The international launch of the new Volkswagen Golf GTI has brought crankandpiston to St Tropez in southern France. Gorgeous rolls of green hills, forest-scape and mountain rock are a feast for the eyes – as hopefully these snaps convey – during our combined five-hour 300km trek, despite stop-start traffic through Nice taking the edge off slightly.[Not a valid template]
The new seventh generation Volkswagen Golf GTI faced something of a double-edged sword on its international launch: it was always going to be good, but then, as a GTI, it had to be. There is, after all, 37 years worth of heritage attached to the name, one that – for many across the globe – is the epitome of a ‘hot hatch’: superb handling, good grunt, controllable lairiness and character. There’s not a huge grey area to fall into then. Indeed, since the launch of the original GTI in 1976, readily accepted as the first of its kind, there are plenty of models and manufacturers today who are keen to take the crown.
Volkswagen clearly thinks so too, and in the fine balancing act between heritage and development, the marque has clearly been putting the hours in at the design easel. VW’s updated 2.0-litre four cylinder – a staple of the VW/Audi family for almost five years – boasts both a turbocharger and newly developed cylinder heads, the latter of which has reduced fuel consumption by 1.3l/100km (18 percent) over the preceding GTI.
A nice side note, but it’s the power that grabs our attention. The 1984cc TSI unit produces 220hp – double that produced buy the original Mk. I GTI – and 258lb ft of torque. Combined, that equates to a 246kph top speed and a 0-100kph time of 6.5 seconds. This is aided in part by the use of new high-strength steel and modified MacPherson spring strut front suspension, which signals a 42kg weight saving over the previous GTI – the current gen model tipping the scales at 1356kg – and an improvement that is also shared by the seventh generation VW Golf base model.
Kit-wise then we’re off to a good start, but that’s not to say that VW has overlooked the GTI’s mainstays, some of which have even inspired further aesthetic developments. The GTI typical red trim strip across the front grille for example now doubles up with a thin red stripe that runs through the remodelled LED headlights. There’s even a thin red light strip that runs through the door panel, a nice touch albeit one that you’ll only notice in the dark.
The GTI standard black border around the outside of the rear window now meshes seamlessly with a new, more aggressively designed roof spoiler, while the twin chrome exhausts and black diffuser add some serious oomph to the hot hatch looks. There’s also further aggression to the front bumper, which has stronger and more dynamically carved air inlets. Combine that with 18-inch GTI-spec alloy wheels and a sharper bodyline across the doors, and we have a package as tidy as it is gorgeous.
We see a similar design ethic in the cabin. Whether anyone will notice/care that the traditional tartan upholstery is now called ‘Clark’ rather than ‘Jacky’ in deference to the pattern change remains to be seen. There’s no knocking the ergonomic sports seats however, which are easily adjustable and sit low enough for a near-perfect driving position. Changes to the wheelbase – which has grown 55mm in length and 13mm in width – mean head and legroom is ample for both front and backseat passengers, and a new eight-inch infotainment touchscreen make navigating the system a breeze (and there’s a Scirocco-esque multifunction steering wheel to further improve effectiveness). There’s even a new Google Earth system that provide Google Maps images straight to the sat-nav, though some customers may find this slightly more convoluted layout more difficult to use than others. In a nod to VW’s attention to detail, even the space between the brake and accelerator pedals has increased by 16mm.