I’m somewhere in the Victorian Alps with about forty-kilometres of clean, windy road ahead and I’m driving the new GTI at eight-tenths with former F1 driver Hans Stuck on my tail. Make that nine-tenths.
I’m carrying an awful lot of speed into these curves, and yet even in the tighter sections, the GTI is seemingly unflappable.
I mean I’m pulling a ninety-degree lock on the steering wheel through this hairpin, with more speed than I wanted with the right pedal still buried, and the GTI is refusing to understeer.
It shouldn’t be this easy, but the laws of physics as I know it, are being ripped apart by some new technology in this car.
Meet the latest and greatest Golf GTI, the sixth generation of what has surely become an automotive icon, ever since the Mk I GTI kicked off the hot hatch segment, when it first appeared in front of tens of thousands of fans as a pace car at Nurburgring in 1975, prior to its official public debut in 1976.
This was the first time that an average people throughout the world could afford a proper performance car, and one which made the right statement on the road.
Hans Stuck said, “ Whenever a person had a chance to drive a 911, it was a real experience. And then of a sudden this experience was possible in the GTI too. Clearly on a different level, but affordable for everyone”
Golf I GTI could hit 182km/h and trump 0-100km/h in 9.0 seconds flat. Not bad going for a car, which developed only 81kW and 140Nm, driving through a four-speed manual gearbox.
From 1976 to 2009, 1.7 million GTIs left the showroom floor, making it the most successful compact performance car of all time.
There wasn’t a lot wrong with the Golf V GTI, maybe not quite as sharp as those track day enthusiasts had hoped for, but at $39,990, it was for many, the best and only choice as the perfect daily drive.
Rest assured, if you had any reservations about the Mk V (you could count them on one hand), a quick test drive in the latest edition should silence the harshest of critics.
But if you’re worried about the softer lines on the new GTI, don’t be it’ll grow on you.
No one’s going to deny that this GTI doesn’t have quite the same aggressive look as its deep grille predecessor, but its closer to the styling heritage of the original Mark I than any of the modern iterations.
Mostly it’s about the red horizontal lines inside the low profile black grille and the tartan fabric seats, both of which were distinctive on the original GTI.
Walter de Silva Head of Group Design for Volkswagen said of the new GTI, “ We wanted a consistently clear GTI design, a car that has power, but style as well.
“Also cast in stone was the goal of evoking the character of the first GTI a bit more…and that is why it was decided that – with the exception of the aerodynamically important rear spoiler - the new GTI would not have a single exterior add-on.”
Volkswagen Australia brought the full range of the GTI VIs to this launch, and despite the fact that I would normally lean towards either of the three-door models with DSG or the six-speed manual, I’ve ended up in the more practical five-door hatch variants on both drive stints.
If you want a definition of ergonomic, just plant yourself in the stock standard GTI sports seats, for one of the most comfortable pews in the business.
With a welcome overdose of side bolster, ripping through this kind of twisty alpine terrain is a joy, as your frame may as well be velcro’d to the “Jacky” pattern seats.
The fully-moulded, slightly flat-bottomed leather steering wheel is a treat and a half, with red cross-stitching and superb grip and feel. It’s also decidedly similar to that in the Audi RS4.
I’ve grabbed a DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) fitted GTI and within minutes we’re quick-shifting via the steering wheel mounted, paddle shifters. I say quick, that’s 80 milliseconds from one gear to another, which is multiple times faster than any human being could ever hope to achieve using a manual transmission.
The first thing you notice is the quietness and overall refinement of this slightly more powerful engine. With the air-conditioning running on a mid-range fan speed and the needle nudging 110km/h, I can barely make out the shift changes.
It’s not just an uprated version of the same 2.0-litre turbo engine from the GTI V either. For example, the cylinder heads have been designed specifically for direct injection and as result, power is up by eight-kilowatts to 155kW.
Torque remains the same at 280Nm, but peaks slightly earlier at 1,700 rpm, but it’s the overall refinement of this powertrain that is most impressive.
And forget about turbo lag, there isn’t any, nor is there any hint of vibration under extreme load, just a silk smooth delivery of power and torque right through the rev range in each and every gear ratio.
Off the line starts are quick enough at a claimed 6.9 seconds to 100km/h, but it’s the GTI’s in-gear acceleration that will put the widest smile on your face.
It’s a crying shame we have such low speed limits on these secluded and well-maintained roads, as the GTI is barely ticking over at 110km/h, given its 240km/h top speed.
