New Golf GTi keeps VW ahead of the game
Latest model is cleaner, lighter and more efficient while still packing a punch
Model: Golf GTi
Date Reviewed: May 2, 2013
Whatever else it does, there are two cars that Volkswagen can never get wrong. The first is the Golf, the volume car that transcends nationality, gender and age, and seems to defy the normal parameters of categorisation. And it mints money for VW every time.
The second is the Golf GTi, the car that has established a performance standard quite unrelated to that of companies that specialise in expensive and exotic machinery. It is also a car that has consistently shown that Volkswagen can build a car whose identity has been invested with real innovation and an appeal for those looking for something truly distinctive.
Well, the company’s board can rest easy since the arrival of the new Golf; the display cases at its headquarters will probably need to be reinforced to accommodate the awards it is picking up.
But what of the latest GTi ? It goes on sale in July, re-emerging into an Irish market that saw its predecessor fall off a cliff because of emissions-based tax. This time it has the advantage of lower emissions and therefore lower tax bands (the entry-level 2-litre petrol version will have annual tax of €280 and the entry-level 2-litre diesel will come in at a very respectable €190). But there has to be more to re-establish the GTi.
The essence of the GTis is not just about looks or power, or a simple combination of the two. If the heritage of the car means anything, it is that it has to offer a driving experience that appeals to both a younger and an older age profile. It cannot just be about a jarring ride quality and raw performance – it must deliver its best without sacrificing driving pleasure or looking like just another muscle car.
Subdued body shape
In its latest incarnation, VW seems to have ticked all the boxes, with the exception of a more subdued body shape. Midway through its life cycle the Golf GTi was at its best in terms of appeal based on subtlety of design. The latest car does not provoke quite the same emotional appeal, but then I probably feel the same about the new Golf itself. Others may well see this GTi as an entirely logical and fitting development of the car. Whatever the reaction, the GTi has presence in spades.
From the front, with its traditional red piping around the radiator grille, to its low stance on the road, its muscular side profile, twin exhaust pipes and that all-important and now traditional tartan/check upholstery, you won’t be mistaking this for anything other than a Golf GTi. The other key feature – the wheels – have obviously been the subject of extensive thought and design, and it is your choice of them that will probably determine your driving personality.
The car may be slightly less powerful than a Focus ST but driving it is a reminder of how carefully the GTi engineering heritage has been maintained. Its torque makes for a much better driving experience than the Focus and the gearing is near perfect. The range in second gear will remind you that this car is not mutton dressed up as lamb. The other very distinctive feature is the ride and handling. Although its suspension has been sport tuned, the car’s dynamics and the fact that the steering wheel requires less turning to produce required feedback ensure that that this car provides instant reassurance rather than surprises. Add a 0-100 km/h time of 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 246km/h and you complete the picture pretty much.
A performance pack is available at €1,500. For this you get a barely necessary extra 10 bhp and upgraded brakes, about which perhaps the same can be said. One reason for opting for the pack, however, is the unique electronic differential lock. On a front-wheel-drive car, no less. This innovation gives a response and a precision that is a revelation and pleasure to experience. Those who aspire to more than just performance will be equally impressed.
Right side of sporty
Inside, the upholstery, the metal pedals and the traditional golf ball top for the gear shift are really all that remain of the original design. Everything else is modern and functional. The general feel is just the right side of sporty; things like bucket seats are deemed inappropriate, and rightly so.
Overall, the GTi continues a great heritage. Now it is cleaner, lighter, more efficient (the lowest-claimed consumption is 6.01 litres per 100km, which is a strong claim), but performance certainly hasn’t been compromised. It also offers the kind of driving reassurance and comfort –
yes, that too – that will make it appeal to all those Passat drivers who long for something more on their long journeys. There will be a diesel version from July onwards,
but the three- and five-door petrol versions will be first
on the forecourts. Expect plenty of interest with an impressive starting price of €33,595.