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Thursday 4th June 2009


VW GOLF GTI: UK DRIVE

PH's Matt Rigby unleashed in VW's latest GTI

If you want to get a handle on the new Golf GTI, nip down to your local VW showroom and sit in one. You don’t need to drive it, you don’t even need to pore over the spec sheet, because the front seats pretty much tell you exactly what the Golf GTI is all about.

A GTI on the Continent - we drove it here!
A GTI on the Continent - we drove it here!
The seats hug and squeeze in an appropriately sporty manner, the signature tartan pattern of the seat fabric (of non-leather versions) would look odd in any other car, and the quality and feel of the chairs are impeccable. They also feel supremely - and immediately - comfortable.

And there lies the nub of the sixth incarnation of the Golf GTI. The red piping around the grille and four-square stance leave you in no doubt about its identity, but the expensive-looking cabin trim and those super-comfy seats hint at the fact that, rather like the BMW M3, the Golf GTI has become a more luxurious, high-end product than its terrier-like ancestors. Question is, has the change in character made the Golf a more desirable proposition, or has it lost a little of its thrilling edge?

If only Riggers had taken some pics...
If only Riggers had taken some pics...
Firing up the all-new EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (as already seen in various Audis) isn’t particularly encouraging. VW has developed what it calls a ‘sound generator’, which is a device situated on the engine side of the bulkhead that receives signals from the engine management system to produce an ‘authentic’ sound track during spirited driving. Unfortunately, the only result of this is that what is a dull-sounding but refined engine note at a steady cruise becomes slightly less refined when you stretch the GTI’s legs.

Perhaps I’m being a bit cruel, though, because apart from the new 208bhp 1984cc engine (it shares a swept capacity with the engine from the Mk5, but brings modified pistons and piston rings, a new induction system, a high-pressure fuel pump and an uprated oil pump) is a fine motor. It’s smooth, linear, and has a relentless thrust all the way through to the red line. If it had a little more aural character, it would be a real winner.

...we wouldn't have had to recycle these.
...we wouldn't have had to recycle these.
As for the chassis, there’s certainly no shortage of grip, and the ride is smooth, quiet and comfortable. All of which is fine for most of the people most of the time. The thing is, where the Mk5 Golf GTI really shone was that it brought back fun to the Golf GTI experience for the first time since the Mk2. Somehow, however competent the new Golf GTI is, fun always seems to be on the back burner.

Wind up the GTI coming off a tight roundabout, for instance, and the car grips, but the nose feels as if it wants to skip wide all the time.

Our advice is to leave the adjustable dampers in standard mode. In comfort the body control deteriorates a little, with noticeable heave and float over crests and undulations in the road, while sport mode feels a little nuggety, without bringing noticeable improvements to body control, at least on the road.

South of France looks nice though.
South of France looks nice though.
The steering is another minor disappointment. The wheel itself is the most fantastic device. From the shape, to the different leathers, to the chunky, embossed metal GTI logo on the lower spoke (which I could not stop fiddling with) it’s a tactile and visual sensation. In all seriousness, I cannot think of a steering wheel that has appealed to me more than the Golf GTI’s at any price point.

Unfortunately, despite a pleasing, chunky weighting, the steering itself isn’t inspiring. It’s accurate enough, but it doesn’t feel particularly sharp on turn-in, nor does it tell the driver a great deal about what’s going on beneath the front wheels.

Maybe if we said it was Torquay...
Maybe if we said it was Torquay...
As an object to own, the latest Golf GTI’s credentials are impeccable. It looks and feels every inch a Golf GTI, yet manages to be as luxurious, practical and comfortable as anybody could expect a hot hatch to be.

As an everyday mode of transport the GTI is also nigh on perfect. This is a car you could commute in everyday, or do a cross-continent motorway slog without feeling so much as a back twinge.

But does the Golf GTI cut it as a thrilling hot hatch? To succeed on that front it should be an exciting, terrier-like driving machine that you want to fling at your favourite B-road again and again. Sadly, however fast, grippy and composed it is, that hot hatch X factor - the urge to drive it, and drive it hard for no particular reason other than recreation - doesn’t quite come through.

UPDATE: I've finally got my hands on some UK shots...

A Golf GTI, this time in RHD
A Golf GTI, this time in RHD
GTI heritage is unmistakable
GTI heritage is unmistakable
 
'Those' seats again
'Those' seats again
Profile isn't the most exciting angle
Profile isn't the most exciting angle
 
There's still plenty of grip...
There's still plenty of grip...
...and plenty of dynamic composure
...and plenty of dynamic composure
 

 

Author: Riggers