Machine 7, high quality air-cooled  restoration and performance parts

Aug 30 2009

Every man’s ride

Posted by volkszone

It started as a blue-collar sports car. The Mk 5 was superb but the latest Golf GTI is truly astonishing, writes Thomas Falkiner of The  Times Za.

If there was an award for the most politically correct car, it would probably be handed to the legendary Volkswagen Golf GTI. A snappy performance hatchback, born classless and strangely free from the elitism that usually manifests itself in machines of such superior stature, the Golf GTI is the original auto diplomat; an everyday motoring icon with an uncanny ability to hit home with an unbelievably wide spectrum of petrolheads.

Seriously, whether you’re a bling- packing wheeler-dealer from the Cape Flats, a black-diamond businessman with a taste for tailored suits or a peroxided brawler from the bad side of Boksburg, those three letters — GTI — shatter the cultural divide and stir up driving hopes and aspirations. It’s an impressive automotive feat that’s long been imitated by many of VW’s rivals and, more importantly, one that’s been going strong since the spirited original upset the motoring status quo back in 1976.

The MK1 Golf GTI — boxy, upright and relatively uncom- promising by today’s standards — was one of the most significant cars to emerge from the ’70s. Conceived in secret over beer and sandwiches by a handful of Volkswagen engineers who felt the company needed a proper sports model, this hot version of the Giugiaro- designed Beetle replacement offered the masses sports-car performance on a blue- collar budget. Almost overnight, the feisty little German vehicle made comparatively “exotic” performance coupés like Britain’s MGB seem slow, clunky and about as involving to drive as a horse-drawn trap. A German car magazine, Auto Motor & Sport, said: “Climbing up an Alpine pass in the GTI is one of the most exciting driving tasks a car enthusiast can have.”

Priced right and finished off with some of the most restrained go-faster credentials ever applied to a modern car, the giant-slaying upstart flew off showroom floors with a vengeance and into the heart of popular culture.

But by the time the greed-fuelled ’80s rolled in on a wave of Synth-pop, big hair and equally large shoulder pads, the angular pocket rocket from Wolfsburg was starting to face stiff competition from a newer, more advanced breed of hot hatchbacks. Borrowing much from the Golf’s performance blueprint, point-and- squirt masters like the bonkers Renault 5 Turbo, the Ford Escort XR3i and the unimaginatively named Peugeot 205 GTI challenged the Volkswagen’s supremacy by attracting boy racers hungering for brawnier power outputs and more tyre- smoking acceleration. For a while these impostors may have had the edge but when the bigger, meaner Mk 2 Golf GTI — unflatteringly dubbed The Jumbo here in South Africa — broke loose in 1984, nothing came close to striking the same heady balance of handling, straight-line urge and class-leading refinement.

The now rare 16-valve model was particularly tasty; Car magazine UK said it could “cling to the tailpipes of supercars and wrestle mere mortal coupés and sports saloons to the ground”.

When the sobering ’90s dawned and the world’s nations started transforming into nanny states hung-up on health and safety, the legend took a sudden and unpredicted fall. Like some overweight and washed-up Hollywood actor overindulged on the good life, the Mk 3 GTI waddled off the production line in 1991 fatter, softer and slower than before — there was barely more power than in the 1976 original. Critics scoffed at its lacklustre performance while the faithful hung their heads in shame. This was a midlife crisis of chronic proportions and, the VR6 apart, a period of Golf history that should probably be swept under the rug.

Fortunately, during the boom of 1998, VW unveiled the Mk 4 GTI that righted a fair amount of its predecessor’s wrongs with handsome looks and healthy turbocharged power. The bits and pieces on the inside had evolved too — as had the price — and VW made it clear that they were now after a more upmarket clientele. D espite the improvement, some publications were not convinced, Evo magazine commenting that it was “still too spongy” for its taste.

But the real comeback kid, the model that finally offered a true hit of those intoxicating dynamics distilled in the first two generations, was the Mk5 GTI that snarled and barked and clawed its way back into the limelight with the sort of potency fans had been dreaming of for years. I got to drive one of these black- grilled beasts only a few weeks ago and even now, today, after all the killer machinery I’ve had the pleasure of piloting, this Golf is still brimming with the right stuff. No wonder Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson called it “an absolute sensation”. It’s convincingly quick in all conditions and ferocious through the trickiest twists of tarmac. I really didn’t think the recently released Mk 6 GTI could be a better car.

How wrong I was. Refined by Hans- Joachim Stuck — a tough Bavarian racing driver who once battled with the very best in Formula One — the new kid on the VW block takes everything that was great about the previous model and hones it to a more visceral perfection.

From the moment you climb into the cabin — still sombre but brilliantly ergonomic — you’re made to feel like a vital component of the Golf’s great makeup. Endlessly customisable, the exemplary driving position floods you with confidence and, better weighted than ever before, all the controls now operate with added bite and polish. It’s like trading up from a Tag Heuer to a Breitling; exactly the same instrument but just ever so slightly better.

Out on the road, once you’ve gotten over the envious attention that the new, more menacing architecture attracts, the Mk 6 hustles with the sort of poise and pace that’ll put you behind bars very, very quickly. W hile its TSI engine isn’t especially powerful, that sublime chassis ensures not a single kilowatt is wasted through those sticky liquorice strips that line each wheel.

I could go on for paragraphs about the way this GTI rides as well as it handles or how its new electronic limited-slip differential saw me tear through corners quicker than I’ve ever done, even behind the wheel of more expensive sports cars. But none of that is necessary.

All you need to know is that at this moment and without a doubt, the new GTI is the definitive performance hatch, certainly not the beefiest, but by far the most rewarding to drive.

I’d hate to be in charge of developing the Mk 7 — it’ll have seriously big shoes to fill.

Fast facts:

The basics:

Price: From R317300

Performance: 0-100km/h in 6.9 seconds, 240km/h

Power: 155kw at 5300rpm, 280Nm from 1700 – 5200rpm

Thirst: 7.3l/100km (claimed combined)

The best:

Exquisite build quality
Phenomenal handling
Subtle, understated styling
Effortless and easy to drive fast
Direct steering

The worst:

By no means cheap
Interior still rather bland
Red stitching not carried through on seats
Accessories send the list price rocketing
Everyone will have one soon


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