It has been nearly three years since I took delivery of my new, white (with Tartan interior) VW Mk 7 GTi and said goodbye to my fantastic, but family unfriendly Porsche Boxster. The Golf is the first car I had bought brand new and I must say I haven’t been disappointed. Although at the time there had been a lot of publicity about the unreliability of the DSG gearbox, stop-start city commuting meant that it was a must and whilst it is not my favourite auto ‘box, I haven’t had any issues with it over the past three years.
As a daily driver, it is a great little car. The ability to switch between driving modes (Eco, Comfort, Normal Sport and Individual) is a neat feature, but I couldn’t say that ‘comfort’ feels that much more comfortable than ‘Normal’. There is, however, a noticeable character change once you shift to Sport. Increased engine character (ie noise), throttle and exhaust blips on upshifts and downshifts, stiffer suspension and steering turn a rather pedestrian Golf into a truly hot hatch GTi. It can become a bit tedious in Sport unless you are on open and twisty roads, so having the option to change modes is fantastic.
Getting 162kw and 350nm through only the front wheels was always going to require some technical wizardry and for the most part the car does an excellent job of keeping things under control. However, I would say that if you drive with a bit of a heavy foot off the line (like me) you will find the constant need for the traction control to intervene irritating. In the wet, forget about it. If I had my time again, I would probably opt for the all wheel drive R.
That heavy footed driving translates poorly at the petrol bowser. Although quoted at 8.3l/100km on the urban cycle, I have never seen less than 12, which again may be more reflective of my driving style, but what’s the point of buying a GTi and driving it like a regular Golf? Other minor grievances? The DSG transmission is slow to engage reverse gear when completing a three point turn and often results in a roll into the gutter, however this can be avoided by quickly hitting the accelerator or firmly pressing the brake before selecting reverse gear. This will ‘hold’ the car for about 2 seconds whilst the reverse gear is selected. A handy hint the salesman showed me.
Steering weight and response is terrific – not too light or heavy, just right. The agility of the chassis also brings a smile to your face and its ability to take corners at speed (considering it is a front wheel drive) is almost on par with any rear wheel drive car I have owned.
As you get to know the car, a number of thoughtful features also become apparent. Apart from the alloy wheel saving feature of dipping the passenger side mirror when you select reverse (not that it seems to help my wife, unfortunately), the car will also automatically apply the handbrake if you take your seat-belt off and open the door. Also, if you have the wipers on and select reverse, the rear wiper will automatically sweep the window. When the low fuel light is on, the SatNav will prompt you asking if you wish to be directed to the nearest petrol station. The cabin at night is really a spectacular place to be – the LED lighting and red stripe down the door trims (exclusive to GTi) certainly add to the premium feel.
However, things go a bit south when you start talking about the central media screen/Sat Nav. Simply put, the resolution of the screen is woeful. The reverse camera is basically useless at night and pretty awful during the day. It also, annoyingly, splits the screen to show a graphic of the cars front and rear sensors (red, yellow) which basically obscures what grainy image is there. If anyone knows how to permanently disable this, let me know!
I am not a fan of touch screens as they are so hard to use on the go – even more so in a car with stiff suspension – and I have no idea why VW in Australia chose to disable the voice activated controls. Despite the screen resolution, the SAT NAV is very intuitive to use and reasonable at plotting the route, although it was pretty annoying to buy the car and find out it doesn’t have the Peninsula Link (in Victoria) included in the maps, despite the road being completed two years prior. I needed to fork out for an update, so not sure why they weren’t selling the car with the latest maps already installed. An argument I had and lost with the dealership.
Overall though, it has been a pleasure to own and drive. I can live with the fuel consumption and media screen foibles as the ability to switch driving modes really makes this a car that can be many things to all people and one that never fails to put a smile on my face (in sport mode). For the money, I don’t think there is anything else that is as much an all-round package.
The only question is, what will I get next?!