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30 Sep 2005
HAS the spirit of the once-hallowed Golf GTi returned in the 2005 version? On paper – despite the turbo-charged 147kW power output, honed and tuned multi-link independent rear suspension and quicker-ratio steering – there’s a massive 510kg weight difference.
And that’s enough to blunt the performance and agility of even the most athletic hot-hatch. Yet there’s smiles by the miles in store for the lucky driver. Does this GTi somehow defy the laws of fun and physics?
Renault may have invented the "hot hatch" with its 1968 16TS, but it was VW that defined it with the original Golf GTi eight years later.
Sadly Australians have been dished a pretty raw deal by the Germans since.
Firstly, we were totally denied the first generation and received the flaccid second version five years too late (but were luckily spared the middle-age spread of the third model) while the last GTi could barely keep your nanna's 100kW Corolla Ascent from snapping at its heels.
Today, however, VW can proudly present a GTi that is worthy of the moniker. And considering its base is the hefty Golf Mk5, the result is little short of sensational.
Those subtle stylistic flourishes - namely the extended (three-day growth?) honeycomb grille surround, sexy stout-standing five-spoke alloys and optional Xenon headlights - perfectly subscribe to the first GTi's minor yet menacing massaging of a mainstream model.
Inside the sporty touches are just as small yet resilient.
Bay City Rollers-inspired Tartan trim, a mad flat-bottomed steering wheel (how F1!), metallic accented lower-console, upper-dash, door and gearknob trim-foolery (looks great actually, just like that cheeky 300km/h speedo) and your de rigueur alloy pedals say: "Tarty but tasty."
But that's like applying rave party clothes to, say, Helena Bonham Carter. Because, after all, this is the usually serious Golf ya.
So there's no denying that a deep undercurrent of sensibly sited ergonomics, exquisite build quality, a stupefyingly functional dashboard (complete with that ugly slab of a upper centre console) will take care of all the more mundane stuff of living with and driving a modern Volkswagen.
Except that this Version 5.0 GTi really is something special.
Surely, in years to come, next to the evolution of four-cylinder engines, there may be a picture of this 147kW 2.0-litre FSI turbo unit - complete with a sound bite of it revving, without a hint of strain or pain - past the 6500rpm redline to its 7000rpm-plus limiter. Mmmm.
In either slick (though long-travelling) six-speed manual or brilliant six-speed DSG auto guise, all it takes is a prod of the pedal for the power to push through the front wheels and hurtle you to licence-losing velocities.
With the stick shift, with its sensible ratios, there's never any discernible turbo lag, just a lovely lunge forward. There's that usual well-oiled feel to the lever, optimised beautifully to the well-weighted clutch.
The thing is, the DSG is quicker, smoother and (apparently) easier on the premium ULP, thanks to the double magic of the twin-clutch auto that's just poised to pump you into (or down through) the next gear ratio in lag-eliminating nano-seconds.
Manual gearboxes are great but the sharp-witted DSG, even if there's just a hint of strenuous city slicker driving in your day, is the choice, even for sequential-shifter non-believers.
Plus the steering wheel shift paddles are easy and natural to use and have the down-for '-' and up-for '+' positions in the correct sequence for slam-dunk gear changing. It blips on the downshift and hardly ever misses a beat.
About the only DSG disappointment is the occasional clunk from D to S, while flooring it afterwards can create a momentary hesitation, as if the gearbox is taking a deep breath before getting straight back down to it.
Once it does though progress is really fast, often 40 to 50km/h faster than the refined cabin lets on.
Well, this would all be wasted if the helm wasn't as fast and responsive as VW has engineered it.
Razor handling for throttle-controllable steering is the name of the game here.
On smooth roads this thing glides through corners. Rough and irregular roads aren't much of a problem either, as the lowered and fettled suspension (that, thanks to the Ford Focus, is multi-link at the rear) irons out the blimps and bumps before they get a chance to be transmitted through the helm.
And what about torque steer? On the sunny-then-overcast-then-lightly damp roads outside Canberra, there wasn't any trace of it. Nor really when hammering several different GTis on a closed-off test track complete with tight turns and funny road cambers. The excellent brakes couldn't be made to fade here either.
It's quite unbelievable really, when you consider the quietly competent Golf that VW's engineers had to work with.
Of course the uber-Golf isn't perfect.
The Continental 255/45 R17 wheels and tyres seem remarkably supple in their absorption abilities on a whole, but bad surfaces do sometimes betray their low profile by sending the odd jar through.
There's also some tiresome road rumble transmitted through depending on the bitumen below.
Small cars don't come more complete than the 2005 Golf GTi.
Considering its punchy performance, super responsive steering, awesome body control, prestige-car levels of comfort, and class-leading levels of crash safety levels, there are few cars that can hit the high-five fun factor as effortlessly as this VW.
It really does set a new standard, while finally providing Australian hot-hatch fans with a flavour of what that original, iconic 1976-1983 MkI Golf GTi was all about.
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