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Before we start this review, I should admit that I knew I was going to love this car before I even drove it. Should have screamed spoiler alert, eh?
Having extensively driven the previous MK6 version, I’ve always found the Golf GTI to be the car that is all things to everyone. Carry a family? Check. Carry luggage? Check. Potter through the city while sipping fuel? Check. Cruise down the highway and not feel bullied by SUVs? Check. Quick, engaging to drive and a hoot through the twisties? Check, check and CHECK!
So when the MK7 was launched with the promise of reduced weight and retention of all things good, I had to know if VW could improve on a car that was already as good as it gets.
This probably isn’t the best place to make a start considering the way I’ve built this car up already. The VW Golf GTI MK7 is handsome, if a little anonymous in our test car’s Tungsten silver, but its surely not going to win any designer awards. The features have been sharpened over the previous generation with narrower looking head and taillights that incorporate daytime running LEDs. The famous GTI red strip now runs across the grille and into the front headlights.
The new Austin alloys are edgier than the previous models and while I was a fan of the previous rims, these 18 inchers do look quite handsome and further emphasises the newer model’s pointier looks.
Overall the Golf is still quite an understated looking car with the only other give aways of its potential being the neatly integrated rear spoiler and the twin tailpipes at the rear that reside on each end of the car.
While other countries offer the Golf GTI in a racy 3 door layout, Al Naboodah only offers the 5 door version here, but surely an extra wad of cash could get a special order arranged. Nonetheless, there’s not much to miss out on as the 5 door version still looks great and adds a dollop of practicality.
You’re not going to mistake the interiors of the GTI with that of a mid-size saloon but the Golf will still comfortably seat 4 with 5 also manageable at a pinch. The driver and front passenger get excellent sports seats covered in Vienna leather in our top of the line model. The regular models come with cloth Tartan seats and are probably the pick of the bunch as they hark back to the MK1 seats and actually stay cooler in the summer heat as opposed to the black leather. The seats are not electric and from previous experience, this is probably a good thing as the lack of electronic gubbins allows for the seat to be positioned as low to the floor as it can get giving you an excellent driving position. There may not be a myriad of large cubby holes but there is plenty of space in the front for all the general paraphernalia that one tends to carry with them.
Having Audi in the same group has certainly rubbed off on Volkswagens and for the better. Everything your hands come in contact with are covered in leather or soft touch surfaces and the general feeling is of a car that is from a league above. White ambient lighting permeates through the cabin at night and while this is pleasant enough, the MK6 version used red LEDs to send a glow through the cabin that felt more cosseting and calming.
My one niggle though was despite the appearance of a panoramic sunroof, the car actually has just an ordinary aperture, though slightly larger than the previous model. Its not nearly as large as the external glass panel would have you believe.
On the whole though, the entire cabin feels tightly put together and you definitely expect it to last forever – the build quality is just immaculate.
When it comes to the hot hatch offerings here, none of the opposition really claims to be a tech-fest but the GTI is as close as it gets.
The first thing you notice is the big touchscreen infotainment unit in the centre console. This is accompanied by a small screen within the gauge cluster. Together, these 2 screens provide a plethora of information.
The graphics on the centre console are excellent with small icons enlarging along with descriptions as your finger nears the screen. The system is easy to use and navigate around and is excellent in comparison to any other infotainment system today. Among other things, the infotainment system grants you access to the 6 CD changer, radio, AUX input and USB connection for you to play your tunes through the excellent sound system or pair your phone via Bluetooth, which incidentally is another way to play music from your phone. The screen in the gauge cluster provides more information relating to the car and its setup.
The car has an excellent self parking system which automatically detects an appropriate slot and then steers itself into it leaving you to manage just the brakes. I’m sure this feature would help a lot of people out there who find parallel parking to be a nightmare. There are parking sensors all around and along side the car plus a reverse camera allowing you to manoeuvre the car in even the tightest spots. There is even an image giving you a 360 degree indication of whats happening around the car. This is overkill as its not very precise and hence not very effective as the mirrors and sensors do a good enough job of indicating any objects in the car’s path.
While VW’s competitors spit out upward of 250bhp, the revised Golf GTI makes do with a modest 10bhp increase to make up a grand total of 217 ponies (hardly something to shout about) but more importantly, the car’s torque figure is up from 280Nm to 350Nm, courtesy of a tweak here and there on the 2 litre turbo four-pot engine.
Despite similarities in appearance with the previous version, the biggest change is the new platform that’s allowed for a chunk of kilos to be taken off the GTI’s kerb weight. Funnily enough, the ride does feel a little less resolved than the previous model as the car lacks the weight the previous generation used to iron out most of the bumps. Having said that, the ride is still excellent; firm but never harsh, well damped and perfectly judged. A league above the competition.
The weight loss coupled with the modest power increases lead to a distinctively more eager car. The engine is in the thick of its torque curve at almost any point in the rev-range and the car pulls strongly making over-taking a breeze.
This is further helped by Volkswagen’s excellent DSG transmission. This 6 speed dual clutch unit allows for lightning quick changes giving you seamless acceleration and a jerk-free drive. It burps its way on upshifts in the most amusing fashion and cleverly blips the throttle on downshifts so that occupants never feel a lurch. While self-shifters are always shunned in performance cars, particularly in feisty hot hatches, the DSG suits the Golf GTI and its more mature and grown up persona. Move to ‘Sport’ and the shifts are very intuitive. However, if the desire to make the gear changing decision yourself overwhelms, you can use the paddles behind the steering wheel. Personally, this is what I found to let the DSG tranny down because the paddles themselves feel quite plasticky and are extremely tiny which doesn’t help when you require a change and the steering wheel isn’t straight. Otherwise, the DSG will satisfy your needs most of the time and its excellence is the main reason why local dealers don’t bring in the manual to our clutch-averse region.
Despite the increased power and torque figures, the Golf GTI still returned 8.5L/100kms during the course of our time with it. This efficiency allows for a 600km driving range between fuel stops that adds to the convenience of car ownership. An additional brownie point for our region comes in the way of the fuel filler cap being located on the right of the car which is invariably a shorter line at any gas station.