Picture: Denis Droppa
Picture: Denis Droppa
Golf GTI seventh variation can be used as an everyday driver but also offers the owner entertaining performance. Picture: Denis Droppa
Golf GTI seventh variation can be used as an everyday driver but also offers the owner entertaining performance. Picture: Denis Droppa
Superbly-finished Golf 7 GTI cabin layout is a master class in ergonomics. Picture: Denis Droppa
Superbly-finished Golf 7 GTI cabin layout is a master class in ergonomics. Picture: Denis Droppa

First, let’s settle those all-important around-the-braai car debates. Tested with our Vbox equipment, the seventh-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI covered the 0-100km/h sprint in just 6.6 seconds at the Gerotek testing ground near Pretoria.

That makes it quicker than rivals such as the Opel Astra OPC (6.8 secs), Mazda3 MPS (8 secs), Ford Focus ST (7.4 secs), and Renault Megane RS Sport (6.9 secs) - all 0f which we tested at the same venue using the same equipment.

Yes, we know that makes little sense given that the GTI’s power and torque outputs trail the competition, but the same was true of the previous-generation Golf GTI, so it once again proves that (claimed) power and torque figures don’t always tell the full story.

Outputs of 162kW and 350Nm are what you get from this updated version of the previous GTI’s smooth-running two-litre four-cylinder direct-injection turbo engine (up from 155kW and 280Nm).

SHREDDING RUBBER

The problem with modern two-wheel drive hot hatches is not lack of power. Quite the opposite: there’s a gazillion kilowatts going through the front wheels, which simply don’t have the traction to deal with it. The GTI’s traction-control system helps keep a rein on matters and preserves tyre life in a standing start, but switch off this electronic aid and any throttle inputs of the “I’ll teach that OPC driver a lesson” variety result in lurid rubber-shedding.

Apart from its ability to blitz the 100km/h sprint and a very useful 246km/h top speed, what stands out is the GTI’s lag-free throttle response and in-gear tractability; it pulls like a steam train in its higher gears.

It’s the kind of power delivery that’s easy to tap into, with no need to rev the boots off it. It’s probably part of the reason our GTI six-speed manual test car averaged an impressively economical 9.2 litres per 100km consumption in a mixture of mild and wild driving.

SLICK ENGINEERING

Many buyers will probably choose the DSG dual-clutch automatic GTI for its user-friendliness, but I enjoyed the six-speed manual as it’s a very slick piece of engineering and can be hurried through its H-gate without hinderance.

In the slog of day to day commuting the GTI has a mild-mannered nature with its effortless controls, cushy ride and silent operation. Almost boringly mild-mannered. But the beast is awakened with a prod of the throttle, upon which there’s a pulse-quickening rush of power accompanied by a fairly gravel-voiced chorus line for a four-cylinder engine.

Handling-wise the car doesn’t deliver any surprises and its taut, quick-turning nature is classic GTI fare. With its anvil-like torsional rigidity this hatch displays judder-free finesse in quick direction changes, even on unruly road surfaces.

The steering’s been sharpened with fewer turns lock-to-lock, and the car’s 42kg lighter than its forerunner. There’s enough power here to justify leaving the stability control switched on (unlike in some cars it can be turned off completely, not merely minimised); otherwise tight-corner exits in lower gears result in more of the aforementioned rubber-shedding.

CONSERVATIVE APPROACH

An electronic limited-slip diff keeps rampant understeer at bay, while the ABS-aided brakes do a sterling job of arresting velocity.

That Volkswagen hasn’t exactly let its hair down in the design of the new-generation Golf is an understatement. Most people would have to see the two cars side-by-side to notice a difference between them, but it’s a conservative approach that’s worked for VW as underlined by the Golf’s ever-robust sales figures.

As for the GTI version, VW hasn’t veered from its tried-and-tested visual formula, right down to the iconic five-hole GTI wheels and the signature red stripe in the grille which now extends into the headlights.

Inside the cabin, clean conservatism also overrides flamboyance but there’s some racy flavour in the red-stitched leather sports seats and the bottom-flattened steering wheel, while the golfball-textured gear knob is a visual and tactile treat.

WELL ENDOWED

For its R368 300 base price Golf’s flagship model is well-endowed with comforts and gizmos including cruise control, onboard computer, rain and light sensors, fatigue detection, heated front seats, a touchscreen-operated audio system with Bluetooth, and a full complement of airbags.

The three-year or 120 000km warranty and five-year or 90 000km service plan are also standard, but you’ll have to dip into the budget to get extras such as navigation, parking assist, USB media port and keyless operation.

Of the many extra-cost options available for the GTI, adaptive chassis control (including driving profile selection and Eco function) is one that I reckon is worth the money. Our test car was equipped with this R10 200 option and the ride quality noticeably softened up when changed from Sport to Comfort. The driver’s also able to change the throttle and steering sensitivity.

VERDICT

A little more visual flamboyance would have been welcome, but as a driving machine there’s little to fault the seventh-generation Golf GTI. Volkswagwen has had nearly four decades of practice to get this car right, and the latest version takes all that was good about the previous GTI and taken it a notch higher. Its refinement and ride quality are polished to almost clinical near-perfection, but a healthy dollop of excitement awaits the racy driver who taps into its dark side. - Star Motoring

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