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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - GTI 40 Years

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, handling, ride, design, value, efficiency, comfort, practicality, safety, refinement, manual option
Room for improvement
Slightly chintzy cabin upholstery, fact the manual is sold out, nothing else

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Volkswagen logo27 Jul 2016

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

VOLKSWAGEN invented the modern hot hatch as we know it with the 1976 Golf GTI original, and – as far as the keeping true to the original affordable practical fun front-drive formula – the current Mk7 version has remained the best all-rounder since it arrived more than three years ago now.

This assertion is more or less uncontested amongst most observers, even though there are rawer and more thrilling alternatives such as the Renault Megane Sport, Peugeot 308 GTi 270 and Ford Focus ST.

Where the new limited-edition GTI 40 Years (known as the Clubsport abroad but HSV owns the rights to that name in Australia) evolves the breed is in its ability to edge forward the already towering levels of front-drive handling thrills, Teflon-coated refinement, unparalleled security and incredible efficiency.

This is literally the Superman or Wonder Woman of front-drive hot hatches. And an exceptional bargain to boot.

The most powerful and fastest production Golf GTI to date, it is only available in one configuration here – five-door hatch – with the only options being a six-speed manual that has already sold out in lieu of the seven-speed DSG dual-clutch auto that most buyers prefer, three paint choices and a $2K sunroof.

All for under $50K – it’s $46,990 for the sold out manual of which 100 were made available and $48,990 for one of the 400 DSG variants.

Beating beneath that smooth bonnet is an evolution of the EA888 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo tearaway from the more expensive Golf R all-wheel drive, employing a larger turbo with an electric wastegate, as well as revised software, to metaphorically supercharge timing, fuel and throttle responses, allowing an ‘overboost’ performance function. For just 10 seconds at a time, power and torque jump from 195kW and 350Nm to 213kW and 380Nm respectively.

What all this means is that the GTI 40’s performance is instantly available and oh-so alive, resulting in scorching off-the-line acceleration that builds relentlessly well into six-figure speeds.

Unfortunately none of the manual versions have yet hit our shores, so the DSG had to do, but – lo and behold, it impressed us deeply with its hyper alertness, delivering the right gear at the right time, ensuring that progress is frenetic yet effortless. Point, squirt, shoot.

While that might also describe half a dozen rival hot hatches, none feel as light, agile, and pliable as this front-drive VW.

Armed with an electronically controlled mechanical differential lock to quell understeer, there is a neutrality and balance to this Golf’s cornering agility that feels almost supernaturally nimble for a car of this size (and weight). It’s like there is no superfluous mass being hauled around. Taut, tight, and terrifically trim.

Around Lakeside Race Track in Queensland, the GTI 40’s poise and control were just outstanding, reminding us that VW’s chassis engineers have crafted something quite extraordinary. The sheer ease through fast, tight turns, with only very subtle stability and traction control interference, shows how exquisitely athletic this particular Golf is. It is particularly sensitive and responsive.

Really, do we need all that extra AWD weight to bog a hot-hatch down? Similarly, away from the track, with the option of Auto, Comfort, or Sport modes, the suspension’s ability to soak up bumps further underlines the sheer civility of this amazing all-rounder. No thump, no thud, no shocks. Just slick progress. Nice.

That refinement carries through inside as it does in all Golfs, but boosted in the GTI 40 thanks to lashings of Alcantara fake suede (including on the wheel), pleated leather upholstery (it’s pretty chintzy), and the obligatory metallic trim “enhancements”.

This is where the German propensity for thoroughness actually turns into slightly queasy overkill, but see past all that tat and the Mk7 VW’s fundamentals – perfect driving position, great ergonomics, superb seats, excellent craftsmanship, unparalleled practicality and acres of space – come to the fore.

Comfort, quality, value. These, too, are core hot-hatch attributes, further rounding out the GTI’s brilliance.

With the world currently preoccupied with high-output all-wheel drive mega-hatches like the Golf R, Focus RS, Mercedes A45 AMG, and Audi RS3 Sportback, it is easy to forget that the essence of a hot hatch is built around the pillars of simplicity, agility, fun, efficiency, practicality, value, and affordability.

And this is where the existing Golf GTI has long held sway. That the 40 Years edition is just an enhanced evolution of that, without compromising on any of those essentials, makes it pretty much the ultimate front-drive hot-hatch.

Fresh.

There might be more viscerally exciting, faster, louder, harder and rawer alternatives, but nothing is truer to the original GTI vision. Bravo Wolfsburg.

May your hot hatch live another 40 years.

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