2013 VOLKSWAGEN GOLF REVIEW
[Photography note: thanks to Paddy's Bricks for the backdrop]
Vehicle Style: 5-door small hot hatch
Price: $43,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 162kW/350Nm 4cyl turbo petrol | 6sp twin-clutch auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.6 l/100km | tested: 9.2 l/100km
Hot hatches are, well, pretty hot right now - they’re everywhere you look.
Got a small budget to work with? The $20,990 Barina RS might be your bag. Want to spend your six-figure bonus on something nice? Perhaps take a look at the mighty Mercedes-Benz A 45 AMG.
And there's everything in-between, in price, style and performance: like Hyundai's Veloster Turbo, the sublime M135i, Ford's cracking Focus ST, the venerable WRX STI, then the Fiesta ST, Renault's Megane RS, 208 GTi, Swift Sport… the list goes on.
But let's not forget what started the whole hot hatch ‘thing’. The Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Now in its seventh generation, the Golf GTI is arguably the best it has ever been. Comfortable, yet capable. Sporty, yet practical.
The price/equipment ratio has also been tweaked, making the new GTI $2500 more than the model it replaces, but loading in some extra gear.
The seventh-gen GTI has very good genes, and that’s particularly evident inside the cabin.
The interior is just as well-built as any other Mk7 Golf (in other words, it’s class-leading), and the tartan cloth upholstery is a GTI hallmark.
Other touches include the stainless-faced pedals, D-bottomed steering wheel (which is one of the best we’ve gripped all year), black headliner and red contrast stitching on the seats, gearlever and steering wheel.
It’s an unpretentious interior, and a comfortable one at that.
Being based on a small hatch has its virtues when it comes to interior packaging, and the Golf GTI can swallow four adults with ease.
But the focus is on the driver in the GTI. At the workbench, drivers are well served by thickly (but not overbearingly) bolstered seats and a huge range of adjustment to the seat and steering column.
Passengers are equally well looked-after. It’s an accommodating cabin, that’s for sure.
Key interior features:
- Tartan cloth upholstery, black headliner exclusive to GTI
- Flat-bottomed sports steering wheel
- Satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth audio/phone standard
- Rear air vents
- Boot capacity 380 litres, 1270 litres with rear seats folded
ON THE ROAD
For overall performance, the new GTI is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor.
Firstly (and most obviously), there’s the extra oomph from VW’s 2.0 litre turbo inline four.
Compared to the Mk6 GTI, the new car has 7kW more power and a whopping 70Nm more torque, tallying up to a total of 162kW and 350Nm.
Though not the most powerful hot hatch in the circa-$40k region (that award goes to the 195kW Megane RS 265), it’s more than enough for some really enjoyable spirited driving.
The standard transmission is a six-speed manual, but our tester came with the $2500 twin-clutch DSG. We like the manual, but as a performance transmission VW’s twin-clutch is hard to beat.
Low-speed engagement can be a bit iffy when trying to crawl through traffic jams, but when underway gear-changes are lightning-fast.
All it takes is a tap on the steering wheel-mounted paddles to row through the gears, with upchanges accompanied by a pronounced ‘whump’ from the exhaust. Downchanges, meanwhile, are perfectly rev-matched.
The gearbox takes power to the front wheels with the aid of VW’s XDL pseudo-LSD, which uses the brakes to mimic the effect of a limited-slip differential. Out on the road it works well, with the inside wheel braked just enough to curb wheelspin.
Torque steer is also blissfully absent.
The other reason why the GTI is such a satisfying drive, is its chassis.
For the Mk7, VW Australia has made the previously optional adjustable dampers part of the standard equipment package, and it works wonders.
Sport mode is a bit rough for the everyday, but Comfort is truly versatile.
We like it for its ability to iron out small lumps and bumps in the tarmac, yet still maintain good body control on twisty roads. Comfort mode though is far preferable to either Normal or the harder Sport setting.
But when the road gets smoother, Sport mode comes into its own. The suspension firms up, directional responsiveness is increased and body-roll is virtually non-existent.
The steering also becomes heavier in Sport mode, which may not be to everyone's taste. For us though, we found the sweetest configuration required some customisation.
Borrowing from sister brand Audi, the Mk7 GTI now allows the driver to set their own “Individual” drive mode to customise settings for the engine/trans, suspension and steering.
Us? We liked to have the engine set to Sport, suspension set to Comfort and the steering set to Normal.
The combination is unbeatable on a winding mountain road. Compliant enough to deal with ratty, poorly maintained roads, with outstanding engine response and steering that’s truly at the “Goldilocks point” between heavy and light.
Driven hard in this mode, the GTI is almost perfect.
Light on its feet with good feel through the electrically-assisted and variable-ratio rack, plenty of resistance to understeer and a chassis that’s as playful as you want it to be.
- 2.0 turbo intercooled petrol four, 162kW/350Nm
- 6-speed twin-clutch DSG automatic
- Front wheel drive
- Switchable traction control, Multi-mode Drive Chassis Control
- MacPherson Strut front, multi-link rear suspension
- All-disc brakes, sliding calipers
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - this model scored 35.92 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: Traction control, stability control (switchable), ABS, EBD, brake assist, seven airbags (dual front, side, full-length curtain and driver’s knee).
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Golf GTI is the original hot hatch, and the best.
Sure, “best” can mean many things. But, to our mind, a hot hatch that spends a good part of its time as an everyday driver has to balance performance with practicality, comfort and price.
And the seventh-gen Golf GTI does so perfectly.
It’s not the sharpest FWD hot hatch out there (remember the Megane RS 265 we mentioned earlier?), nor is it the heaviest hitter in terms of punch-per-dollar (that falls to the $38k Focus ST).
But it’s the midpoint between the two in just about every respect, and that’s a pretty happy medium. Buy one.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Golf GTI 6 Speed Manual - $41,490
- Golf GTI 6 Speed DSG - $43,990
- Golf GTI Performance Pack - $47,990 (arrives 2014)
- Metallic / Pearl Effect paint $500
- Panoramic electric glass sunroof $1,850
- Bi-Xenon headlights with LED daytime driving lights $2,150
- Vienna leather appointed upholstery $3,150
- Driver assistance package $1,300