Volkswagen’s Golf GTI has been a Kiwi favourite hot hatch but with the mildest of makeovers is it still the one to covet?
Volkswagen’s Golf range continues to tick along four years after it entered its seventh generation. The range has recently been updated, including the storied GTI. Credited as one of the founding members of the hot hatch genre, the GTI has developed into one of the great automotive all rounders; it’s a car that ticks a lot of boxes. But given that this generation is now middle aged, has the competition caught up with it?
Looking at the sales figures to June this year, we’d have to say no. The GTI continues to do the numbers; it’s not the cheapest but it’s the one buyers prefer. VW has an enviable reputation here, being thought of as a semi-premium Euro, while helping the GTI’s cause is its sporty auto transmission. By contrast, the manual-only Peugeot 308 GTI has only found two homes this year (while they’ve sold 23 of the auto GTD) and Ford has only sold six examples of the Focus ST which, admittedly, is getting on in age. The WRX is another performance orientated option, though it’s different being a sedan, and Japanese in origin. It’s hardly new either, but Subaru has managed to move 38 autos to just four manuals so far this year. So the new Hyundai i30 N is likely to struggle until the two-pedal version goes on sale here next year. Clearly, an auto is key to sales success, even for models with driver appeal. As for the GTI, VW NZ moved 45 of the pre-facelift model this year and has already done 34 of the new one, with just two manuals among those 79 registered.
So the GTI appears peerless in its market appeal. As to what they’ve changed for this mid-cycle makeover? Hmm, not that much really. It’s a case of not having to fix much, the formula being a winning one, which is lucky given that VW’s fix-it budget has been absorbed by the dieselgate saga. Styling updates are minor with the sheetmetal remaining the same while the grille and bumper take inspiration from the GTI 40 and revised headlights narrow its gaze. Equipment levels expand to include active cruise, AEB, lane keeping and BSM, and also a smart key, ambient lighting and smartphone compatibility via the upgraded infotainment system. The price is now $54,890 for the manual (indent only) and $57,390 for the auto.
The GTI’s tartan cloth trim returns again, though there are two optional choices; honeycomb-patterned microfibre or leather, the latter adding heaters and power adjustment. We say keep your money as the standard tartan is the way to go. You can also upgrade the infotainment system to a larger screen which does away with the conventional knobs and adds voice and gesture control. Also on the options list are the configurable active instrumentation, a wireless charging pad, bigger 19-inch alloys and adaptive dampers. Buyers would be wise to add the $1200 scheduled servicing plan, covering three years or 45,000km. Best to get the pain out of the way up front.
The output of the GTI’s 2.0-litre turbo rises slightly to 169kW with the same 350Nm of torque. VW says it’ll return 6.7L/100km on average. The six-speed twin-clutch also returns, helping the GTI click off 100km/h in 6.5sec while the 80-120km/h overtake takes 3.6s. VW NZ is not offering the GTI Performance model this time, as it found few takers last time around. The new version of the latter sounds capable though with 180kW, 370Nm, a new seven-speed twin-clutch, achieves 0-100 in a claimed 6.2sec and retains the electronic front diff lock mechanism.
But it’s not as if the regular GTI is that slow. It’s not rabid, just quick and easy to pilot. There’s the progressive rack with a quickening of the steering the further you turn it away from centre. This makes for easy corner entry and there’s enough feedback to make it interesting. If you manage to overdo things, the torque vectoring function of the ESP will help stave off the inevitable understeer. The ESP will do its darndest to calm the flow of Newtons when you gas it out of the bends, which helps limit wheelspin and torque steer. It works seamlessly when the road is dry, though wet surfaces prove tricky and so you need to exercise some throttle restraint. It can struggle off the mark too when wet; you’re better to ease into it to avoid the odd bout of axle tramp.
You can pedal the GTI along briskly and it’s never a taxing drive. It’s not upset by bumps, the ride is sporty but not harsh, and weight transitions are easily managed. The twin-clutch you can leave to sort itself in Sport mode or you can shift with the paddles which summon changes in a quick manner. Brakes are up to task while the Potenza rubber offers up a good grip to road roar ratio. Some hot hatches are more thrilling, demanding more of the driver, but none is as polished, or as easy to live with as the GTI.
Helping its cause are the GTI’s various drive modes, even if the button is obscured by the shifter in our market. Sport isn’t overly racy, it’s tolerable in town if you like a sharper throttle pedal, and there’s the Individual setting to tamper with, which even lets you set the augmented engine note to your liking. When set to Sport it sounds kind of interesting, but never overbearing.
It’s a quick hatch around town and the ride’s not too sharp, but those wanting to add more decorum at lower speeds might like the optional adaptive dampers for their cushier comfort setting. The addition of active cruise with a stop-and-go function in traffic is a welcome one.
The engine hauls well from low revs, and though this test car has probably seen its share of the lash, its long term average was sitting at 9.5L/100km. The sports seats give you a hug but are otherwise comfortable and there are no hard bolsters to contend with. The cabin oozes quality, and though there’s a lot of plastic on display these are premium surfaces, and its built so well there’s never a squeak from the dash.
And the hatch practicalities offer five-door convenience, a reasonable hold in the back, and easy dimensions to manage, made even easier with sensors and a clear view from the reversing camera.
So even if VW didn’t do a whole lot for this makeover, it’s hard to see the GTI failing to tick the numbers over in the way its rivals simply cannot. The GTI is likely to remain the benchmark all rounder in this hot hatch segment for a few more years yet.
|Model||VW Golf GTI||Price||$57,390|
|Engine||1984cc, IL4, T/DI, 169kW/350Nm||Drivetrain||6D, FWD|
|Fuel Use||6.6L/100km||C02 Output||148g/km|