Long drives are as Australian as getting sunburnt while playing beach cricket. But how do the Germans fare at the old long-slog? I headed from Melbourne to Sydney in the CarAdvice Volkswagen Golf GTI to find out.
Maintaining its initial 8.5/10 long-term report one rating through long-term report two, it seems that, business-wide, we’re liking our 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI – a good thing too, because we’ve been talking them up for a while now.
So, when James Ward and Scott Davison tasked me with getting the CarAdvice-branded Golf GTI up from Melbourne to MotorWorld Sydney at Sydney Motorsport Park, it seemed only fair that I pen some words about how the GTI handles longer journeys (with some others chipping in too).
The plan was to leave on the Monday, spend one day driving up, and have the Golf ready to hit the track at Sydney Motorsport Park for some lap testing on the Tuesday – a compressed but fun brief if ever there was one.
As recommended ahead of any long stint, before hitting Melbourne’s M1, I hit up the local ‘servo’ (or 'Tankstelle' in our Volkswagen’s native tongue) to brim the tank and check/inflate the tyres.
With a target of around 870km, some track work planned, and additional load on board (gear, not lunch), I set all four 18-inch, 225mm-wide, 40-aspect Bridgestone Potenza tyres to 40psi.
The route, for those who have never done it, could not be simpler: M1 to M2 to M80 to the M31/Hume Highway all the way past Seymour, Wangaratta, Albury-Wodonga, Gundagai, Yass, and Goulburn.
With speed limits starting at 80km/h and increasing to 100 and 110km/h, the near-900km drive is the perfect way to ‘test out’ our Golf GTI’s adaptive cruise control.
Part of a $1500 optional ‘Driver Assistance Package’ which also includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, semi-automatic parking, rear cross-traffic alert, and selectable driving modes, over the whole drive, the adaptive cruise control system works really well.
Smoothly reducing the car’s speed when cars ahead are detected, the system allows the driver to choose the distance (or range) to the car in front. Excellent and easy to use, although you do have to reset it every time you restart the car – after every wee-break for example (if you don’t leave the car on, that is).
The forward collision mitigation technology and blind-spot monitoring are good things to have on board for on a long-haul drive, however, a lane-departure warning or lane-keep assist system (with autonomous steering inputs) that aren’t present, would further boost safety.
Spending a little over nine hours in the one car on (pretty much) the same road, you have time to find some big positives. In the Golf GTI these include a top-notch, comfortable seating position; genuinely comfortable seats; a steering wheel that feels nice in the hands and is pleasant to hold for long periods of time; and ace front door pockets that can fit a 1.5-litre bottle of water, along with the odd bits of rubbish and snack wrappers.
Manually adjustable, the GTI’s front seats are nicely bolstered, with quite good under-thigh support, plus enough bucketing to hold you in well but also in comfort. For a long drive too, the manual lumbar support is a godsend, keeping numbness, tingling, and discomfort all at bay even after nine hours behind the wheel.
Vision out is good and, while cruise control was on for most of the time, the dual-clutch DSG automatic transmission proved seamless throughout the drive, as did the 162kW/350Nm turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine – the latter spending the majority of its time on, or hovering around 2000rpm.
On either side of the Victorian/New South Wales border, coarse-chip surfaces result in high levels of in-cabin tyre roar and road noise, however, wind noise is kept to a minimum, as is noise from passing traffic – including trucks – provided windows are up.
Choppier, poorer-quality roads and road joins will see some minor bucking from the Golf when at speed, but really, you’re likely to experience this to some degree in all but the supplest-riding of premium, high-end, luxury cars. And in fairness, overall, as it is on most Mark VII Golf derivatives, the GTI’s ride is exceptional.
Quality too, is the GTI’s well-balanced and evenly weighted steering. Team this with the Golf’s adjustable dynamic chassis control (DCC) system – set to a customised ‘Individual’ setting with the adaptive suspension in ‘Comfort’, steering in ‘Normal’, and engine noise and performance in ‘Sport’ – and the ideal road-trip configuration can easily be calibrated.
