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2012 Volkswagen Golf Review
  • Blend of ride and handling for fun and everyday use, Accessible power, Interior fit and finish, Usable space and load capacity
  • Occasional gearbox lumpiness after a cold start, Phone address book update gremlins, Expensive options, Now I need more power

by Kevin L

Back in 2012 after we’d paid off the “family” car, I was given the OK to find my fun car. Budget was around $40k, and after eliminating the Mazda 3 MPS (old model, scratchy plastics) it was down to the Renault Megane RS265 or the Volkswagen Golf GTI. With our 2nd child on the way and a wife that wanted back doors, the GTI won out.

Now, after 3 years of ownership and about 35,000km, what has it been like living with a 5 door DSG GTI with two young children?

First, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. The GTI has been mechanically faultless for the time I’ve owned it. With the exception of air pressures in the tyres, and an oil top up (usually about 2 months or so before each annual service), I haven’t need to do anything, or had any problems with the car.

While we’re addressing the Volkswagen pachyderm, let’s talk about the 6spd DSG gearbox installed to the car. Yes, there is some hesitation occasionally when reverse is engaged. It can take a second or so for the gearbox to respond to your input and select reverse gear; the hesitation is noticeable.

At low speed, especially when the car is cold, there can be some lumpiness with first and second gear; the software seems to take a bit of time to “wake up”.

And a last minor thing, the Bluetooth system. The RCD-510 system syncs with your phone, and pulls down the contact list so that it is accessible on the screen as well as the MFD in the dash. Updating this list can be buggy, and the system doesn’t seem to want to update its list with the current one in the phone – the update times out. The only way to get it to update is to delete the profile and re-sync the phone.

On to the positives.

What the GTI has done is introduce me to a few new things in the world of motoring.

Power. I don’t know about power corrupting, but it is definitely addicting. I didn’t know I was addicted until one day while the car was in service, I was provided a near-new Polo 66TSI Trendline. The interior felt familiar, but with harder and scratchier plastics, and while in traffic, I saw a gap into which to merge. I put my foot down, and waited. Nothing. There was more noise, but zero extra urge. And while 155kW in a world of 340kW Clubsport R8s isn’t much, it is more than the ’99 Pulsar Plus had that I was driving before the GTI.

Owning a car like a GTI has introduced me to “going for a drive”. Meeting up with friends in their cars at ungodly hours, times inhabited young children and lycra-clad bicyclists, and pointing our cars at hilly roads that twist and turn in the chill morning air. I now know what it is like to drive a car that turns into a corner, and the gearbox, with its ability to rapidly and near-seamlessly shift between gears with a click of a paddle something that I’ve come to really enjoy. The gearstick isn’t used to manually change gears, as VW in their wisdom have decided to set it up the wrong way, with forward for upshifts and backwards for down.

Much has been written about the interior execution of VW group cars, and while user experience design (intuitive location and usage of controls) and materials (the oft-written about soft plastics, and in the GTI’s case, leather and aluminium) play a large part, there are also the delightful little touches. From the lining attached to the seat belt buckles, to the carpet-lined door pockets, to in the Golf’s case, the little bottle opener in between the two cup holders – which have removable linings for ease of cleaning. For everyday use, interior and storage space for our family with two kids is very usable and more than adequate.

You can probably guess by now that I’m still thoroughly enjoying the GTI, from the GTI-pattern tartan seats to the feel of the stitched leather wheel, and there are still occasions where I “look back” while walking away from the parking spot. From the picture, you can see that I’ve replaced the taillights with a set of OEM LED units, and now that the factory warranty has finished, more modifications are in the pipeline.

4 out of 5 stars – because no affordable car is truly perfect.

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2012 Volkswagen Golf Review Review
  • 7.5
  • 8
  • 8
  • 7
  • 7
  • 8
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