2009 Volkswagen Golf GTI Pirelli Review

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2009 Volkswagen Golf GTI Pirelli Review & Road Test

Model Tested:

  • 2009 Volkswagen Golf GTI Pirelli, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, six-speed DSG, three-door - $47,490 (RRP)

Most powerful Golf GTI to date, great overall package; excellent value; sporty look & feel, great interior
Body-roll; Torque-steer

CarAdvice Rating:

- Photography by Tristan Schoonens

There are some icons in the automotive world that have earned their reputation. The Ferrari Enzo is one such car, with its unbelievably good looks and limited production run, the Bugatti Veyron is another for, well, the obvious.

Moving a lot further down the price spectrum we come to the humble Golf GTI, a model that has been around since 1976. Stop and think about that for a moment, how many other performance cars do you know that have survived for 33 years?

There are a lot of reasons for the Golf's success story. It's more than a pretty face for starters. Like all true affordable sports sedans, the project began with a few keen engineers interested in making their company's 'every-day' car into something special.

The Golf GTI was first seen at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1975 and quickly gained approval from Volkswagen with an initial build order of 5000 units to qualify for motorsport competition.

The engineers had decided to take a tiny 1.4-litre engine out of an Audi 80 GT and bore it out to 1.5-litre, add a few more bells and whistles and drop it into a small Golf. The first generation Golf GTI managed a mighty 80kW of raw, ground shaking, neck-twisting power, and 0-100km/h came up in 9.2 seconds.

Admittedly none of these figures are even remotely interesting today - 80kW out of a 1.5-litre for a sports car? There is a reason I wasn't born in the '70s!

We are now about to say goodbye to the fifth generation Golf, better known as the Golf MK5. But before the sixth generation joins us in a few months, Volkswagen has decided to bring back a classic from 1983.

The first Golf GTI Pirelli was based on the first generation, second series Golf GTI. In all 10,500 were sold and until now, the Pirelli name had not been revived.

Fast forward a quarter of a century and the Germans are giving Golf lovers a chance to own another special edition GTI.

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Unlike some manufacturers that stick a few decals and a badge and call it a limited edition, Volkswagen has done the hard work. The GTI is propelled by the most powerful 2.0-litre engine Volkswagen has ever made.

Power from the 2.0-litre engine has gone from 147kW to 169kW with 300Nm of torque. The extra 22kW gives a 0-100km/h time of 6.6 seconds, but that's just the start.

New seats, extra features, special edition wheels, high-performance tyres, body coloured bumpers and side skirts and a range of other features clearly make the Pirelli a worthy special edition.

You might of course be thinking, this is a way for Volkswagen to keep the buyers happy while the new GTI arrives (which will be a few months after the new Golf range debuts), perhaps, but this is also the best and most powerful GTI that has even been on sale.

I've never been a big fan of front-wheel drive turbos, sure they make sense in some ways, but I am the sort that would rather get the MY09 Subaru WRX or the new Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart over the original GTI.

Following my King of the Mountain story in the Mitsubishi EVO X last year, I had created a few followers from a range of car clubs, so a few posts were made and a crowd joined me (on a weekday!) for a trip up Mountt Nebo and Mount Glorious to test the Golf GTI Pirelli edition.

Yes, I'll admit, the twisty roads of the mountain are generally better suited to all things all-wheel drive or rear-wheel-drive, but the Golf has a great chassis and should still do well.

Our convoy included a brand new EVO X MR, HSV VXR, fourth-generation Volkswagen Golf R32 and an old school Mazda RX-7.

As usual, I decided to set the pace, paddle shift mode was selected, tyres were checked and we were off. This time however, I was struggling.

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Here is the thing about the Golf GTI Pirelli, it's very quick in a straight line, torque comes on as early as 2200RPM so turbo lag is nearly eliminated and matched to Volkswagen's legendary DSG gearbox, acceleration is simply brilliant. However there a few reoccuring problems when driven at the limit.

For a start, when pushing the Pirelli to its utmost limit the back becomes a little slippery, just holding on at times. Push it past traction point and the rear comes out slightly causing a lift-off oversteer, thankfully Volkswagen's stability control system is quick to act to brings the car back in line without too much power loss.

The other issue is body-roll, if you're willing to push, the Golf will lean, a lot. Couple this with occasional torque steer out of corners and you've got a handful. But that's half the fun.

This is my argument for the GTI, whilst the EVO X, Subaru's WRX STI, and the GTI's bigger brother, the R32, all have the benefit of AWD, the GTI Pirelli is much more engaging.

Like the Nissan GT-R, the EVO X will make a grandmother look like Chris Atkinson, the GTI on the other hand requires skill. After two runs up and down the mountain, the GTI started to feel more competent and relaxed, although there is evident body roll, if you dare, you can keep pushing and only then will the extreme grip potential become obvious.

