VW’s latest GTI - we drive it!
RAISING THE HOT HATCH BENCHMARK: With outstanding offerings from its rivals, the GTI is no longer the obvious choice for a hot hatch in SA. The new model remains a very competent contender in the segment. Image: SERGIO DAVIDS
Author: SERGIO DAVIDS
In February 2013 Volkswagen's 7th-generation Golf arrived in South Africa. No sooner was it here than petrol heads began asking: “When's the GTI coming?”
The original Golf GTi (as it was known then) created a class benchmark; in 2013 the seventh-generation continues to raise the bar… and then some.
The tagline for the new GTI (as it is known now) reads: “Often copied. Never equalled.” Well, the first bit is certainly true (especially among its generations) while the second part ignores current French and US offerings – such as the Renault Megane RS and Ford Focus ST.
The last time the GTI was toppled as SA’s top hot-hatch was during the 1990's when the third generation 2.0 85kW version was launched locally. Many readers were quite vocal in our GTI sneak peek published in June 2013. As a result I thought I’d incorporate some of our readers’ comments; after all, without our audience's participation, what’s the point?
Wheels24 reader Marco Hudson said: “Same old same old, this GTI looks boring. Even the alloys look dated and the dash is very old school. Very disappointing."
When it comes to Golf, the word “boring” tends to crop up time and time again due to its design. Unsurprisingly VW has aimed for evolutionary over revolutionary.
The trouble is even minor design tweaks here and there require a lot of effort from designers and engineers. As VW designer Andreas Mindt explained: “Many people say we at VW are lazy with design elements. The truth is a lot of work goes into each element to make it ‘new’ yet recognisable as one of our models.
“There’s so much precision and connectivity in the design. Every line is connected. Technology and design work hand-in-hand. To do all this is incredibly hard and the product is really special.”
As seen in the transition from Golf 6 to 7, subtlety is the order of the day. To help set it apart from its more sedate sibling, the model receives (a few) restrained styling tweaks. Most of the work went into its performance.
At the front there's a reinterpretation of the first GTi’s radiator grille. Another great touch is the Audi R8-esque fins dividing the LED fog lights.
Shuffle to the rear and you’ll find a spoiler, tinted diodes and chromed exhausts. It’s nothing too radical, though it’s sporty enough to be instantly recognisable as a GTI.
Given how many GTI’s leave VW’s showrooms monthly, it seems “boring” (read: conservative) designs are exactly what the local market is clamoring for.
Wheels24 reader Brutus McGregor said: “I was a big OPC fan but one day I decided to try the GTI 5 with a DSG. Never looked back, maybe just try it. The GTI rules, the rest follow.”
I agree Brutus (awesome name btw), no matter your preference in automaker, VW’s GTI sets the benchmark for other hot-hatches to follow. I think it’s a testament to VW just how hard its rivals have to push to take on its quintessential hot hatch. Fortunately for the buyer, in 2013, they not only match the GTI but in some cases (Megane RS and ST) raised the standard even higher.
The model is powered by a two-litre turbocharged engine delivering 162kW/350Nm. The turbocharged engine is created from the third generation of VW’s EA888 engine series.
The GTI is equipped with a stop/start system and the engine is mated to a six-speed transmission. Combined fuel consumption is rated at six litres/100km with emissions of 139g/km. Equipped with a six-speed direct shift transmission (DSG), fuel consumption increases to 6.4 litres/100km with an emissions rating of 148g/km CO2.
The engine enables the model to rocket to 100km/h in 6.5sec on to a top speed of 246km/h (DSG - 244km/h).
BEHIND THE WHEEL
So what it’s like to drive? In short – a grin-inducing, speech-robbing barrel of fun. The engine allows for smooth power delivery and effortless speed while its electronic stability control (ESC) provides jaw-droppingly good handling characteristics.
The ESC allows you to disengage the ESP for launch control (Anti Skid/Spin Regulator- ASR is temporarily switched off) and for dynamic driving on a track with ESC Sport.
The ESC Sport mode delays the traction control from engaging too soon which allows to perform some buttock-clenching manoeuvers before the system reins you in and saves you from, well, yourself. It’s as if it’s saying: “OK, you’ve had your fun, now let's not do something stupid.”
Unfortunately you can never fully anticipate the road ahead as fellow SA motoring journalist found in Slanghoek (Breedekloof) between Wolseley and Rawsonville. The pair collided with a bakkie. The bakkie performed a U-turn in the path of the oncoming GTI resulting in the crash. Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt.
