Car reviews - Volkswagen - Golf - GTI Original
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Edgy three-door styling, value pricing, tartan seats, lighter body, superb performance, excellent handling, hatch practicality
Room for improvement
If you'll miss the two extra doors, sat-nav, keyless entry/start and adaptive dampers of other GTIs, look elsewhere otherwise buy
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30 Apr 2018
AS FAR as Golf designs go, the current Mk7 is up there with the 1974 original and 1997 fourth gen for elegance, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the three-door body shape.
Sadly – limited-edition $47,990 GTI Performance Edition 1 aside – none have been available at an affordable price in Australia since this series launched in late 2012.
Until now, that is, with the GTI Original. An ode to the company’s first hot hatch, buyers also enjoy the benefits of a $3500 saving over the excellent five-door.
But is deleting adaptive dampers, sat-nav and keyless entry and start a step too far in one of our all-time favourite hot hatches?
Price and equipment
The three-door Golf is back. Well, a more affordable one anyway.
Arguably one of the prettiest in the long-lived but still fiercely competitive Mk7 range, it also represents performance and value for money, since Volkswagen is only bringing in 200 examples in the form of the GTI Original.
Priced from $37,490 plus on-road costs, this is back-to-basics stuff, with tartan-patterned cloth upholstery and the deletion of non-essential items such as satellite navigation, front foglights and keyless entry/start. But could you live with standard rather than the adaptive dampers that all other performance Golfs offer? Let’s see.
The rest is pure GTI, which means a 169kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, six-speed manual or optional seven-speed dual-clutch DSG auto and the same relatively generous body dimensions as the five-door.
Note, however, that while shedding the rear doors also cuts 25kg (for an impressive kerb weight of 1229kg), both performance and economy remain the same.
Along with saving $4500, the GTI Original also brings a unique 18-inch alloy wheel design, as well as the regular goodies like an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity, climate control air-con (with rear air vents), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic wipers and LED headlights.
Autonomous emergency braking is also standard, with the only option (apart form the DSG) being a $1600 Driver Assistance Package incorporating adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane-keep assistance and auto reverse-park assistance. Do it.
Finally, you can have any colour you like, as long as it is red or white. Zzzz.
Volkswagen’s colour palette used to be so inspiring.
Tartan sports seats. A golf-ball style gear knob. No back doors and fixed rear side glass. These are the things that make this GTI ‘Original’. Throw in a Farah Fawcett-Majors hair flip, a pair of flares and a packet of Marlboroughs and it’s the ‘70s all over again.
What you’re likely to miss from the 21st Century on a brief test drive, but will quickly realise has gone AWOL, is integrated sat-nav, though that standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto means people with smartphones won’t get lost for long. And those side rear windows are fixed too, so fresh air back there isn’t possible except from the rear vents. Which is something.
Other than that, it’s the usual big, spacious and impeccably built Mk7.5 Golf goodness, with the three-door conceding nothing to the five-door in terms of length (4268mm), width (1799mm), height (1442mm), wheelbase (2626mm) and boot capacity (380 litres). Access is simple via a sliding and folding front seat with previous-position memory.
As with all of today’s Golfs, exceptional quality, fastidious detailing (including a capacitive multimedia touchscreen that’s bang up to date) and rich aromas set the Volkswagen apart from rival offerings. They’re backed up by brilliantly cossetting front sports seats, a near-faultless driving position, handy height adjustment for both buckets, and an equally comfy rear bench offering ample storage.
Finally, the boot is lovingly finished, offers a useable 380 litres of cargo capacity (stretching to 1270L with the backrests dropped), and comes with a low loading lip, flat floor with hooks for tying stuff down, and a space-saver spare, accessible via a lift action that keeps the cover up for easier access.
Engine and transmission
Why would you buy a Golf GTI? For its ultra-slick performance that’s strong enough to catch the unwary by surprise, greased-lightning six-speed manual shifter, and commanding chassis confidence, that’s what.
And the Original is a thoroughbred. Turn that key and the 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo powertrain roars into life, hinting at a can-do eagerness that’s bound to put a smile on the sourest face.
