2014 GOLF GTI REVIEW
What’s Hot: Buckets of torque, incredible traction even in the (very) wet.
What’s Not: 3-door model is gone for good, 'Performance Pack' is $6500 more.
X-FACTOR: The latest Golf GTI is the best yet, and a real benchmark.
Vehicle Style: Small five-door 'hot hatch'
Price: $41,490 manual, $43,990 DSG (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 162kW/350Nm 2.0 litre turbo four | 6spd man | 6spd DSG
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.2 l/100km manual | 6.6 l/100km DSG
When asked what rules your driveway, all you need say is "GTI", and everyone knows you're talking about the Golf.
In a way, Volkswagen has made the GTI name its own. More than that, it owns a benchmark.
So, then, does this hot Golf, the new GTI, still deserve its place at the top?
Volkswagen pointed TMR toward some sections of Tasmania's legendary Targa course this week - through a torrential downpour - to find out.
It's one of few small cars that blurs the lines between volume-selling and premium offerings.
The cockpit of the new GTI is no different. Understated and classy, the feel throughout isn't far off Audi territory.
Quality materials both soft and hard lead the way, along with beautifully-aligned panels and switches that fall to hand easily across a layout free of confusion.
As a GTI model, the familiar plaid trim is here, dominating the centre of the supportive bucket sports seats. Both manual and DSG auto models feature a dimpled golf-ball gear knob sitting atop the shift lever that looks and feels terrific.
It is also well-kitted with standard features including stop/start, park assist, automatic climate control, driver fatigue detection, multi-collision braking system, standard 5.8-inch screen with proximity sensors, sat-nav, CD player with SD card slot, and Bluetooth among a host of standard features ('city emergency braking' and adaptive cruise control are options).
? MORE: See our 2014 Golf GTI launch article for a full rundown on standard and optional equipment.
ON THE ROAD
For buyers seeking a hatchback both quick and practical, the GTI has always been an easy go-to option.
While the Golf 4 GTI of the 90s and early 2000s was short on power and lacked true 'hot hatch' dynamics, VW returned to form with the quicker and snappier Golf 5 GTI.
That theme continued with the Golf 6 GTI. From the launch in 2009, we wrote: "driving the GTI hard is a wholly visceral experience which, at the price, simply wallops its closest competitors."
So, you take our meaning when we say this new seventh-generation GTI is the best GTI ever.
It still ticks the practicality box: switch it to Comfort Mode and it will be happy to poke economically and quietly around town. But tap in Sport and it'll be even more pleased to unleash hell in the hills.
With 162kW and 350Nm on tap, the new GTI isn't a bucketload more powerful than its 155kW/280Nm predecessor - but it's the extra torque that gets the party going.
The overhauled 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo engine is helped by the new-generation Golf's lighter body.
It shows in the way it gets power to the road and its bristling responsiveness. Despite falling short by around 20kW, the new GTI feels a match for the Focus ST.
Of course, the enhanced torque set-up helps on that front, with the GTI's maximum twist now available from 1500rpm instead of 1700rpm.
The GTI's 'new' engine isn't the golden ticket to hot-hatch perfection of course - it pulls strongly in every gear, but there's a dash of lag just below 2500rpm, noticeable more with the manual gearbox than the DSG.
But, boy... pile on the revs and watch it (really) take off.
Torque steer is nearly absent, and while the new GTI will wrestle the road a little if you give it the full boot out of a corner, the trick XDL+ system - a brake-based torque distribution system - gets thing under control very, very quickly.
The Megane RS is the gold standard in this department, nailing its tyres to every corner in a way that simply defies description.
It's at that bleeding edge that the XDL technology shines.
The rain was properly coming down during the GTI launch event, but as our time with the car grew, so did our confidence in the traction system.
Point it at a corner and feel the XDL combine with the tight chassis and the GTI's new progressive steering. At just 2.1 turns lock-to-lock, there's little of the usual elbow overlap that comes with a tight fast turn.
The stability control system can't be completely deactivated, but, as we discovered, it rarely gets in the way of a good time.
Go for the DSG model equipped with the Performance Pack - available in the second quarter of 2014 - and Volkswagen switches out the XDL+ for a mechanical diff that can send 100 percent of torque to either of the front wheels as needed. (Watch out for our review of that one...)
Volkswagen's Adaptive Chassis Control is also now standard with the Golf GTI, which is a good thing: it used to be a $1500 option.
It's also welcome. It's the presence of those Comfort and Sport modes that make the GTI a compliant commuter and a loutish hotbox.
Black marks are hard to find in the new GTI, you have to be picky.
We're fans of the outgoing model's exhaust pop with the DSG auto - that gnarly 'brap' as you rocket away from the lights - but it's gone a little quieter in this new one.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
We asked earlier: does this hot Golf still deserve its title as "the hot-hatch benchmark"?
We think so. We'll need to give it the usual week-long interrogation before we can contemplate a crown, but one thing is certain, it's easily the best Golf GTI ever.
It's near impossible to fault for build quality inside and out, its cabin is both spacious and classy, and it's a blessed mix of both liveable and lively on the road.
Of course, it's again among the more expensive in the hot-hatch market, and it's now muscled-up against some pretty capable machinery. The Megane RS 265 and Focus ST both demand attention.
But with previously optional items now standard - 18-inch wheels and Adaptive Chassis Control in particular - and the hugely capable XDL+ system headlining the driving aids, the new Golf GTI is just good buying.
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