Car of the Year as well, winning European, Japanese and New Zealand awards for 2013.
Base price: $59,750.
Powertrain and performance: 2.0-litre turbo petrol four, 162kW/350Nm, 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual, front-drive, Combined economy 6.4 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 6.5 seconds.
Vital statistics: 4268mm long, 1442mm high, luggage capacity 380-1270 litres, fuel tank 50 litres, 18-inch alloy wheels.
We like: Understated style, undeniably accomplished in almost every respect.
We don’t like: Expensive, impressive rather than exciting.
How it rates: 8/10
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?
The seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf is very much the car of the moment. Car of the Year as well, winning European, Japanese and New Zealand awards for 2013. So the Golf is a great car. But is the GTI version a great hot hatch? It’s slightly more powerful than the previous model, a lot more economical (by 18 percent) and comprehensively equipped. On paper, it looks promising indeed.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
Everything about the GTI driving experience is understated. That’s important to know, because it’s easy to forget how fast and capable this car really is. The 2.0-litre engine is strong and smooth, and while the soundtrack is suppressed it does display a hint of aural aggression under load. The dual-clutch gearbox is a six-speed rather than VW’s usual seven-cog unit (the GTI engine has too much torque for that, or so they say), but with such a linear power delivery you don’t really miss the extra ratio. The chassis has an effortless poise that belies the sheer cornering speed this car is capable of. The steering is light, but boasts a progressive ratio mechanism that gets tighter the harder you turn – ultimately there are just 2.1 turns lock-to-lock. But the tiller never feels overly aggressive. VW’s XDS traction control software, which mimics the effect of a limited-slip differential, is standard and works brilliantly in getting the power down in tight turns or through bumpy corners. The suspension is sublime, combining a supple ride with excellent control. The GTI is one of those cars that proves you don’t have to endure a rock-hard ride to enjoy high-speed cornering capabilities.
IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?
Well, at the end of the day the GTI is still a five-door Golf so you get all of the practicality and refinement that comes with that. It’s a spacious and incredibly well-finished machine, as indeed it should be for the price. At just under $60k, the GTI hasn’t benefitted from the dramatic price realignment applied to the mainstream Golf range. Still, this is one small car with a premium feel. The cabin materials are first rate and the whole thing reeks of German good sense. The infotainment touch-screen is a good example of the attention to detail: the icons enlarge when you bring your fingers close to the readout and the screen is capacitive, so you can pinch and swipe the display to navigate or enlarge/diminish.
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
Despite being completely and utterly new, the GTI still seems like more of an evolution than a revolution. That’s no bad thing, when the last two GTI-generations have been such standout models. This GTI is certainly the most capable and usable iteration yet. It offers staggering performance and handling with no cost to comfort, fuel efficiency or practicality. Where it has fallen back a little is excitement: being such a great all-rounder means the GTI has lost a little of its edge. Perhaps VW realises that already. In April we’ll see a Performance version of the GTI, with a 169kW engine upgrade, larger brakes, mechanical limited-slip differential, Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) and gas-discharge headlights. The GTI Performance will cost $65,500. Then there’s the ultimate GTI – which is not badged a GTI at all. The Golf R arrives in February with a 224kW 2.0-litre turbo engine, for $70,990.
Air conditioning: Dual climate
Audio: CD, iPod compatible
Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
Blind spot warning: No
Cruise control: Yes
Driver footrest: Yes
Gas discharge headlights: Optional ($3000 with cornering function)
Head-up display: No
Heated/ventilated seats: No
Keyless entry/start: Optional ($1250)
Lane guidance: No
Leather upholstery: Optional ($4000 with heating)
Parking radar: Front and rear
Power boot or tailgate: No
Power seat adjustment/memory: No
Remote audio controls: Yes
Satellite navigation: Yes
Seat height adjustment: Yes
Self-parking technology: Optional ($750)
Split/folding rear seats: 60/20
Steering reach adjustment: Yes
Trip computer: Yes