Now we’re into the seriously twisty section of the Victorian Alps, and the GTI is itching to attack the road ahead.
Time to hit the ‘Sport’ button as a function of the optional Adaptive Chassis Control, and a must if you like early morning weekend drives in the country.
The steering feels a lot more precise than the GTI V, and reaction time to steering inputs is much quicker.
Into the first series of bends, and you can feel the stiffer damper settings through the harder ride and zero body roll, while the power steering has has firmed up too.
These are some fast curves up in these parts, and we are rapidly reining in the tarmac, with the rev needle repeatedly bouncing off 6,000 rpm in third. Here’s the thing, there’s so much mid range torque available, that I rarely need to downshift out of third gear, and that's over a distance of twenty kilometres.
A quick dab of the brakes before turn in, then I’m back on the throttle during mid-corner. Yes, that’s full throttle in mid corner without fear of understeering into a rock wall. It sounds too good to be true, I know.
But it’s not magic; its part Hans Stuck who tested and advised in the development of the new GTI, and part electronic wizardry called XDL or extended Electronic Differential Lock.
Normally, if you’re pushing too hard into a corner with a front-wheel drive car, the front wheel on the inside corner has a tendency to push on, and not want to turn in to the corner.
The GTI (all GTI variants are fitted with XDL) with XDL when confronted with that same situation, pressure is be applied to the inside wheel, so that traction is not lost and the wheel turns in as it should.
Does it work? Yes, infallibly. There is so much grip up front on turn in, that if you push hard enough, the car will react like an all-wheel drive car, with a gentle power slide. This is almost foolproof and remarkable for a performance car shod with not so wide 225/45 rubber.
XLD seems like a massive step forward in safety for front-wheel drive cars, particularly those skewed towards performance.
When you do need to jump on the brakes, apply with caution, as I found them to be a little sensitive at first, but fine once I got used to the relatively light pedal pressure.
More like Audi brakes than anything I’ve driven from Volkswagen previously, nothing wrong with that either.
While the entire drivetrain has had a total refinement makeover, it’s no different inside the cabin, and far more impressive than I would have expected.
The standard features inventory is extensive and includes a 61/2-inch touch screen display with MP3/WMA and auxiliary input, but sadly, a direct iPod input is a feature of the optional Media Device Interface.
That said, there is a high quality soft touch material and brushed chrome highlights throughout the car, as well as black high-gloss accents with chrome frames on the fascia and door trim.
Also included in the $38,990 entry level GTI VI is an 8-speaker 6-disc in-dash changer, automatic headlight function, dual-zone automatic climate control, rain sensing wipers and a host of other creature comforts.
Its not just nice, the whole look and feel inside the new GTI crosses over into the luxury category.
Golf has always been deceptive when it comes to room inside the cabin. I once took four passengers with luggage to the airport in a Golf V and that included a surfboard albeit a small one.
Not only is there plenty of head and legroom front and rear, but also the boot area is deep and generous with a multitude of storage possibilities if the rear seats are folded.
Active safety systems on-board the GTI are numerous and include: ABS, EBD, EDL, ESP, XDL and Hill Start Assist (HSA) (with DSG).
Airbags number seven, with driver and passenger front and side, driver’s knee and curtain airbags, front and rear.
And don’t be too worried about fuel consumption if you intend looking at the latest generation GTI, as this engine has been designed to run on 95 RON as opposed to 98 RON with the GTI V.
Fuel economy has also improved with the new generation car with slightly less fuel consumed across both DSG and manual transmissions (7.4L/100km & 7.3L/100km).
While the previous model GTI was a huge hit worldwide, the GTI VI is a major leap forward in every way, and should be even more popular to a wider audience.
With the sixth generation Golf GTI, Volkswagen have probably gone beyond what customers were expecting in a performance hatch of this size and in this price range.
By doing so, the hot hatch benchmark has just been raised to a point above what I suspect most other manufacturers can hope to emulate at these prices.
If you want one, I suggest you get your name in the order book pronto, despite the fact that Volkswagen Australia already has 650 cars in the country and another 200 ‘on the water’.
And if you wish to spec your GTI with any of the host of options available such as, leather trim, sunroof, etc, then the wait will be three-months.
2010 Golf GTI Australian prices:
- Three-door, six-speed manual - $38,990
- Three-door, six-speed DSG - $41,490
- Five-door, six-speed manual - $40,490
- Five-door, six-speed DSG - $42,990