2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
– Superb engine performance
– Cabin space and features
– Great handling
– Pricey with options
– Some hard cabin plastics
– Throttle response at idle
You know the story of Yahoo? More than a decade ago, it was the be-all-and-end-all of websites, easily the default search engine in the early days of the internet. Then they tried to be everything to everyone, adding all sorts of random content sections, from cars to celebrities. Now they’re faltering badly in the face of competitors who are way more focused in their offerings. The VW Golf GTI is something like that, the default hot-hatch choice in its early days, and then trying to be everything to everyone as each new generation was introduced. In the face of competent new rivals, is it still the default choice?
The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI still looks overly generic for a hot hatch. The changes are hard to notice as well, compared to the old model, even though the new one is a completely new car. Even we’re hard-pressed to tell you what has changed, aside from a slight reshaping of the styling cues, the 18-inch wheels and the profile. There’s a lot more red badging though.
Inside, the cabin design also remains as staid as before. Everything is new, yet nothing looks new. In fact, there’s some cost-cutting evident compared to the old model, with more use of hard plastics on the doors, especially the unpadded rear door upper-sills. The soft-touch dash and front door sills as well as the cushy door inserts and armrests still retain some semblance of VW’s traditionally-premium cabin feel though.
Cabin space itself is pretty good, with tons of headroom under that boxy roof. The optional leather-clad front seats are nicely bolstered and there’s enough rear legroom for most average-sized adults. The boot volume is decent, with a couple of grocery-bag hooks and an as-needed split-folding rear seat. There’s enough door pockets, padded seatback pockets and cup-holders, the latter nicely hidden when not in use.
Features include a redesigned touchscreen that integrates the good CD/MP3 stereo, Bluetooth phone and other settings, but unfortunately our well-kitted car did not have navigation or USB ports as standard, making do with an iPod cable only. It did come with a good dual-zone auto a/c, rear a/c vents, automatic parallel-parking, rear camera with sensors, HID headlights with turning fog lamps, cruise control with speed limiter, lots of airbags, panoramic glass half-roof and smart keyless entry with starter button.
Still powered by VW’s long-running 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder, it’s tweaked to make 220 hp at 4500 rpm, and a solid 350 Nm of torque starting at just 1500 rpm. It’s also still mated to a 6-speed dual-clutch “DSG” automanual gearbox, sending power to the front wheels of this lighter new platform. All that translated to a 0-100 kph time of 6.8 seconds, even with a fresh engine, hot July weather and plenty of wheelspin, but crucially, no torque steer. In contrast, the hot new 252 hp Ford Focus ST did it in 7.1 seconds in our tests, as it torque-steers and wheelspins away its extra power on launch. Interestingly, we feel the GTI now also has decent highway juice for overtaking, compared to the out-of-breath old model, although don’t expect to keep up with that Focus once speeds go beyond 120 kph.
The GTI should be able to hang with the Focus around corners though. The handling feels totally flat no matter what speed you’re going around curves, with more grip from the 225/40 tyres than you’d normally need in aggressive street driving. Fly into a sharp right-hander too quickly and there’s understeer, but if you hit the brakes while swinging the steering left-right like a rally driver, you can make it around any pinhead with a little controlled drift. You can’t swing out the back too far though, since the stability control seemingly doesn’t fully turn off. There isn’t even a proper handbrake, the handle replaced by an electronic parking-brake button.
It now has variable-ratio steering for a nimbler feel at lower speeds, so a flick of the wrist is enough to do u-turns or go around tight spots quickly. The steering is mildly weighted and only offers mild feedback, so it isn’t as involving to drive as the Focus ST, but at least VW has now upgraded the brakes, now with better pedal feel and linear stopping power.
The dual-clutch gearbox is clunky at crawling speeds, compounded by annoyingly-delayed throttle response, but things become smoother and quicker once the car gets going. The automatic shifts are tuned towards economical driving, which contributed to our respectable 10.6 litres/100 km consumption. Responses do sharpen up a lot in “sport” mode, but then the car is too jumpy to drive in stop-and-go traffic, so it’s better to save that for spirited driving on open roads. We were constantly shifting between “normal” and “sport” modes in regular driving, since there is no middle ground. The manual mode with paddle-shifters is quick enough to be entertaining.
The ride is firm, but compliant enough to not be a bother on the daily commute. However, we did notice more road and wind noise than in the relatively-luxurious older model, possibly because it lost some sound insulation as a consequence of its weight-reduction diet, or maybe it was just a windy day. While the throaty engine is audible on full blast, it calms down nicely at highway speeds.
The GTI continues to evolve into a car that does all things for all people. Honestly speaking, if you really want the hottest of hot hatches, the top choice remains the manual Ford Focus ST, but if you need a bit more space, a bit more refinement, and a bit more automatic, the GTI is right there waiting in the wings. It’s a better car than the outgoing model in terms of drive, even if it’s lost some of its premium aspects in the process, but we doubt most buyers will notice.
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