Australia is one of the biggest markets in the world for the Volkswagen Golf GTI. About one in four Golfs sold locally are the hot hatch version.
It’s popular not because we’re a nation of revheads, but because it’s priced at a $40,000 sweet spot that’s accessible to the masses.
By choosing a GTI it’s as if Australians are saying “if I’m going to downsize to a small car then I’m damn well getting one with the works”.
Just as many buyers choose a Golf GTI for its impressive equipment list, fuel economy and practicality as they do for its turbocharged engine and driving thrills. It also has enough visual appeal to say “I’m not driving a Corolla”, but nor is it enough of a hoon to attract unwanted attention from the constabulary.
So a new Golf GTI is big news. This one is the seventh generation in 37 years, and the first new-from-the-ground up model in almost a decade. With 1.9 million global sales, it is the world’s top-selling hot hatch.
It is so important Volkswagen put a former Porsche engineer in charge of the development of the latest Golf GTI. This time around, though, Volkswagen delivered two versions: a regular model and a premium-priced Performance Pack which has more power, bigger brakes and heavy-duty hardware that helps it better handle corners.
As we would discover, however, this two-pronged strategy has created a dilemma. Which is the real Golf GTI, and has Volkswagen held too much back on the base model to create a second tier?
Volkswagen rolled back prices for the new Golf range when it was introduced last month, but we will have to wait until October to find out what the new GTI will cost when it goes on sale locally.
Volkswagen says it is still negotiating the final price with Germany. But based on VW’s recent form the GTI will also need to be priced more sharply than before (its current RRP is $40,490 plus on-road costs but has been advertised at $39,990 drive-away in runout), especially given the new competition from the Ford Focus ST and Renault Megane RS.
Volkswagen Australia has confirmed the three-door Golf GTI will not be introduced with the new model. So we reckon a smart move would be to bring the five-door at or under the price of the three-door ($38,990 on its debut in 2009, but discontinued a couple of years later).
There was no “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” from VW with this pricing insight. It is our own guesswork, so don’t be surprised if dealers give you a strange look and lots of denials if you try to leave a deposit at this price. It’s our shot at the dartboard.
Given it’s the flagship, the new GTI will be available with every gadget introduced on the regular Golf range. The problem is, this far out, we don’t know what will be standard and what will be optional.
So here’s our second attempt at the dartboard. The basics such as Bluetooth and a full assortment of airbags and the usual array of remote control this and push-button that will of course be standard.
The base model will probably come with 17-inch wheels (yet again) because Australia is viewed by VW’s German head office as being a market with harsh road conditions. We can’t blame them. Clearly they’ve travelled on the major arterials of our capital cities.
The good news is the snazzy and newly-designed 18-inch wheels you see in these pictures are expected to be readily available options. Other bling such as the cool LED tail-lights and the ice-cube-style headlights will likely be options, as will the high-end audio system, radar cruise control and sunroof, among other things.
You can bet the first batches of Golf GTIs into the country will come fully loaded with these extras whether you need them or not. Typically, when a new Golf GTI arrives those at the front of the queue have a choice: pay close to or in excess of $50,000 for the one with all the extras that’s in stock, or order yours without all the gear and wait up to six months. (It was actually nine months at its peak in the mid 2000s).
So do your homework and assess which of the gadgets you really need, versus what you think you really need (lane keeping, blind zone warning, radar cruise control, emergency braking, road sign recognition, self parking, dynamic chassis control, etal).
One gadget we really like but sadly is unlikely for Australia (for now) is the built-in WiFi. In Europe, where mobile data is cheaper than it is in Australia, you can tether your mobile devices to a built in SIM-card. It also enables the navigation to use Google Maps, so you can see the route amid images of the actual terrain, roads and buildings you’re driving past.
Unlike the sixth-generation Golf (which was in fact a reskin of the previous model) the seventh-generation is a new model from the ground up using Volkswagen’s brand new global architecture that will underpin most of its models for the next decade.
This explains why Volkswagen has been able to trim 42kg from the Golf GTI’s overall weight (from 1393kg to 1351kg) even though it is longer, taller, and wider than before. Although you can’t see its cleverness, it’s a smarter engineering layout that also delivers a bigger footprint.
As for external appearance, car buffs will have already noticed that this is the most overt-looking Golf GTI for some time. The red highlight trim in the grille now extends through the headlights, and the fog lights are framed inside a set of plastic whiskers that appear to be clawing the car (this treatment was much more subtle on the previous model).
Consider it a sign of a conservative Volkswagen bravely stepping outside its comfort zone. It is also a visual nod to the GTI’s new capabilities — depending on which model you buy.
I love the new regular Golf line-up. I voted for it in the World Car of the Year awards. It will likely clean sweep this year’s awards in Australia. And I like the new Golf GTI but (deep breath) it doesn’t feel like the previous two models, which hugged the road like extensions of your arms and legs.
As odd as it sounds I fear the new Golf GTI is almost too good for its own good. It feels so clinical it’s almost numb to the senses. The engine noise lacks the character of the Ford and Renault hot hatches. The Golf GTI’s exhaust blurt between gears is still there, but it’s muted by extra noise deadening.
In terms of dynamics the grip is there, the flat handling is there, and it’s relatively nimble (even though it is wider than before), largely thanks to the clever new steering system (two turns lock to lock for the diehard propeller heads).
But with the previous two Golf GTIs, you could feel the car wriggle into its groove like a dog rolling around on its back trying to scratch an itch. The new one feels like you’re driving something from The Jetsons. Figuratively speaking, it feels like you’re hovering above the road, not glued to it like the old one.
There’s another minor issue: the 2.0-litre turbo engine is now underdone compared to power outputs of the Ford Focus ST and Renault Megane RS. The Golf GTI has a delay in power delivery below 2500rpm which I never noticed before — or maybe the Ford and Renault engines respond better. I suspect it’s the latter. Thankfully, the six-speed twin-clutch gearbox disguises this trait by not falling off boost as often.
Will Golf GTI fans love the new model? Absolutely. The new Golf GTI elevates hot hatch refinement to a new level, but Volkswagen is teasing us with the base model. Deep down, it feels like VW has held something back for the Performance Pack, which will come with a price premium when it goes on sale after the regular model either later this year or early next.
Ford and Renault have thrown everything at their hot hatches in an attempt to over-deliver (and in Ford’s case, undercut on price). But Volkswagen is now metering out its goodies: one power output for the Golf GTI, another for the GTI Performance Pack and then yet another for the top-line R version.
At the time of writing we had only sampled the regular Golf GTI. The Performance Pack has the rest of the motoring press in a blather. We are due to test it in the coming days. Would the real Golf GTI please step forward?
Volkswagen Golf GTI Mk7
Price: From $40,000 (estimated)
On sale: October 2013
Warranty: Three years/unlimited km
Service interval: 15,000km, 12 months
Capped price servicing: Yes, price TBA
Safety rating: 5 stars
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 162kW, 350Nm (or 169kW, 350Nm Performance Pack)
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed twin-clutch DSG auto
Thirst: 6.0L/100km (manual), 6.4L/100km (DSG)
Dimensions: (L/W/H): 4268/1799/1442mm
Spare: None. Tyre inflator kit.
0 to 100km/h: 6.5 seconds (standard), 6.4 seconds (Performance Pack)