The timing of things can be fortuitous sometimes; A Wheel Thing was fortunate to have the Volkswagen Golf 103 Highline in the driveway when Wheels magazine announced the Golf as recipient of their prestigious Car Of The Year award. The week prior A Wheel Thing had the presence of the top of the range GTi, so, like any smart person, a drive to the Hunter Valley was called for, to sample fine wine in liquid and four wheeled form.
The roads chosen were windy, twisty, varying in elevation, the ideal test for such a vaunted chariot. Starting from the lower Blue Mountains directly west of Sydney, north through Penrith and Windsor and through to the delightful Wisemans Ferry, to the joy of the two younger occupants of the GTi. From here the nose went east then snaked north, paralleling the freeway before coming to a right hander at Wollombi before nor’easting to Cessnock, southern gateway to the Hunter Valley.
The GTi is powered and that’s definitely the appropriate word, by a firebreathing 2.0L turbo petrol engine. With 162kW on offer there’s plenty of upper end however there’s an astonishing 350 Newton metres of torque from as low as 1500rpm. Coupled to VW’s six speed DSG (direct shift gearbox http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct-Shift_Gearbox) it’s enough to launch the 1300 odd kilo hatch to 100 km/h in a handy 6.5 seconds (claimed). Given some welly it’s a shove in the back as the gearbox ratchets its way through with barely a feel of change whilst the dual exhaust emits a snarly pop on the upshift. It’s immensely flexible and incredibly linear in its delivery, thanks to some tricky engineering like the TSI system (http://www.volkswagen.com.au/en/technology_and_service/technical-glossary/tsi-engine.html dual fuel injection (cylinder and inlet port), friction reduced internals and variable valve timing. Somewhat surprising is the lack of torque steer through the front driven wheels; it’s simply unnoticed if there was any, possibly due to the torque vectoring system fitted. Gears can be selected via both the lever and the finely finished paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
The Golf GTi comes with switchable suspension settings (think Cabernet Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Shiraz), ranging from Comfort through Normal and Sport to personalised settings, which remained untouched during A Wheel Thing’s tenure. Due to the abysmal road surfaces on much of the trip, Comfort was selected which did its best to absorb most of the lumps. Normal firmed up the response whilst Sport went harder and, sometimes, was the better pick for the unevenness. The GTi sits flat in turns at speed but, on the most unsettled surfaces, still managed to crash through to the bumpstops although there was no ongoing rebound or wallowing. Around town in Cessnock, the GTi is mild mannered, well behaved, docile, showing no signs of the demon that lurks under its shapely bonnet. The table top flat torque (available past 3500rpm) eases the Golf around with no fuss, with the stop/start system (normal key ignition, not press button) kicking in when the brake pedal is depressed far enough; a light lift of the foot keeps the brake on but restarts the engine. Being a dual clutch transmission, there’s some hesitancy, a delay when moving from reverse back to first and some indecisiveness on light throttle. Combined with the Normal suspension it makes for an exhilarating drive. Then there’s the pin point steering, responsive to the mildest touch and with a progressive feel lock to lock, entered via a solid, chunky yet tactile, flat bottomed tiller.
The seventh generation Golf is much like its cousin, the 911, stamped definably with DNA traceable to the very first of its kind. Five door hatchback, wheels pushed to the corners, solid C pillar, shortish bonnet and decent glasshouse have been design hallmarks of the Golf since its release in the mid 1970s. This model is an evolution of the previous, with subtle changes to the nose, headlights and rear lights. Colour plays a big part in how a car looks and the GTi provided came in a glossy fire engine red, complete with black plastic highlights and LED daylight running lights (DRL). It certainly looked the part, especially with the five spoke “pick axe” style alloys, clad in grippy 225/45/18 tyres. Punted through corners on flat surfaces, the Golf is superglued velcro, the suspension working to keep the car flat, the steering responding almost as if though thought was being transmitted via the driver’s brain, the engine delivering when asked and the exhaust barking in response. On the back roads in the wine country, it’s a tantalising, almost sensual experience.
Of somewhat questionable flair is the tartan seat covering; contrasting vividly against the varying shades of black in the interior, it’s a bright if somewhat unusual choice of fabric for the sporty and comfortable seats. Being a smallish car overall, rear leg legroom is immediately compromised. Thankfully for the smaller occupants, their father isn’t eleventy feet tall but there still was noticeable shoving in the back. The dash itself is elegant yet simple; a lovely touch that harkens back to analogue screens is the rolling number change for distance covered rather than the traditional instant change plus also offers compass direction. The dials have a classic look, simple black on white with a chrome ring lending class whilst framing a screen with an efficient colour graphic depicting the vehicle itself. Climate control aircon, a small yet clearly legible monochrome touchscreen with a presence sensing feature, colour map display (with a voice readout that was sometimes out by 300 metres) that worked on a pinch and pull zoom basis plus showed your road location on the radio screen, bluetooth, rear parking camera and heated seats complete the picture. Of note was the fuel gauge; it barely moved as in there was no movement until the 180km mark, then suddenly a quarter of the 50 litre tank was shown to have been used….that’s not entirely inspiring. A note on that gauge; it’s broken into fifteen segments, rather than a standard four or even eight. Economy averaged around 9L/100km over the week. Rear cargo space is reasonable, holding a decent week’s worth of shopping, a 60/40 split fold rear plus ski ported rer seat setup plus there’s a full sized spare (steel) wheel under cover. The boot opens via the prominent VW badge. Safety wise there’s airbags aplenty, electric parking brake and hill start assist, collision sensing braking and more.
The Golf GTi is like a fine red wine that’s been cellared; subtle yet powerful, improving over time from a good if somewhat rough base, to a well honed and thoroughly enjoyable experience. The sediment particles left over are the downsides of the GTi, unavoidable to a point but are there none the less. From a tick under Au$42k for the manual and $44k (plus on roads, check your local dealer) for the DSG auto, it may seem pricey to some, but when you factor in the sheer useability as an overall package, especially if purchased to be used by one or two people that enjoy what the driving experience is all about including that slingshot like acceleration and go kart handling, it’s a small price to pay for an awarding winning car. There’s a three year and unlimited kilometre warranty, capped price servicing to go with the twelve month/15000k service intervals to sweeten the deal.
More details can be found here: http://www.volkswagen.com.au/en/models/golf/highlights.html