Well, that’s it. No manual transmission for the powered-up Volkswagen Golf GTI range announced this week. Worse, this obituary follows news that the new Polo GTI will also be a DSG-only proposition.
Is this the end, then, of the GTI’s enthusiast appeal? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves: the company hasn’t ruled out returning the manual with the next-generation ‘Mk8’ Golf GTI, but there’s no denying the case will be harder to make if sales of the auto-only MY19 model remain strong.
It’s perhaps an overreaction, then, to suggest we’re now one step closer to the ‘H pattern’ becoming a strange glyph for future archaeologists to wonder at – but it does seem inevitable. After all, the number of people ordering manual-equipped Golf GTIs is now fewer than 10 per cent, according to Volkswagen Australia. The world doesn’t stop for single digits.
In talking to us this morning, Paul Pottinger, communications manager for Volkswagen Australia, was adamant there is no longer a decent case to be made for a manual transmission in this latest iteration of the legendary, genuinely iconic Golf GTI.
“[…] our customers are telling us this is what they want,” Pottinger told our news team.
Hell, even returning buyers tend to shift from manual to DSG, he claims. “It’s quicker, it’s more efficient, and on the move we as humans just can’t change gears as quickly as that – whatever tactile enjoyment… we might derive from it,” Pottinger reckons.
At the other end of the performance market, buyers make the same call. Last year, former Porsche Australia communications boss Paul Ellis said even those who walk into the showroom wanting a manual end up leaving with the PDK auto.
“Why? Because they know that’s the faster car, the more fuel-efficient car and probably the better car for resale,” he said. Still, Porsche is at least committed to offering the choice. “As long there is one customer that wants a manual, we will build it,” Ellis promised.
And that’s really what it comes down to for the enthusiast: choice. Indeed, my colleague Mike Costello rightly argues that part of our role at CarAdvice is to advocate for just that, regardless of the business decisions each brand must make.
Above: CarAdvice.com Managing Editor, Trent Nikolic, goes for a fang in the manual 911 Carrera T.
“We aren’t here to support an OEM’s economic rationales – that’s their province and their concern. And that of their stakeholders,” Costello says.
“Our job as auto media is to proactively advocate for the widest amount of consumer choice. Volkswagen is reducing this, and its public relations team in Australia has worked to justify it. That’s its prerogative.
“But mine is to state what I see as CarAdvice’s role in all this: to agitate for maximum consumer choice. Irrespective of business plans which, once again, are ours to critique, but not to make.”
One suspects MCo will find a few cheerleaders in the comments with that declaration… and I don’t disagree with him, but it doesn’t change the fact: Most buyers don’t give a shit about manuals, and most of those who had any shits to give are moving to automatics too.
Where does that leave the remainder? One figures there can only be two groups left: those very understandably aggrieved in being the last of a dying breed, and those that are merely griping from the sidelines.
The former will be forgotten as the world marches on – just like those who, more than a century ago, lamented the mass adoption of these stinky new-fangled automobiles – and the latter cannot logically figure in product planning.
I spoke to Pottinger again later.
“It escapes some members of the specialist media fraternity (and even in 2018, a fraternity it almost exclusively remains) that we import cars in response to customer demand – not what they say customers should drive,” he said.
Paul! Do you mean, we’re not the perfect representation of the average buyer? Ouch. But… fair call. If it were only up to me, you’d all be driving black manual wagons with a turbocharged engine. (Of course, I sadly could only could get a tick for three of those four boxes when ‘negotiating’ with the other half…)
Above: even CarAdvice went for the auto when choosing a GTI of our own…
Well, Where to from here?
The current 169kW Golf GTI is still around for a little while, and the Golf R still does a manual option, too.
Or, you could just get over it. If you’re out to be the quickest, the automatic is usually the best option these days, and all this machismo around manuals being the real enthusiast’s choice is a bit of a wank, anyway. And remember, every four-cylinder hot hatch owner has had to hear the same type of bullshit from a V8 fan at some point, despite turbo fours often being the match of our most beloved muscle cars.
Or, if you insist manuals are less about speed and more about that somewhat primal connection between driver and car, you could buy an entry-level 110kW/250Nm Golf 110TSI for 25 grand with a six-speed manual, spec it up, and have a hoot of a time driving a ‘slow’ car fast. We had a piddly manual 70TSI Polo in the garage last week and I loved every near-redline rev. Didn’t break the law once.
Or, if Volkswagen has broken your heart with today’s announcement, listen to Costello and exercise your freedom of choice by heading elsewhere. There’s the incoming Megane RS, and Hyundai could do with some i30 N sales during this short but painful manual-only phase of its life. It’s not the lone manual-only prospect, either: there’s always the Focus ST, the Civic Type R, the 308 GTi, the WRX STI…
On the bright side, other options in a similar vein, such as the Toyota 86 and regular Subaru WRX, can still be had in both manual and automatic forms. In both cars, the manual to auto sales split is a healthy 60:40. Here’s hoping that ratio doesn’t swap.
So. Buy any of those and maybe, just maybe, Volkswagen will make sure the Mk8 Golf GTI has a manual. Then we wouldn’t be staring at the apocalypse, after all.
Not that anybody would remember us.