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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - GTI 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Outstanding turbo engine, crisp manual gearbox, upmarket cabin, variable-ratio steering, supple ride, Adaptive Chassis Control now standard
Room for improvement
Lack of exhaust fanfare, ESC bites a touch too hard at times, pricier than before

Gallery

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Volkswagen logo2 Apr 2014

Price and equipment

Our car is the range entry point, being the white manual in lower 162kW/350Nm power grade (the 169kW Performance Pack is yours for an extra $6500 with a DSG auto). Price of entry is $41,990 plus on-road costs, $2500 more than before since the three-door has been axed due to low sales.

This compares to more powerful Ford Focus ST ($38,290), Subaru WRX sedan ($38,990) and Renault Sport Megane RS265 Cup three-door ($42,640).

Additionally, the Mercedes-Benz A250 is $50,400 – and while both are German, the Benz has the badge. Furthermore, the mechanically similar and more spacious Skoda Octavia RS wagon costs $37,840.

Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels on 225/40 R18 tyres, Adaptive Chassis Control (VW terminology for variable driving modes), reversing camera, a 5.8-inch touchscreen with satellite-navigation, an eight-speaker sound system and USB/Bluetooth streaming (and phone).

‘GTI’ touches include the signature golf ball-style manual gearknob, sporty bucket seats with tartan trim and aluminium pedals.

Interior

Front and centre is the redesigned and flat-out sexy steering wheel, flanked by well-placed audio and cruise buttons. The red stitching, tartan seats, silver pedals and faux carbon console trim are hot hatch materials through-and-through.

The rest of the cabin remains familiar Golf, with a large touchscreen (drivers can swipe the screen like a phone, albeit without the smoothness), a small smattering of dials and well-placed instruments.

Like its more basic siblings, small touches give the cabin an air of quality, such as the soft felt lining in the door pockets. All contact points are soft and squidgy plastic, and not a single squeak or rattle could be found.

The shift to an electric handbrake saves space (and allows VW to fit its excellent Auto Hold feature that allows you to take your foot off the brake in traffic while still in D) but erases the promise of pulling ‘hand-brakie’ stunts on closed circuits.

As with all Golfs, rear legroom is on a par for the class, and headroom better than average.

Perhaps our biggest grievance is VW’s decision to situate some of the driving mode controls in the touchscreen. A dial mounted on the transmission tunnel would be better. The system Mazda has on its new 3 is much easier to use.

Engine and transmission

Writing about the new Golf GTI today has been a particularly interesting experience. See, last month we drove a rival $40k turbocharged hot family car that sits at the other end of the ‘personality’ spectrum: Subaru’s edgy all-new fourth-generation WRX with all-wheel-drive.

That car shouts, while the GTI you’re reading about here is more like a polite nightclub bouncer politely asking the noisy Rex to depart before things get messy. But make no mistake – like that bouncer, the Volkswagen is more than capable of stepping round the back for a proper dust-up.

That essentially embodies what makes the modern GTI great: It is so good at offering speed and refinement at once without appreciably lessening the purity of either.

The biggest highlight of all is the brand spanking 2.0-litre direct-injected turbo-petrol engine under the bonnet.

Called the EA888, its pumps out 162kW of power (up 7kW) and a robust 350Nm of torque (up 80Nm). Furthermore, this is available between 1500 and 4400rpm, meaning the wave of torque starts down low and keeps on rolling as you work up through the gears. No lag, no fuss.

It may be less powerful than a Focus ST or a Megane RS, but it’s richer and just as rewarding. The exhaust burble is a little too, well, non-existent for our tastes though. A little bit more road presence wouldn’t go astray.

Matched as it was in our car with a six-speed manual gearbox, it is immediate off the line and strong right through past the red-line. The ‘box itself has a direct and pleasingly mechanical throw, and for our money is more engaging that the DSG dual-clutch auto that makes up the bulk of sales.

Officially, with this powertrain, the GTI accelerates from 80 to 120 km/h in five seconds from fourth gear, or six seconds in sixth gear. Flat-chat, it accelerates from zero to 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds and reaches a top speed of 246 km/h.

Claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption is 6.2 litres per 100km (of 98 RON fuel) – we managed about 7.0L/100km on quieter stints, which is pretty commendable.

