The seventh-generation Golf has earned raves from all quarters – this publication included – for its blend of solidity, refinement and agility. It stands to reason that expectations were that GTI version would raise an even bigger grin on the face of drivers. Our verdict: absolutely.
It hasn’t always been so. The original, launched here in 1982, was followed up by some less than stellar examples of the breed as VW struggled to find a balance between sensible and the cheeky zippiness that was a GTI trademark from the get-go. Three decades on, the 2013 GTI has traded refinement for brashness, but it definitely doesn’t lack in the zip department. Performance fans certainly won’t be disappointed in this superbly poised speedster, even if the more gung-ho are clamouring for the Sport Pack version that’s been acclaimed overseas.
It’s hard to believe that the first-generation GTI’s 81 kW – 110 horsepower in the old currency – so bracing in the original, is half the output of the current model’s 162. (The first version, introduced in 1976, was an 81 kW 1,6, but the GTI made it here only 6 years later, by which time its engine had grown to a torquier 1,8 with an 82 kW output.)
The current version of VW’s 2,0-litre turbocharged direct injection engine used in the GTI has a reworked cylinder head with an integrated water-cooled exhaust gas circulation loop to the turbocharger. VW says this plays a big role in fuel economy at full load; in line with the moves towards greater efficiency, the GTI’s BlueMotion Tech features a stop/ start system and a 6-speed gearbox as standard, in addition to the car’s significantly improved aerodynamics and 42 kg weight reduction. Overall, at 6,0 litres/100 km it’s a massive 1,3 litres/100 km better than its 155 kW predecessor.
But really, the GTI is about the driving. We drove only the 6-speed dual-clutch version, which besides providing near seamless shifts adds that now characteristic throttle blip that boy racers seem to find addictive. Find a series of s-bends and the GTI smoothly makes the transitions from left to right as the body-hugging seats signal the significant lateral g forces. Dive into a hairpin under hard braking and the transfer of weight is progressive and superbly communicated. Put your foot down, and with a decisive shove in the back the GTI sprints past slow-moving traffic. Official performance figures include 0 to 100 km/h in 6,5 seconds and a top speed of 246 km/h (244 with DSG). More importantly for everyday driving, though, is midrange flexibility: here the GTI records a brisk 5,0 seconds from 80 to 120 in fourth gear, and just 6,0 seconds in fifth.
Dynamically speaking. Key elements of the GTI’s handling dynamics are its modular rear suspension, advanced XDS+ vehicle dynamic function (a development of the XDS system introduced on the Golf 6) and a new progressive steering system. Integrated into the car’s stability control program, XDS+ is an electronic differential lock that both improves agility and limits unnecessary steering inputs by braking the wheels on the inside of bends. Effectively, it is designed to reduce understeer and improve traction. An additional “ESC Sport” function delays stability control from intervening (it’s not off altogether) for more agile handling in race-like situations.
Drivetrain: 2,0, fwd, 6M/6A
Output: 162 kW/350 N.m
Performance: 0-100 6,5 s; top speed 244
Economy: 6,0 L/100 km (man)
Price: manual R368 300; DSG R382 800.