New Volkswagen Golf GTI. FIRST DRIVE

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Still there? Good. I’ll move onto the drive now, promise. And let’s not beat around the bush, it is very good.

Once onto the back roads, we select Sport through the second generation Dynamic Chassis Control system, which automatically firms up the sports suspension and increases steering heft (there’s also an Individual function to the DCC that allows you to individualise settings for the suspension, steering and throttle among others). One blat to the loud pedal and it’s clear the GTI has lost none of its poke. There’s a glorious muted growl from the exhaust pipes as the rev counter needle launches its way ceaselessly towards the redline. Optimum torque comes in from 1500rpm onwards up to 4400rpm, meaning pick-up out of hairpins and through the twisting stretches of asphalt is magnificent, peak horsepower from 4700rpm up to 6200rpm simultaneously encouraging you to keep the accelerator nailed to the brink. Only when you dip well below the 1000rpm mark in the higher gears will you feel the engine start to lag (though in fairness, that’s expected of most models). Smooth delivery from all four cylinders means there is little intrusion from the turbocharger, while there’s more than enough grunt throughout the rev range to get the speed up quickly.

It should probably be mentioned at this point that our opening Tornado Red test model – hallelujah! – has a six-speed manual gearbox, the deft response and ease-of-transfer from which allows us to really push the Golf hard through the winding stretch of mountain road. Since this is unlikely to make it to the Middle East though, we swap to a model showcasing VW’s six-speed DSG automatic gearbox. Up and downshifts are still superbly smooth yet responsive, the transition from second to third or upwards through the paddle shifts in no way hindering the delivery of all 220 neighing horses. Hit the high revs, and a magnificent burble from the overrun ricochets ever so delicately through the cabin: not enough to shout it’s presence à la a V10 muscle car, but a magnificent warble that encourages you to push both the transmission and the engine for all they’re worth. Punishment which the GTI is more than happy to take.

This being a front-wheel drive configuration, there is a lariness to the front end. Solid heft and ample grip through the tyres mean connection between driver and the wheels is impressively easy to find, a result of the progressive steering that makes its debut on the GTI. With smaller adjustments needed at the wheel (full lock can be achieved at 2.1 turns rather than 2.8), you’ll rarely overreach, and control for the front end is maintained. Of course, even the best of us can run out of talent, and a couple of ambitious corners in the wrong gear can bring understeer to the VW party despite superb balance and poise: indeed, the seventh gen GTI now measures a centre of gravity friendly 27mm shorter than the outgoing model and boasts a ride height 15mm lower. Rarely does pushing too hard prove an issue though, throttle response more than ample to correct a mistake and – if worse comes to the worse – brakes that are as feelsome as they are effective: the only way to stop faster is by hitting a wall.

For those of you who want front wheels on rails – which the GTi comes very close most of the time to achieving – there’s also the GTI Performance Pack. As well as packing 10hp extra, this model comes as standard with the company’s XDS+ system, the prominent feature of which is the Torque Vectoring Effect. When accelerating through a corner, torque is automatically transferred to the outside wheel to distribute the load more effectively and consequently counter-act potential understeer, a system comparable to that used on the Porsche 911. The act of nailing the throttle when you feel the front end start to go, only for more grip to appear and push the car effortlessly around the corner, certainly takes some getting used to. It’s certainly very effective, but one that does not come as standard on the GTI. Indeed, it is unconfirmed whether the GTI Performance will even make it to the Middle East.

To this particular reviewer however, it wouldn’t be a big loss. There’s so much grip that the front end requires a lot of push to run off the edge. But let’s be honest, we expect a front-wheel drive hot hatch to be a little lairy. What does surprise is the relaxed manner in which said lairiness is achieved: sports suspension will not reduce your spine to rubble on highway cruises; the sports seats offer both magnificent lumbar support and a comfortable ride; even in the high revs with pistons bouncing off the bonnet, adequate noise reduction means conversation remains uninterrupted.

Honestly, it’s difficult to pinpoint much wrong with the new Volkswagen Golf GTI. Yes, an electronic parking brake is a bit disappointing (what is a hot hatch without a manual handbrake?), steering response in Normal driving mode can perhaps prove a little light, and the principal of an Eco drive option through the DCC may seem downright barmy to GTI aficionados, but this would be nit-picking. Truth of the matter is that this particular double-edged sword will leave a mark that rival manufacturers will feel deeply, and one against which they will find it difficult to fight against.

Categories: Car Review,Road


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