Ride and handling

Don’t let the Mk7’s evolutionary looks fool you – underneath that familiar body sits a brand new platform called the MQB, which also sits beneath the Audi S3 (and the Skoda Octavia, for that matter). It is a lighter architecture than before, meaning this car already has a head start.

More than 50kg lighter than its predecessor, in fact, and also 15mm lower than the current-generation garden variety Golfs on which it is based. New additions include a quicker variable steering system, standard adjustable dampers and an upgraded stability control system.

Once an optional extra, Adaptive Chassis Control features three damper settings: Normal, Comfort and Sport, the latter of which makes the car feel firmer and therefore more agile. The ride is never busy in any mode, and in Comfort in simply wafts along in the serene fashion of its less sibling, despite its 18-inch wheels.

The new ‘progressive’ steering is an electrically-assisted system with sharper reflexes and smaller inputs required. It take only 2.1 turns to go from lock-to-lock, and loads up at speed.

MacPherson struts feature up front while the rear suspension consists of an advanced multi-link arrangement designed for precise cornering control The weight savings and this tricky tech add up to making the Mk7 certainly the most competent GTI along a challenging piece of road. One could argue, though, that the classic Mk5 from almost a decade ago had more involving, albeit more tiring, steering.

It remains beautifully progressive and sharp enough on turn-in, but it doesn’t have the manic aggression or neck-snapping abilities of the Megane. Not really a bad thing, per se, more a small concession to comfort.

The ESC includes a new-generation XDL+ system brakes the inside front wheel via sensor, to effectively ‘pull’ the car around on a tighter line around sharp twists in the road. The traction control can be nigh-on switched off for track work, too.

On gripe is the way the car can at times struggle to put its power down on take-off, particularly on greasy roads. There is still a small occupational hazard in running such power through the front wheels, and VW is far from the only car-maker to suffer in this way.

Safety and servicing

All Mk7 Golf models get the maximum ANCAP five-star safety rating. Standard equipment includes seven airbags, while the rear seat includes child-friendly ISOFIX anchors.

Volkswagen Australia offer capped-price servicing across its range, covering a six-year or 90,000 term (whichever comes first). Volkswagens have long 12-month/15,000km service intervals.

On the GTI scheduled servicing over this period will cost a grand total of $2478. In addition, buyers will have to for out $47 every second service for a new pollen filter, and $127 every second service for new brake fluid.

The GTI also comes with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Verdict

It is hard to think of a hot hatch on the market that is easier to live with than the Golf GTI, save its roomier Skoda Octavia RS stable-mate, perhaps.

Volkswagen has built on what made its predecessors so great, boosting the refinement on offer and the low-down grunt of its 2.0-litre turbo engine.

Again, it is not quite as razor sharp of involving as the purer Megane RS, but we don’t think VW really wants it to be.

As an all-rounder, it is simply superb.

Rivals

Ford Focus ST ($38,290 plus on-road costs). Well-priced, more powerful than the Golf and comes with nice Recoro seats. Superb balance and sharp turn-in (albeit with feel-free steering) makes the ST a loveable beast indeed.

Skoda Octavia RS wagon (from $37,840 plus ORC). Has the same running gear as the Golf and a more practical wagon body. The badge may be less familiar, but the Skoda deserves to step out of the VW’s shadow and into the mainstream.

Mercedes-Benz A250 Sport ($50,400 plus ORC). A little pricier than the Golf, and no more talented, the Benz nevertheless has a boatload of cache and sexy styling. No wonder Merc has a waiting list.

Specs

MAKE/MODEL: Volkswagen Golf GTI
ENGINE: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo
LAYOUT: Front engined, front-wheel drive
POWER: 162kW@4500-6200rpm
TORQUE: 350Nm@1500-4400rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-sp manual gearbox
0-100km/h: 6.5s
FUEL: 6.2L/100km
EMISSIONS: 144g/km CO2
WEIGHT: 1313kg tare
SUSPENSION: Front MacPherson independent, rear four-link. All-round adaptive dampers.
STEERING: Electro-mechanical, rack-and-pinion, speed-sensitive
BRAKES: Ventilated disc (f)/solid disc (r)
PRICE: From $41,990 before on-roads

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