Golf 7 Performance Pack adds finesse

By Denis Droppa Time of article published Jul 31, 2015

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ROAD TEST

Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance Pack

Johannesburg - When a small group of enthusiastic employees at VW’s Wolfsburg plant tinkered with a higher-performance version of the humble Mk I Golf in their spare time, it’s unlikely they could have predicted the legend they were spawning.

The Golf GTi made its public debut at the 1975 Frankfurt motor show - and rewrote automotive history. With its 80kW engine and nimble handling the Golf GTi was the answer to many an enthusiast driver’s prayers and helped kickstart the hot-hatchback segment.

Roll on 40 years and today’s seventh-generation Golf GTI is a far more sophisticated creature. Along the way the “i” became an “I” and the car increased in power, refinement and price, but peel away that slick business suit and the palm-sweatening joyride is still at the heart of the beast.

Today the GTI - and its even more badass brother the Golf R - together account for about 60 percent all generation-seven Golf sales in South Africa, and now there’s a new version slotting in between them called the GTI Performance Pack.

It squeezes another 7kW out of the two-litre turbopetrol engine to bring the total to 169kW, while torque stays the same at 350Nm. This hotter GTI is available only with the six-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic tramsmission, and comes standard with two handling-enhancing features: Dynamic Chassis Control active suspension, and an upgraded version of the electronic front-differential lock found in the standard GTI. The DCC system offers three driving modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. Sport mode stiffens the ride and also quickens the throttle and gearshift responses.

The enhanced electronic diff-lock detects wheel slip and transfers torque to the wheel with the highest grip, which reduces acceleration-induced understeer in corners.

CONTROLLING WHEELSPIN

Volkswagen claims a 248km/h top speed for the performance-tweaked GTI along with a sea-level 0-100km/h sprint in 6.4 seconds. Our own Vbox tests at Gauteng altitude came close to matching that sprint figure and our test car scurried to 100km/h in 6.6 seconds. It would have been even quicker if the built-in launch-control system was better able to manage traction off the line. Power isn’t the problem with this car, it’s trying to control the wheelspin, and the launch-control got itself a bit tied up.

Nevertheless, it was still good enough to out-dice all other hot hatches we’ve road-tested in this price range including the Ford Focus ST, Opel Astra OPC and Renault Megane RS.

We haven’t tested the DSG version of the standard Golf GTI and can’t give a performance comparison, but interestingly we clocked the manual 162kW GTI at 6.6 secs to 100km/h – precisely the same as the auto 169kW version – presumably because with a clutch pedal we had more control over curbing start-line wheelspin.

It’s tempting to say that this kind of power output should be transferred to the road via both axles – as in the all-wheel-drive Golf R – but in reality it’s only in max-attack off-the-line sprints that traction in the GTI becomes an issue.

There was a time when powerful front-wheel-drive cars had so much torque steer that holding onto the wheel was like trying to wrestle an angry snake (cue flashback to the fearsome Opel Kadett TS of the mid-nineties). But there’s none of that in this GTI, which keeps its powered front wheels pointed straight no matter how much throttle punishment you dish out.

ACOUSTIC CHARISMA

The same thing goes for fast-attack corners, where there’s no jarring steering action to dent your confidence. The car does its corner carving with slick finesse. It revels in being thrashed through the curves but feels predictable and civilised, and the understeer-limiting LS differential helps by allowing you to boot the throttle early out of tight corners. It’s exhilarating without being scary.

Compared to the stirring battle cry of the Golf R, the GTI’s voice is a little reedy and underwhelming, but it does at least make a burp between gearshifts for some acoustic charisma.

Like Harvey Specter, the smooth-talking, slick-dressing lawyer from the TV programme ‘Suits’, this Golf has an answer for every situation. As athletic as it is in a straight line and in corners, the GTI delivers a ride quality that’s useable in the real world. On deteriorating roads the sports suspension handles matters with a respectably comfortable ride, especially with the dampers set to comfort mode. The optional low-profile 235/35 R19 footwear fitted to our test car really didn’t like potholes, however, and personally I’d stick with the standard 225/40 18s.

This real-world useability extends to the GTI’s fuel economy, and while our test car didn’t come anywhere near VW’s laughable 6.4 litres per 100km claim, it still managed a very admirable 9.3 litres. This is partly due to a stop/start system that cuts the engine while you’re standing at intersections.

Visually there’s not much difference between the standard GTI and the Performance Pack version. There’s a red GTI logo at the back, distinctive GTI logos on the front brake callipers and larger internally-ventilated brake discs.

Inside, it’s the same classy but somewhat conservatively-styled cabin.

You can’t fault the comfort and ergonomics, and the supportive bucket seats are a class act. The infotainment’s efficiently handled by a large touchscreen, but there’s no USB port and if you want to connect external gadgets you have to buy a special cable.

VERDICT

The faster and lustier-sounding R is the Golf to go for if you’re in a position to spend more than R500 000.

But in its price range the standard GTI still sets the bar for its pace, poise and unruffled efficiency.

At R452 000 the GTI Performance Pack costs R20 000 more than the standard automatic GTI. The extra 7kW alone isn’t enough to seal the deal, but the Dynamic Chassis Control and enhanced diff-lock probably make it worthwhile from a handling-enhancement point of view.

FACTS

VW Golf GTI Performance Pack

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol

Gearbox: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic

Power: 169kW @ 4700-6200rpm

Torque: 350Nm @ 1500-4600rpm

0-100km/h (tested, Gauteng): 6.6 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 248km/h

Consumption (claimed): 6.4 litres per 100km

Price: R452 000

Warranty: 3-year/120 000km

Service plan: 5-year/90 000km

VW GOLF VS THE RIVALS:

VW Golf GTI Performance Pack - 169kW/350Nm - R452 000

Mégane Renault Sport 265 Lux - 195kW/360Nm - R389 900

Ford Focus ST - 184kW/360Nm - R421 900

Opel Astra OPC - 206kW/400Nm - R496 300

Story: Star Motoring

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