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Hot Citi R-line tested

2007-06-06 16:30

Lance Branquinho

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The ubiquitous Volkswagen Citi Golf has been a monumental success in South Africa. As a common reference point, every South African has probably driven or ridden in one at least once. And they continue to sell in significant numbers each month.

Yet the design is thoroughly antiquated. Despite the Citi Golf's key appeal being to provide bread-and-butter entry level motoring, its lack of safety features and overall agricultural driving experience leaves much to be desired.

All of this makes the decision to launch a range-topping performance derivative even more perplexing. Yet the fuel injected 1.8-litre Citi R-line has been visited upon the South African market place, albeit with a strict production run of 100 units.

I attended the launch of the R-line a while back and expressed serious reservations concerning its braking and general handling dynamics, ultimately lambasting it as being a case of marketing over engineering. After living with one for while, I am prepared to recast this judgment.

Son of a GTI

Although I think it looks strikingly similar to any other current VeloCiti, and can hardly justify the price premium for a few inconsequential styling add-ons (a rear spoiler and some skirts) many other drivers are not easily dissuaded.

I was flashed and stopped twice in traffic on my daily commute, and had a fellow ring my doorbell at home after seeing it parked outside. And he positively loved it. I suspect it is the original Mk1 GTI halo effect that still permeates the consciousness of many hot hatch fans.

And this, essentially, is my problem with the R-line. The legend of the original GTI is still strong, but this car is in no way worthy of the Mk1 bloodline comparison.

R-line styling - with the requisite red-shift gate guide atop the golfball gear knob - is so subconsciously reminiscent of the Mk1 GTI it casts a spellbinding presence it has no right to.

With the limited production run, people will actually get to drive one and have their modern day Mk1 GTI nostalgia shattered. The R-line, you see, is quite horrible to drive generally and absolutely terrifying to drive quickly.

Too quick for its own good?

Powered by an eight-valve, 1.8-litre motor that produces 90 kW and 162 Nm, it very quickly shows up the inherent deficiencies of the aging design.

Weighing only 900 kg, the R-line is undeniably quick through the gears (0-100km/h in 8.5 sec), and the warmed-over cam has a lumpiness at idle which is hardly believable for a factory standard car - if you like that sort of thing...

The problem comes in when you want to add the dynamic qualities of stopping or changing direction into the driving equation. The brakes are not ABS assisted and you get rear drums, which, considering the R-line's low mass, is not too bad. The braking action just feels terrible with far too much pedal travel.

Steering is where it all falls apart most spectacularly, though. Rolling on 15-inch, 195 mm tyres, the unassisted steering is fearsomely heavy at parking speeds, which I could live with if it was more direct at speed. Which it isn't.

Passengers could simply not believe the amount of steering play in the dead-centre position when on the move, yet when you move the wheel nearly a quarter turn off centre at 60 km/h, nothing happens.

When you chuck the R-line into a corner the steering goes ridiculously heavy again as the chassis loads up on the tyres, and then decidedly light right at the limit. This duplicitous steering action is highly unnerving, especially in the wet.

For the rest it is standard Citi Golf procedure, only worse. The extra performance has not been gained by a drop off in noise levels. Mechanical and wind noise are very tiresome.

There are no grab-handles either, so during enthusiastic driving your front passenger ends up in your lap. A highly embarrassing state of affairs when you're only pretending to be friends.

Forget about air-conditioning too, or power windows. And the seats are excruciatingly painful for anybody above 1.75m tall. The front driver's seat, despite my best efforts with the manual adjustment, gave me the worst back ache I have ever suffered while driving.


I wanted to like the R-line, really, I did. I have always loved localised engineering ingenuity with regards to entry-level performance models.

Unfortunately, it is just too cynical an exercise to be rewarded with praise. The steering is terrible, the overall refinement shocking, and although the engine is fun to line people up with at traffic lights it runs out of breath rather quickly.

The price is hard to justify too. You could probably buy a 1.6i VeloCiti second hand and spend a bit to get it up to R-line performance spec, yet still stay well shy of the R-line purchase price.

And then there is the principal of the thing. Those red lines in the grille and the golfball gearknob with the red topped shift-guide all hark back to the Mk1 GTI, but without any of the ingenuity or dynamic purity.

Call it nostalgic at best. I simply call it the bastardising of the brand. You simply cannot mock the original hot hatch and expect to get away with it.


  • Cheapest performance motoring you can buy
  • Still an endearing shape to look at
  • Tractable drivetrain and requisite engine note


  • Dearth of safety features
  • Everything is decidedly low-tech
  • Desperately tiring to drive

    Classic Golf TV ads
    Broadband (1.4MB @ 200kbps)

    Red, yellow, blue
    Dial-up (0.68MB @ 100kbps)
    Red, yellow, blue

    Broadband (1.5MB @ 200 kbps)
    Dial-up (0.73MB @ 100kbps)


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