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VW's fastest GTI ever driven

2009-05-28 08:22
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Volkswagen
Model GOLF
Engine 1 984 cm3 16v turbo four cylinder
Power 155 kW @ 5 300 r/min
Torque 280 Nm @ 1 700 r/min
Transmission six-speed manual or six-speed DSG
Zero To Hundred 6.9 seconds
Top Speed 240 km/h
Fuel Consumption 7.3 litre/100 km (combined) / CO2 emissions: 170 g/km
Front Suspension MacPherson struts
Rear Suspension multilink rear suspension

JD van Zyl

There is something quietly reassuring about a model that doesn’t try to constantly reinvent itself. Like a twenty-something guy who has tired of the odd fashions, weird hairstyles, piercings and shock tactics of his teenage years and then settles on a style that is more sophisticated and refined.

The latest generation of the Golf GTI is a bit like this. It isn’t blisteringly quick, doesn’t look tremendously different from before and isn’t nearly as boisterous as the Ford Focus RS, and largely because of that it impresses.

Like the rest of the Golf Mk6 range, the latest GTI is essentially a facelifted version of the Mk5. There is no giant leap from the previous model to the current and VW seems to have approached the new model from the if-it-ain’t-broken point of view, opting to slightly evolve the latest version instead of radically recreating it. The Mk5 version was so well received, after all, that it would be a dicey task to tamper too much with its recipe.

Overall, the new GTI looks much tauter on the outside than before. Slight changes to the styling include a new honeycomb grille with horizontal lines on the front (similar to the Scirocco’s and the Mk1 GTI), which make it appear lower and flatter than it really is. From the rear the most noticeable change is the dual tailpipes, no longer side-by-side, which poke out just under the rear bumper.

Familiar, yet refined

Dimensions of the new model remain virtually unchanged, so the interior should also feel very familiar to current GTI owners. VW has fitted thicker glass and soundproofing though, which goes a long way in creating a more refined driving experience.

All the improvements of the other Mk6 models have also been passed on to the GTI cabin – sporty touches of aluminium, a more chiseled dashboard, better quality plastics and an general feeling of solidness.

A great new addition is the three-spoke flat-bottom steering wheel. Beautifully wrapped in leather and sporting rough red stitching it adds a bold splash to the cabin and is a huge improvement on the Mk5’s. The car we got our hands on was a low-spec model with tartan upholstery and six-speed manual, but most drivers will specify the six-speed DSG and add leather seats to the package.

Under the bonnet beats the same 2.0-liter TSI engine that powers the Scirocco, but VW has managed to squeeze another 7.4kW from it to up the maximum power to 155kW. Torque remains the same at 280Nm though. It takes the GTI 6.9 seconds to sprint to 100km/h (marginally quicker than the Scirocco and GTI Mk5’s 7.2 seconds) but in real life it feels even faster than the stats would have you believe.

It doesn’t tear up the tarmac, that is true, but what the GTI lacks in eye-popping acceleration it makes up for with the accessibility of its power. Push it hard and you can still get the tyres to spin on take-off, but it will never respond with the torque steer and rabid handling of a hardcore hatch like the Focus RS. In general, the GTI approaches performance with significantly more civility – much like the Mk5, only smoother and more refined.

The new engine is more eager from low down in the rev range than before and also feels much punchier than its predecessor. VW has also managed to shave some off the fuel consumption (now 7.3 liter/100km compared to 8.0 liter/100km on the outgoing model) and CO2 emissions (170g/km compared to 189g/km) while pushing the top speed up by 5km/h to make this the fastest GTI ever.

Something new

So it looks, drives and behaves much like the Mk5, is there anything that really sets it apart? Two things really, a new XDS “electronic differential lock” system and adaptive chassis control (ACC).

XDS (it stands for electronic cross-axle traction control) is not really an electronic differential though, but rather an open differential that uses traction control technology to cut power to the front wheels. The system impresses with just enough cutback to help the rubber bite into the road without slashing all the power when you need it most.

The other new addition to the GTI, adaptive chassis control, is the same as used in the Scirocco. Basically, ACC allows you to select between three suspension modes – comfort, normal and sport – at the push of the button, and then controls the damper units pneumatically.

Comfort mode works well to smooth out any irregularities on the road whereas sport mode stiffens everything up for a much firmer ride. Though still far from being bone-joltingly harsh, sport mode ensures the GTI cuts through the beds with perfect composure and predictability.

Normal mode slots between the two and mostly reverts to comfort mode until you start thrashing the car through some heady curves, that is. Then it automatically adjusts to sport mode. Normal mode is so competent that unless you’re planning a seriously cracking session on the track, there really isn’t any need to change to anything else though.

Golf 6 GTI will be introduced in South Africa shortly and local pricing should closely track that of the top-spec Scirocco. Hot hatch competition has always been fierce, but this will be the first time that the GTI will have to fend off an onslaught from within its own quarters.

Sure, the Scirocco doesn’t have five doors and for many who need the practicality this will be a deciding factor. But for those who don’t, the Scirocco will suddenly make a whole lot more sense. It also looks a great deal more exciting than the GTI. Some very heated sibling rivalry lies ahead. Guaranteed.

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