The feedback through the steering wheel and chassis is great giving you total immersion behind the wheel. You do however get the sense that this is a very “serious” car completely at odds with the boy-racer buyers it attracts. The manual guise is what this vehicle was made for - boosting the driver's immersion factor. The DSG is sublime in operation though not as sporty as its manual sibling. This is somewhat mitigated by switching to semi-auto mode and using the paddle shifts.
Body roll is nearly non-existent and, due to the electronic differential lock, understeer is kept to a minimum. VW has once again created a superb vehicle... it's just, well, so has everybody else.
The cabin benefits from leather sport seats, steering-wheel (shift pedals for the DS) and stitching. As befits its hot-hatch status, the instrument cluster has a unique graphic display, red ambience lighting and stainless-steel sill guards and pedals. Purists will be pleased to see the “golf ball” gear knob has returned after missing the sixth generation.
Standard kit includes progressive steering, fatigue detection system, automatic multi-collision braking and an electronic differential. Optional features include dynamic chassis control with a driver-selected drive choice. An optional 400W Dynaudio sound system can be ordered.
Despite its focus on performance, the GTI retains the Golf’s practicality. The rear bench can fold (60/40) and provides cargo length of 1.5m. Boot capacity is 380 litres.
ST vs. GTI
The GTI faces off against the likes of the Opel Astra OPC, Megane RS and the Focus ST. By VW’s own admission, the Focus ST is its biggest rival. VW's product marketing manager, Hein Schafer, said: “We feel we have a complete package to offer, with plenty of features and tech.”
In terms of performance, the ST has more power but is less frugal (7.2 litres/100km) and has greater carbon emissions (169g/km).
The ST has Ford’s superb SYNC audio/Bluetooth system while the GTI has a touchscreen with satnav an option. Another advantage the GTI has over its Ford rival is its ability to park itself - the driver just gentles the throttle; ST owners have to maker do without a reversing camera.
Then again, most of the extras avaible to GTI owners will raise its price - more on that later.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Then there’s the value-for-money proposition. The new GTI gains a lot more kit, rides on a new platform and has a revised engine for only R10 000 more than the outgoing model – Golf 6 GTI: R358 400.
Wheels24 reader Aldrin Joseph said: “ST3 has four doors and bi-xenons. On the GTI that's a R9600 option. This pushes the GTI manual to R377 900. GTI is a great car but way over priced."
I concur. The optional extras of any VW often push the price of its vehicles way high. The GTI is no exception as you’ll see from its list of options at the end of the article. The other side of the coin is having the ability to add creature comforts depending on your budget. With the ST, what you see is what you get.
I guess the key word here is “optional”, meaning the extra kit is available but at a premium, as opposed to “non-existent” as shown by its many rivals.
South African fans of new GTI will be pleased to hear Schafer say the Performance Edition will come to SA by 2014. "Some testing still remains but we know our customers want it and we have pushed to bring it here."
MORE ON GOLF
Many readers felt pricing and its timid design would negatively affect Golf sales. So how is the new model doing in SA? Since February - May 2013 VW has sold 2295 units with an average of 574 per month. The huge petrol increase reported in June 2013 will no doubt hamper future sales in SA.
Even though it's down on power against its rivals, it can perform on circuits or out on country roads, making it one of the most versatile hot-hatches on our roads.
Gone are the days when the GTI was the obvious choice for a hot hatch in SA. Bar the third generation, the new range is a competent, though expensive, contender. Whether it needs to be taken seriously around a track or being chucked about on a spirited drive on the open road, the GTI is a vehicle that can perform any task it’s given brilliantly.
Golf GTI 2.0 TSI 162kW - R368 300
Golf GTI 2.0 TSI 162kW DSG a/t - R382 800
It's sold with a five-year or 90 000km service plan, a three-year or 120 000km warranty and a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty. Service intervals 15 000km.
Metallic paint – R900
Sun roof – R9000
Tow hitch - R4000
Bi-xenons – R9600
Keyless entry – R4600
Auto high beam – R1050
Parking radar – R3050
Auto parallel parking – R6350
Reversing camera – R3000
Adaptive chassis control – R10 200
Mobile device interface with iPod/iPhone cable – R850
Discover Pro Radio with satnav, USB and Bluetooth - R18 350
DynAudio 300w sound system – R8200