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VW's hottest Citi driven

2007-04-19 09:03

Volkswagen Citi Golf R-line

Lance Branquinho

Volkswagen has launched the latest incarnation of the Citi Golf range: a hot hatch echoing the original Golf GTI theme called the Citi R-Line.

Based on the remarkably successful Citi Golf platform, which since introduction to the South African market in 1985 remains a strong seller despite an archaic design, Citi-R-line is a new limited edition, range topping, hot hatch derivate.

Fettled by Volkswagen South Africa's motorsport division, the R-Line benefits from a 1.8-litre fuel-injected heart transplant augmented by several exterior and interior styling modifications.

Visually R-Line looks remarkably like a VeloCiti. Red trimmings around the grille, a rear spoiler and integrated body kit supplemented by front and rear mounted R-Line badges are the only visual clues delineating this as a limited edition Citi.

The overall look, especially the red trimmings around the grille and red shift-guide on the golf ball gearlever, has touches of the original Mk1 GTI - or any of the myriad of modified Citi Golfs booming about the streets of suburban South Africa.

Ease into the sports type front seat, cast an eye over the Polo-sourced dash and new, slightly garish, instruments, and turn the key. After a couple of moments of mechanical inertia you are greeted by one of the lumpiest idling cars you can buy off a showroom floor today. With the reprofiled camshaft primarily responsible, the 1.8-litre engine produces 90 kW @ 5 900 r/min and 162 Nm or torque at 4 200 r/min, and it sounds like a valid, modified Citi when on the move, with characteristically booming engine acoustics.

Powering to the benchmark 0-100 km/h sprint in 8.5 seconds and topping out at a shade over 190 km/h, the R-Line is certainly quick, yet the spectre of its performance highlights the age of Citi's design.

Although the fuel-injected engine has a very useable torque spread and makes all the right sounds, it runs into a relatively conservative red-line at just over 6 000 r/min, which does not really propel R-Line into high-revving, hot hatch territory. Once at speed the boxy Citi Golf shape hardly cleaves the air it passes through either, and subsequently drowns in wind noise.

The Citi range may have had many peculiar names and models over its 22 year lifecycle thus far, but it has always been a very entertaining, tidy-handling range of cars to chuck about. Shod with sticky 15-inch 195/50 tyres, the R-Line has ample grip, but the unassisted steering (usually a boon for direct, quick, driving at speed) has too much play to combine properly as a handling package.

Cruising the resurfaced Eastern Cape highways, the steering wheel needed continuous adjustments to steer its line, even in the straight-ahead position. The brakes too, still employing drums at the rear, have a decidedly spongy pedal feel. Although the Citi R-Line is a nimble vehicle not requiring massive, ventilated, disc-brakes to haul down huge mass; the lack of ABS, even as an option, requires a very circumspect driving style, especially in the wet.

Some interior packaging details also mitigate against Citi R-Line's dynamic driving experience. Passenger grab-handles, conspicuous by their absence, mean if you really flick it through a fast left hand sweep, and your passenger does not have a seatbelt on, the two of you could possibly get to know each other a whole lot better.

From a comfort perspective the absence of power-steering, combined with 15-inch 195 mm tyres mean each parking manoeuvre is sure to be workout - whether you like it or not. Air conditioning is not standard either, but it can be ordered as a dealer fitted option. Practically, you get a CD/MP3 player as standard and not much else.

At R115 920 the Citi R-Line is a curious exercise. It is undeniably quicker than anything else at the price, but the dynamic driving experience is incommensurable since the pace and handling hardly dovetail with each other. A dearth of standard comfort features, and more pointedly in a car with reasonable pace, safety features, leaves the package feeling slightly lopsided.

Ultimately the Citi R-line is a triumph of marketing over engineering. Not that you could buy one: the limited edition production run is only 100 units, and practically each of those has a buyer's signature next to it already.

Performance to the people? Not quite. A Citi 1.8i waits in the wings for a mid-year release though, and could be a completely different story.

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