I am not going to fool you here. The GTI Pirelli tested here costs $47,490, unlike the EVO X MR which is into the low $70,000. So I should be fair in pointing out the real competition for the EVO is the R32, however, so good is the GTI Pirelli as an everyday sports sedan that it's almost worth comparing to the more expensive offerings from the Japanese.

The real competition (if you're after a medium sized turbocharged sports sedan for under 50k) is from the WRX, the Ralliart sedan, the Volvo C30 T5 and Renault's turbocharged Megane. All five cars present excellent value for money, but in many ways the GTI comes out on top.

Here is the dilemma, what are you going to use your car for?

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The Ralliart and the WRX both have AWD, plus the Subaru out-guns the Golf by 26kW and 43Nm of torque while the Mitsubishi manages 8kW and 43Nm over the German as well. The Volvo and the Renault are both front-wheel drive but have less power (although they are more exclusive).

Zero to 100km/h times are also in the Japaneses' favour. Both arguably handle better than the Golf as well (the C30 is on par whilst the Renault is that one step further ahead), so why the GTI then? Simple answer, it's a better everyday car.

Here is my problem with the WRX and the Lancer, they are great cars, don't get me wrong, and they retail about $5000 less than the GTI Pirelli as well, but the Golf has something the Japanese lack - class.

When you get inside the Golf, the excellent Pirelli stitched bucket seats and the sexy Lamborghini style steering wheel plus the whole cabin atmosphere feels far more rewarding than the plebeian interior of the Japanese. How often are you going to track your car or push it to its limits on a twisty mountain road? On the other hand how often are you going to be driving it sedately?

However, against the Volvo C30 T5 and the Renault, I am a little more careful to call the Golf a winner. The Volvo has a better interior (without the sporty features however) but lacks that the additional power while the Renault is simply just cool in every way (and faster too).

So there must be something about the Golf GTI that has kept it going for the past three decades. How many Golf GTIs do you see around compared to C30 T5s or turbocharged Meganes?

Safety is first class with front, side and curtain airbags as well as electronic-stability program all standard - the Golf achieves a five-star EuroNCAP safety rating.

The sound system is an eight-channel, 250W amplifier with 10 speakers that lack a high volume clarity and are easily surpassed by the Dynaudio system in the Volvo (option) or the Rockford Fosgate (option) in the Lancer, but still excellent for standard equipment.

Fuel economy is claimed at 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres of 98RON petrol, which is easily achievable if you intend on driving it like a standard Golf. Around Mt Glorious it managed just under 15L/100km, but that was expected and certainly better than the EVO X which used about 25L/100km in the same circumstances.

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There are three options for the Pirelli GTI: Bi-Xenon headlights, parking sensors and satellite navigation system (RNS510). The Bi-Xenons are recommended, so is the RNS510, but they come at a high price.

A friend of mine went out and bought a five-door GTI Pirelli two weeks before I got my hands on this one and so far he is in love. There is no clear explanation as to why he picked the Golf over the competition, only that he prefers it. There is something about the Golf GTI that makes it a favourite for so many people.

If you're after a new GTI but waiting for the next generation to arrive, you'll still be waiting a while, plus there is a good chance this Pirelli edition will still kick its butt in terms of features and performance.

Would I buy a Pirelli? Certainly not in this colour, in yellow the Pirelli with the black stripes is gorgeous. On looks alone the Golf gets the tick, aggressive and masculine yet not over the top.

If you're after a car in this category, you're in luck as there plenty of excellent cars to pick from. I recommend you sit down and write out exactly what you're wanting from your car.

The Golf has the added bonus of also being practical, the boot space is ample and if you go for the five-door model ($48,990) you can comfortably sit four adults for long distance trips.

As an overall package, if you want a car which has excellent in-gear acceleration and good handling for everyday driving, but comes with an extensive list of standard equipment and looks brilliant inside (plus is a special edition that will hold its value), the Volkswagen Golf GTI Pirelli edition must be at the top of your list.

If All-Wheel-Drive isn't a requirement then the GTI becomes a great buy, the only car that could actually keep up with the Pirelli was the EVO X and this is by no means a mountain car. As an everyday sports car - for the price - it really is a bargain.

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Specifications:

  • Engine: 2.0-litre Turbo FSI
  • Power: 169kW @ 5500-6300rpm
  • Torque: 300Nm @ 2200-5200rpm
  • Induction: Turbocharged
  • Transmission: Six-speed direct shift gearbox
  • Driven Wheels: Front
  • Brakes: Disc with ABS & EBD
  • 0-100km/h: 6.6 seconds
  • CO2 Emissions: 193g/km (Combined)
  • Fuel Consumption: 8.1 litres/100km (Combined ADR)
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 55 litres
  • Fuel Type: 98RON petrol
  • EuroNCAP Rating: Five-star
  • Airbags: Dual Front, Side & Curtain
  • Safety: ESP
  • Spare Wheel: Space-saver
  • Turning Circle: 10.9 metres
  • Warranty: Three Year/100,000km
  • Weight: 1360kg (Tare)
  • Wheels: Alloy Pirelli 18 x 7.5-inch