Prod the accelerator, slot it in first and let yourself go. The VW springs into life, pulling with turbine, torquey smoothness all the way to the red line.
Before you know it, you’re upshifting, and there’s still much, much more left in store, as the performance piles on with relentless, addictive ease. It’s life-affirming, utterly addictive stuff. What a belter.
Conversely, there’s enough flexibility for the Golf to putter along at low speeds in a high gear without splutter or complaint.
After hours of drinking in all this sparkling oomph, you might expect to pay the price at the bowser, but no. We averaged sub-8.0 litres per kilometre over a couple of tankfuls of 98 RON premium unleaded, making us think of having cake and gorging on it as well.
For the record, the 0-100km/h claim is 6.4 seconds, and the official fuel figure is 6.6L/100km in manual guise.
Ride and handling
We found an empty, challenging mountain road and drove this Golf like its makers intended, and have come away convinced that no hot hatch offers quite this level of bandwidth.
Steering first. Pointy yet measured, you can carve through a corner with scalpel precision, aiming and hitting any mark you want, even at frenetic speed, and the Golf will remain as cool and collected and controlled as you’d hope for.
Up the ante and that hungry front end will pull you through, the tail lightening up in unison to how much throttle lift you’re prepared to give, while the intricately tuned stability control ebbs in and out gently to ensure you don’t overcook things.
All the while your palms know exactly what’s going on below. There are more razor-edged helms out there, as well as ones with even more feel and feedback, but we reckon this Volkswagen is about right in terms of filtering most of the bad stuff out as well.
Before this test we feared the missing adaptive dampers would pummel posteriors, but even on craggy, unforgiving surfaces, there is still sufficient levels of absorbency – if not the outstanding suppleness of, say, a Peugeot 308 GTi that costs about $8K more.
And the ride is more than good enough around town too, riding the bumps with a controlled firmness that’s expected for something this agile.
Some road noise drums through over coarser highway bitumen, but other than that, the GTI Original is comfortable enough when the Scalextric cornering speeds it’s capable of aren’t called for.
Some 42 years of honing the hot hatch shows, VW.
Safety and servicing
As with all Golfs, the GTI Original scores a five-star ANCAP crash-test safety rating.
The warranty period is for three-years/unlimited kilometres, with service intervals fixed at every 12 months or 15,000km, while owners will be able to see the cost of standard scheduled work for up to five years and over 75,000 kilometres.
The Golf GTI Original is meant to evoke the history and glory of a series that has had many great ups and quite a few downs since 1976.
But what a couple of thousand kilometres revealed to us is that Volkswagen has honed its performance bargain icon to the point where it is the ground zero of hot hatches of this size. Nothing quite offers this base mix of performance, refinement, agility, control and safety.
What we’re saying is that, even if your budget is $55K, take the cheapest GTI out for a long drive first, and then see if the others stack up as convincingly in all the important areas first.
The Original is close to being one of the best. Isn’t this what made the first fast Golf so brilliant all those years ago?
Hyundai i30 N from $39,990 plus on-road costs
Indecently fast, with tremendous handling, Hyundai’s first serious tilt at the Euro hot-hatch is an industry wake-up call, ticking every box and then some.
Adaptive dampers sooth the ride while most conceivable luxuries are also included, making the N extraordinary value. Only the drab dash mars an otherwise knockout buy.
Peugeot 308 GTi $45,990 plus on-road costs
If the Frenchy offered AEB (even as an option) and sharper pricing, it might be on top of our rankings, but even as it is, the 308 GTi’s combination of driver interactivity, powertrain performance, chassis poise, ride suppleness, cabin design and overall practicality should put it at the point end of any enthusiast’s shortlist. Crazily underrated.
Renault Megane GT $40,990 plus on-road costs
Pricey but not outclassed, the GT rises above the regular Megane’s, err, Nissan-like mundaneness thanks to the Renault Sport influence with terrific dynamic poise, a saucy interior and surprisingly strong performance from its 1.6-litre turbo/dual-clutch auto powertrain. We’d love a manual, though. The charming wagon’s even better.
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