Other positives experienced on the drive were the Volkswagen’s general feeling of solid build quality and sturdiness, its eight-speaker stereo that’s happy to belt out your favourite tunes while you do, and the in-built satellite navigation system that works well and proved a good backup for my own pseudo-confidence with knowing the way.
Despite not personally being a huge fan of Apple CarPlay, I did use it, and, for the most part, it too worked well enough, aside from some minor and occasional glitches.
As with just about any car, there are negatives. The centre console bin is not very big, and lacks any USB or AUX inputs or 12-volt outlets – which would’ve been handy. The glovebox too, could be bigger.
Located at the bottom of the centre stack in a little, rubber-lined, closable cubby, the Golf only offers one USB input, and, although it’s accompanied by a AUX input, plugging in an iPod Shuffle via an AUX cable didn’t work, in our car at least – the option of AUX not coming up as a playable source of audio or entertainment. Disappointing.
Space limitations exist in the GTI, too. Even with the adjustable boot floor set to its lowest level, the Golf’s 380-litre boot doesn’t take much gear to be filled or get close to full – and I was travelling solo, albeit with some additional equipment, helmets, and bags.
Depending on the size of your family unit, how long you plan to be away, or how many mates you’re planning on taking on your road trip, things could definitely get tight, and get tight quickly. Perhaps a Golf Wagon is a better choice for regular ‘trippers’.
Although not an issue for me, per se – driving up to Sydney on my lonesome and all – the Golf’s rear-seat floor hump is quite intrusive, limiting potential legroom and severely reducing middle-seat practicality. If you do happen to have some passengers in the back, however, at least they get rear air vents.
Overall, the whole long-drive experience in the 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI was excellent, with the final figures being 876km racked up in nine hours and six minutes, at an average speed of 96km/h, with an average fuel consumption of 6.3 litres per 100km (0.3L/100km better than the car’s official 6.6L/100km combined-cycle claim).
What I took away most from my time with the Golf GTI, though, wasn’t just that it makes for a very comfortable, yet still fun and sporty, long-stint car, but that, importantly, its outright flexibility is difficult to match.
As a group, what CarAdvice managed to do – in only two days, mind you – was highlight the truly impressive versatility of Volkswagen’s iconic hot hatch. It spent its Monday devouring just short of 900km of highway miles with little fuss, then backed it up on the Tuesday, lapping Sydney Motorsport Park’s 1.8-kilometre Amaroo South Circuit in a time nestled between a Ford Focus ST and a BMW 125i.
A cracking car offering excellent dynamics and great value for money, 10 months into our ownership experience with the Volkswagen Golf GTI, it’s easy to see why we love these cars so much and, of course, why we bought one.
Since our long-term report two went live on the site, I haven’t been the only one to put some decent miles under the Golf's tyres, though. So, here’s what CarAdvice youngster James Wong thought after his time with the car.
You'd expect a performance car like the Golf GTI to be a little on the harsh side on longer journeys due to its sporting intentions, but what makes the Volkswagen such a great car is its ability to handle just about every situation with relative ease.
I already loved the GTI as a city runabout and a weekend driver, but a few hours travelling up and down the Hume to my grandparents's farm in Kilmore, Victoria, demonstrated just how capable the Tartan-trimmed Golf is as a grand tourer. Sure it's a little firmer than more sedate hatches, but it's never to the point where you would consider it uncomfortable.
The 2.0-litre turbo just hums at 110km/h and the lowered and firm suspension gives it a solid, planted feel at speed. Road noise can get a little loud over rougher surfaces, but like the ride, it's never unbearable.
Of all the cars I've driven since joining CarAdvice, the Golf GTI is probably the only one I would buy for myself, it really is a jack-of-all trades.
With the '7.5' update due here in July, little niggles such as the low-res and small infotainment system and cabin trims should be addressed, which will make a great thing even better.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI images by Tom Fraser and David Zalstein.
2016 Volkswagen Golf GTI
- Date purchased: February 2016
- Odometer reading: 18,479km
- Travel since last update: 4213km
- Consumption since last update: 8.6L/100km