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Tim O'Brien | Oct 28, 2009 | 0 Comments

SHARPER, FASTER, tighter, leaner… yes, the benchmark for the sector is even better. Volkswagen’s new Golf GTI, now built ‘at home’ in Wolfsburg Germany, sets a new standard for the affordable hot-hatch, but at a familiar price.

If you enjoyed the old GTI (and who didn’t), you’re going to love this one.

It is simply a cracking drive: thread the needle accuracy at the wheel, fast, superbly balanced, an uncanny ability to keep power to the tarmac when pressing on (which belies its front wheel drive configuration), and as quick as a greased ferret around a mountain road.

And importantly, when at work, though the old GTI’s growl has been tamed it has been replaced with the most delicious and lascivious rasp. Even better; under the whip in the DSG, each change up – we’re talking 40 millisecond shifts here - is accompanied by a Formula 1-style “womp” from the twin pipes out back.

Driving the GTI hard is a wholly visceral experience which, at the price, simply wallops its closest competitors.

On the basis of this first drive (and some longer hours at the wheel will be a better test), Volkswagen would seem to have done everything right. When word gets out, the GTI is going to have Mitsubishi and Subaru chewing their pillows and breaking out into feverish sweats.

We put both variants through their paces in the Victorian Alps – the DSG and the six speed manual. It’s not possible to drive either of these cars without grinning like a perfect idiot.

For sublime balance, for performance at a price, for enjoyment at the wheel, the Golf GTI sets the standard. This is the ‘hot hatch’ at its finest.

(It’s fitting really, seeing as Volkswagen started this hot-hatch thing all those years ago with the first Golf GTI.)

 

The Drive

The heart and soul of the GTI is in the way it drives: this is a car that really rewards at the wheel.

Tractable and well-behaved, and with a tight turning circle, it would be perfectly happy poking around the ‘burbs.

It is also commendably quiet at highway speeds and beyond, with no wind noise and minimal tyre roar. And it’s comfortable: the seats, although heavily bolstered for performance driving, are nicely shaped for long distance touring.

It is the kind of well-featured car you might consider buying simply for its premium feel and appealing lines.

But at its core it is a car for drivers. Get set at the wheel, fire it up, and you know you’re in a special car.

The GTI pulls strongly in every gear, hunts down the legal limit in rapid time, goes about things with a delicious bark, and, unlike some Euro sports models, is free of jarring and the ‘thwack’ of a short-travel suspension over broken edges and pot-holes.

However its real brilliance, and that of the XDL differential, only emerges when really forcing the pace. Then, the GTI holds the road like each wheel has been individually nailed to it.

It can simply be howled into corners and it refuses to unsettle.

We had all four wheels singing a chorus on entry and shrieking on exit and couldn’t fault it. On long inside-out negative camber turns, where the forces load and load relentlessly, you can simply keep the shoe in and the GTI will haul you through. Who needs all-wheel-drive with these sublime levels of balance and traction?

Former F1 driver Hans Stuck assisted during development of the GTI’s brilliant XDL differential system. It shows; when pushing the GTI hard, it is, as he commented, “difficult to tell you are in a front-wheel-drive car”.

Of course, you can shred your licence in little more than a handful of seconds in the GTI – it will happily run to double the legal limit and more. But its superb handling and balance, and connectedness at the wheel, is evident at any speed.

Quite simply, few cars offer such enjoyment or stir the passions quite like the new GTI at its $40k (give or take) price point.

What a bonus it is then that you can buy one for the family, have room in the back for the kids, and extra cargo space if you need it by folding the seats down, and still reward yourself with some secret pleasures at a club track day or on a winding mountain pass.

 

The Verdict

More than the Passat, more than the R32 and the CC, the Golf GTI is arguably the standard bearer for the Volkswagen brand in Australia. It’s the model that has found a place in the hearts of enthusiasts.

It stirs the imagination; speaks to the keen driver and makes the blood run a little hotter. And it’s the model that generates the column inches for the VW brand.

The new GTI is simply a superb drive. It is improved in so many important ways over the previous model (which was far from shabby), and is, as mentioned in the introduction to this piece, the benchmark for the sector.

Volkswagen has made its super ‘hot-hatch’ into a brilliant one.

Lastly, availability – can you get a GTI if you want one? Long supply times was the bug-bear with the previous South African built model. Some buyers waited as long as twelve months to put their GTI in the garage.

New Volkswagen Australian Boss Anke Koeckler is adamant this won’t be a problem with the new model. On sale now, there are 650 cars in the country and another 200 in transit – ‘on the water’.

For special orders and trim and feature configurations, the wait will be three months.

Pricing, as mentioned, is very sharp. The entry price of $38,990 (plus on-road costs) for the three-door manual remains unchanged. This rises to $40,490 for the five-door manual; and for DSG, simply add $2500.

So, that’s the story as we see it. The 2010 GTI Golf is the best drive bar none for the money. What else need be said?

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