– Torquey engine
– Cabin quality and features
– Entertaining handler
– Lacks kick at highway speeds
– Looks a bit too understated
– Brake-pedal feel could be better
The original Volkswagen Golf GTI was, by all accounts, the car that created the “hot hatch” genre back in the 1970s. While many of us weren’t even born back then, we are all still familiar with the latest versions of the GTI, which we assume is among VW’s top sellers in the region, judging by how many are running around on local roads. It also helps that it has very few competitors.
But compared to what few rivals it does have, the VW Golf GTI looks a bit conservative, being based on an econo-hatchback. Still, for those in the know, subtle styling cues are enough for most enthusiasts to identify it, by the funky fanblade alloys, the LED driving lights, the unique front bumper, the dual exhaust tips, and the red strips on the grille.
The interior is straight out of a regular Golf, not that the regular Golf’s interior is anything to complain about. With its premium soft-touch dash and door surfaces as well as the pretty gauges and gadgetry, its all very nice, but on the conservative side, with the only GTI cues being the sportier-bolstered seats, aluminium pedals, some red stitching on the optional leather upholstery and a badge on the flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Legroom, both front and rear, is pretty good. With average-sized people, passengers can fit in the back comfortably. Headroom is expectedly immense, considering the car’s tall profile. Boot space is more tall than long, but you can flip down the rear bench. There are also five or six hooks in the boot to hang grocery bags from, an uber-practical idea that no other car has so many of. A space-saver spare wheel resides under the boot floor. Covered cup-holders, door pockets and some small cubbies round out the storage options.
There isn’t any shortage of upscale gadgetry. The GTI can be optioned up with a touchscreen navigation-multimedia system, superb CD/MP3 stereo with USB/iPod ports, Bluetooth phone, cruise control, turning HID headlights, full keyless entry with starter button, decent dual-zone a/c with rear vents, front and side-curtain airbags, and rear camera with sensors.
The “2.0TSI” engine is a gem, so it’s no wonder that VW sticks it into every other model. The turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder makes 207 hp at 6200 rpm, and 280 Nm of torque from only 1700 rpm. While the numbers aren’t impressive in this day and age, it is still enough to spin the front wheels easily, even with traction control on. But unlike other front-wheel-drive cars, there is almost no side-to-side torque-steer, so the car stays straight under power. With the 6-speed “DSG” automanual gearbox in sport mode and ESP off, we managed a 0-100 kph time of 6.9 seconds during our October test, although times can be as high as 7.6 seconds, as it all depends on how much wheelspin you dial in at launch. But even with all that wheeling, we burned petrol at a rate of 10.6 litres/100 km only.
The “DSG” gearbox offers lightning-fast manual downshifts, but if left in automatic, it is either too conservative with shifts in normal mode or too aggressive in holding low gears in sport mode, with no middle ground. Thankfully, there was no delay in the throttle response as we experienced in some other VWs. We believe these cars take time to learn a driver’s mannerisms, so we’re glad previous drivers hadn’t screwed up this one’s memory-banks yet.
The GTI rides firmly, with the tight suspension making itself felt on some rougher surfaces. But our car had the optional adjustable suspension system to make things more comfortable, and the ride got a bit better by switching to “comfort” mode. However, the GTI is a very quiet car for something that is supposed to be a raucous hot hatch, which we appreciated on the highway. Parking is also made easy with rear sensors and the camera, although general visibility is good anyway. Heck, it even automatically parallel-parks itself perfectly at the press of a button, via a spooky feature that detects spaces and controls the steering wheel.
The GTI is indeed fun to throw around, just like its mechanical twin, the Scirocco. Its precise somewhat-firm steering, limited body roll and good grip are all assets on long high-speed curves. The average feedback from the controls and slinky-feeling brakes dumb down the sporting feel, but that isn’t a big issue, as the job still gets done. The torquey engine isn’t particularly gutsy when overtaking at highway speeds, but low-end acceleration is deceptively quick, as the front tyres love to screech when the throttle is floored from lower speeds. Understeer crops up when you spin those front tyres while turning, but it is also easy to bring it back in line, all easily done thanks to the car’s chuckable demeanour.
The VW Golf GTI is probably the most well-rounded hot hatch available in the GCC right now, more practical than any other simply by virtue of its available four doors and generous cabin space. And yet, it is right up there dynamically, with a fun engine and entertaining chassis, while managing to stay subdued when all you want is to relax, driving from work to home.
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