After years in the hot hatch doldrums, VW finally rediscovered the recipe for a cracking hot hatch when it launched the Volkswagen Golf GTI. Whereas the third and fourth generation GTIs were reasonably swift, somewhat flabby, luxo-hatches, here was a car that once again deserved the iconic GT label.
With its advanced multi-link rear suspension and beautifully balanced set-up, it offered both dynamic poise and comfort, making it such an appealing package that it was, believe it or not, the top selling Golf in the local line-up! And now the Volkswagen Golf GTI successor has arrived. Can it continue in its footsteps, or has Volkswagen strayed off the hot hatch path once more?
Squat and aggressive stance for Volkswagen Golf GTIWhereas Golf 5 GTI counted on its big wheels and subtly different front airdam – as well as its trademark red pin-striping – to stand apart, there’s no mistaking the newcomer for anything other than a hot Golf. Once again, it rides on striking 18-inch alloy wheels, and once again, there’s a thin red line to be found in the grille, but this time round the aerodynamic addenda are much more hardcore.
The front airdam is particularly menacing, lending the Volkswagen Golf GTI plenty of overtaking presence. With its lowered suspension, big wheels and muscular add-ons, the GTI appears squat and aggressive… far more so than before, and yet it stops short of going over the top. You can still park a Volkswagen Golf GTI at the office and be taken seriously by senior management… Inside, the Golf makes you feel as if you’re already in senior management, because it drips with class and sophistication.
Like all Golf 6s, the build quality is similar to what you’d usually find in an Audi, which is to say excellent. But the upmarket ambience is successfully punctuated with sporty details, such as a flat-bottom steering wheel with a thick rim, deep-set instrumentation, red stitching and very generously bolstered sports seats. Volkswagen Golfs aren’t known for being overloaded with standard features, and the GTI is no different. You pay extra for auto lights/wipers and the Xenon lights, but you do get cruise control, climate control, radio/CD sound, hill-hold assist and no fewer than seven airbags.
Refined performanceThe promise of great things to come starts with the excellent driving position. The driver’s seat boasts a wide range of adjustment (including lumbar support), and the steering wheel is adjustable for both rake and reach. It is clear that Volkswagen has paid a lot of attention to the car’s ergonomics, because it would be really difficult to improve on the positioning of the gearlever and pedals.
Some recent hot hatch arrivals to the Volkswagen Golf GTI have boasted heady power figures that make the Golf’s 155 kW and 280 Nm appear insufficient, but Volkswagen stresses that this approach is deliberate, claiming that balance in delivery is far more important than putting out power that could overpower a car’s dynamic ability. Judging by the unruly handling of some of these newcomers (here’s looking to you, Mazda3 MPS), Volkswagen may indeed have a point.
And in any event, a quick drive in a GTI will soon convince you that Volkswagen has followed the right approach. The torque figure is available from a low 1 700 rpm, all the way to 5 200. This means that the power is relentless, and that you won’t have to shift down very often to extract maximum performance. A 0-100 km/h time of 6,9 seconds is also not to be sniffed at. Again it has to be mentioned that this time is easily achievable, repeatedly so, while on some newer, more powerful hot hatches it is very difficult to execute a lightning-fast start, due to excessive wheelspin, turbo-lag or a combination of both.
Great agilityVolkswagen has followed the same measured approach with the GTI’s dynamic set-up. The ride is certainly on the firm side, which is to be expected, but it retains much of the standard Golf’s composure, even at low speed. You certainly could drive a Volkswagen Golf GTI every day. On the other hand, the suspension resists roll enough to make cornering a fuss-free affair.
The Golf is an exceptionally stable hot hatch, allowing very fast corner entry speeds, and because it has such good brakes, you can throw out the anchors at a very late point, confident that you’ll still be able to make the turn-in and hit the apex. Like before, some enthusiasts will be left wanting a more communicative steering set-up, but in these days of front-wheel drive and the over-riding comfort and refinement considerations, you can’t really expect a modern hot hatch to talk through the steering wheel. At least the Volkswagen Golf GTI steering is precise and nicely weighted.
Volkswagen Golf GTI - VerdictGolf 6, as most people now, is very much an intensive facelift of Golf 5, and yet Volkswagen has refined the formula to such an extent that it feels like an all-new car. With the Volkswagen Golf GTI, they’ve perhaps gone even further. Visually there is now a clearer distinction between the GTI and its mainstream siblings, and the performance and dynamic balance is really hard to beat. On paper it doesn’t look like the Volkswagen Golf GTI should be a clearly superior product to its rivals, but the reality is that it sets a new benchmark. It brings real poise and class to a hot hatch game at a time where most competitors seem to be obsessed with only engine outputs. Perhaps less can, indeed, be more, after all...
- Sporty looks
- Superb cabin
- Excellent performance
- Dynamic balance
- Sparse standard equipment
Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbopetrol Power: 155 kW @ 5 100 rpm Torque: 280 Nm @ 1 800 rpm Transmission: Six-speed manual Wheels: 18-inch alloy Top speed: 240 km/h 0-100 km/h: 6,9 seconds Fuel economy: 7,3 litres/100 km
- Opel Astra OPC: A rather hardcore rival – the Opel is a stunning three-door quasi sportscar with huge power, a recipe that is sure to appeal to your typical hot hatch fanatic. But, once again, it fails to deliver the dynamic entertainment, the looks and power promise. The Volkswagen Golf GTI is just a more polished product.
- Renault Megane 2,0 RS: Nearing the end of the line but the Renault still seems competitive. More powerful than the Volkswagen Golf GTI, and a fair bit cheaper, the Megane can’t compete in terms of refinement and especially cabin finish. Also a bit unruly compared with the impeccably balanced German.
- Mazda3 MPS: A real wildcard… The Mazda’s packs a massive punch, boasts an aggressive exterior design and is loaded with toys. It can’t, however, match the Golf’s refinement and balance, appearing to be “over” powered as a result.