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Driven: Mk7 Volkswagen Golf GTI lands at $41,490

High-five: There is no longer a three-door Golf GTI sold here. For that, VW will kindly direct you over to the Scirocco.

New-generation VW Golf GTI hits local shores, hi-po ‘Performance’ version here soon

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1 Oct 2013

ENTRY into the Golf GTI club now costs $2500 more than before, but Volkswagen is confident increases in equipment levels, performance, efficiency and safety will offset the rise for prospective buyers.

Out now, and starting off from $41,490 plus on-roads for the manual and $43,990 for the DSG dual-clutch version, the Mk7 GTI is – for the time being – a five-door only proposition, so the price gap between old and new narrows to $1000 if the previous three-door is taken out of the picture.

But buyers will need to shell out $47,990 if they want the new GTI Performance model coming during the first half of next year, which offers an extra 7kW of power, a trick electronic front differential for improved traction, better brakes, uprated interior trim with Alcantara front seats, unique 19-inch alloy wheels, bi-Xenon high-intensity discharge lighting and DSG as standard.

This raises the spectre of a $52,000-plus Golf R when the high-performance all-wheel drive flagship arrives later in 2014. The discontinued Mk6 R kicked off from $49,990.

Among the previously optional or unavailable features now included in the base GTI are adaptive dampers, a five-mode driving program with a fuel-sipping ‘Eco’ setting, satellite navigation as part of an integrated 5.8-inch touchscreen colour display with a lap timer, 18-inch alloy wheels, idle-stop fuel-saving technology, a driver fatigue detector and a braking assistance system that helps apply maximum stopping force.

This means that there are now only five instead of 12 options available – including new-to-GTI $1300 Driver Assistance Package that brings low-speed emergency braking, radar-controlled automatic cruise control, an automatic parking aid called Park Assist 2 and Pro Active Safety occupant protection system that ‘prepares’ the safety systems for an impact.

As before, separating the boy racer from the proletarian Golfs are signature GTI visual touchstones including a hunkered-down road stance, honeycomb grille with a red stripe, twin chromed exhaust pipes, roof spoiler, bespoke rear lower diffuser, red brake callipers, specially designed wheels and that distinctive badge in upper-case font.

However, despite mirroring the previous-generation GTI’s style as well as specification, the Mk7 carries over virtually nothing from before.

Using the company’s all-new MQB transverse platform also shared with the latest Audi A3 and incoming Skoda Octavia III, the GTI increases in overall length (up 150mm to 4349mm) and width (up 14mm to 1799mm), yet is around 40kg lighter than before. The wheelbase is now 2620mm (up 46mm).

Under the bonnet is a variation of the EA888-series 1984cc 2.0-litre twin-cam direct-injection turbo four-cylinder engine found in the Audi S3, delivering 162kW of power from 4500 to 6200rpm, and 350Nm of torque between 1500 and 4400rpm, to the front wheels.

While that’s just a 7kW jump from before on 98 RON premium unleaded petrol, the impressive 70Nm torque hike helps shave almost half a second off the zero to 100km/h sprint-time – now rated at 6.5s (or 6.4s with the GTI Performance’s 169kW engine).

Aiding efficiency are a number of new-to-GTI features, such as variable valve timing on the exhaust as well as the inlet cam and valve lift control, a lighter engine (to the tune of 7.8kg), and pistons made from different alloys.

Furthermore, the cylinder head features a newly integrated exhaust manifold, with the turbo mounted directly on the cylinder head for faster responses on and off throttle.

Its cooling system now operates more effectively there is a new higher-pressure dual injection system (from 150 to 200 bar) that helps cut valve-train load and an electronic (rather than pneumatic) turbo wastegate has been introduced for reduced lag.

With less weight to haul around, and the inclusion of Volkswagen’s idle-stop system, fuel consumption improves to the tune of 18 per cent.

The official Australian combined average figures are now 6.2 litres per 100km for the standard six-speed manual and 6.6L/100km if we’re talking about the six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission, with the corresponding carbon dioxide emissions coming in at 144 and 153 grams per kilometre respectively.

MacPherson struts feature up front while the rear suspension consists of an advanced multi-link arrangement designed for precise cornering control. While it is similar in design to the set-up first seen in the Golf V in late 2003, there have been wholesale changes to suit the latest MQB application.

Steering, meanwhile, remains of the rack and pinion variety, but now is a variable-ratio electric system, designed to be lighter in built-up areas and yet sharper out on the open road. Lock-to-lock, turns are cut from three to two revolutions.

The improved ‘XDL+’ electronic differential lock provides for improved traction in demanding circumstances even in unbraked driving states, while the electronic stability control system is now a two-stage set-up with an ASR traction-off and an ESC Sport setting that increases the intervention threshold.

Volkswagen has revamped the brakes, now using 312mm diameter discs up front and 300mm ventilated items out back. They’re enlarged to 340mm/310mm units on the GTI Performance model.

Still on braking, the handbrake is now electrically activated rather than mechanical – a sop to improved packaging but a blow for hoons – with an automatic hill-hold function for easier driveability.

Yet some things remain the same, and in the GTI this is most obvious inside.

Yes, the interior is significantly roomier in the rear, with a correspondingly bigger boot area, while the quality uplift that sees the latest Golf feel like a million dollars inside also makes the transition here.

But the Mk1 GTI’s tartan interior trim remains as the default material choice – albeit updated in ‘Clark’ patterned upholstery for the 2014 model year.

Similarly, a flat-bottomed steering wheel returns, as do the red stitching, golf-ball gear knob, stainless-steel pedals and kickplates, and what Volkswagen calls its “chronograph” instrument dials.

Cargo capacity has grown 30 litres to 380L, while the deep floor hides a space-saver spare wheel.

Key options include metallic paint ($500), sunroof ($1850), bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime driving lights ($2150) and leather upholstery ($3150).

The GTI has regularly accounted for nearly one fifth of all Golf volume. 2011 was the old model’s best in Australia (selling 3348 units), with the series accounting for about 15 per cent of the total model mix last year.

With stock running low over the last six months, that figure has halved since then, but Volkswagen Group Australia managing director John White believes the newcomer will bounce back and improve on recent results.

“We’re expecting the GTI mix to be 15 to 20 per cent of the overall Golf business,” he said.

“Which means Australia is one of the markets in the world where we enjoy a higher performance sales mix for the Golf.” Volkswagen hopes to stave off the hard-charging Renault Megane RS 265 and Ford Focus ST, while Kia’s coming Pro_Cee’d GT will also be a menace.

To recap, though the first GTI was announced just two years after the original Golf surfaced in 1974, Australians had to wait until the last of the Mk2 models arrived in 1990. The badge then vanished for the entirety of the Mk3’s run in Australia, returning in disappointing 1.8-litre turbo Mk4 guise from 1999.

However, Volkswagen performed something of a minor miracle with the Mk5 GTI from late 2004 (May 2005 in Australia), giving it a lightness and edginess lacking for more than a decade, to re-establish the sub-brand as a performance icon.

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