the '98 Paris Motor Show; it then made an appearance in the Bugatti Chiron supercar at lastSeptember's Frankfurt Motor Show. As for more "durable" applications, Rolls-Royce is a name whispered in some industry circles, in the event that BMW has second thoughts about its scheduled January 2003 takeover of this celebrated marque from VW.

Volkswagen has developed close links with Rolls during the past two years. Now, insiders say VW would gladly maintain the relationship.

Finally, the all-new V-10 turbodiesel. It, too, is fabricated largely from standard VW Group parts, but departs from the W-configuration of the gasoline engines. It has two 5-cyl. Audi engines joined at a 90-degree angle. With twin turbocharging, the 5L direct-injection unit develops 313 hp at 4,000 rpm and 553 lb.-ft. (750 Nm) of torque at 2,000 rpm. Shown recently in the AAC concept pickup truck at the 2000 Detroit auto show, it's earmarked for production as a diesel option for the VW D1 flagship.

Production plans for these new engines are at an early stage. The W-8, W-10 and W-12 - with their common bore spacing - can be machined mostly on the same lines, so they will be built at the main VW Salzgitter engine plant, starting at a total of 100 units daily. In fact, low design and tooling costs have been major factors propelling VW's big-engine program.

Volume manufacture of the others, the W-16 and W-18, is under discussion, possibly utilizing the spare build capacity at other German VW factories, as well as those in Poland and Hungary.