Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI

 

 

 

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.

 

Styling

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.

 

Interior comfort and convenience

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.

 

Interior quality and fittings

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.

 

Technology

 

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.

 

Engine and Transmission

 

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.

 

Fuel consumption

 

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.

 

Power and acceleration

Forget the 10bhp increase in the new GTI. The important figure here is the torque – 350Nm of it and its transformed the GTI. Whereas the previous version managed the sprint to the tonne in a smidge over 7 seconds, the MK7 manages the run in 6.5 seconds matching the Focus ST’s acceleration (but still giving away half a second to the Astra OPC). And despite being 35bhp down on the Focus, it never feels any less quick in reality.

The wheels do spin up on hard acceleration even with traction control on, but torque steer is almost never felt, as compared to the Focus which would have you careening into the scenery everytime you would go near the throttle.

 

Handling

The Golf GTI may be more grown up but it still knows how to get frisky. This car eats up corners like nothing else – the tighter the better. Fast direction changes are shrugged off with disdain as the chassis capably handles anything you throw at it.

The Golf GTI has a lower centre of gravity than its high roofline suggests and it hugs the road when the going gets twisty. Grip from the 225 section rubber at all four corners is fantastic allowing you to brake late and carry a lot of speed into corners. The GTI does get a system called XDS which uses the car’s electronics to brake an inner wheel to mimick the effect of a limited slip differential. It isn’t perfect but does a fair job allowing you to carry an unhealthy amount of speed through corners. Traction control does tend to cut the power sent to the wheels but switch it off and the chassis shows itself to be capable enough to put almost all its power down with the electronic aids switched off, with only rare occasions having an inside wheel spinning up causing some understeer. I still did find myself missing a good old fashioned diff pulling me into corners the way the Astra OPC did.

You can call the Golf’s rear end into play with sharp lifts off the throttle causing just a few degrees of movement helping you nip and tuck your line through corners – but never getting too lairy. However, the GTI’s shift to an electronic handbrake seems to be a poor choice as it restricts some potential yanking to get the rear moving through the tightest of turns or for good old fashioned parking lot drifting.

The Golf also sounds better as compared to its rivals – with a slightly muted but natural growl from the engine as opposed to the Ford’s artifical engine note enhancers and Opel’s industrial din.

The steering being electric is quite lifeless. There is almost no feedback but thanks to the inherent rightness of the Golf GTI, there is enough feedback from various other channels letting you know of remaining grip levels and traction on different types of surfaces.

Other geographic regions do see the Golf GTI being sold with a performance pack that adds another 10bhp for a total of 227bhp along with beefier brakes and a proper limited slip differential. Local dealers currently do not offer this option and while some find this disappointing, the truth is the standard car is more than capable enough for anything short of track work.

 

Brakes

The standard brakes are excellent, not showing any signs of fade despite repeated runs up and down Jebel Hafeet with the temperature showing 35 degrees outside. The brakes were a bit grabby but strong and progressive and always reassuring in their ability to bring you to a halt quickly and confidently.

 

The small touches

What make the Golf GTI just that much better as a daily driver are those small touches that you may not notice on a first drive, but that grow on you as time passes. The ambient lighting in the cabin that adds an air of quality, active headlamps that swivel to light up the road assisted by fog lights which come on as you turn the steering wheel perfectly illuminating your intended path and an airconditioner that blows an ice-storm within 5 minutes of start-up. Auto everything from headlights, to wipers, to handbrake (the only benefit of it being electric), to paraellel parking!!

 

The small blotches

The Golf GTI was excellent but even my rose-tinted glasses could not cover a few niggles we found with the car.

The first of these were the excellent seats. They’re extremely comfortable and great even on long journeys but despite being heavily bolstered, they’re still too broad and don’t hold you firmly in place during hard cornering. This means you tend to use your left leg to wedge yourself in place and while that’s possible with the DSG equipped car we had, an owner of a manual version may have trouble if his waistline isn’t 44inches or larger.

The model we tested also didn’t feature electric side mirrors which would fold at the press of a button. The reason I’ve mentioned this is that its available on a mid-spec MK6 Golf GTI but was noticeably absent on our range topping MK7.

Another issue was the lack of a manual transmission. While the DSG is excellent, there are times its absence is sorely missed, especially on those early morning blasts down your favourite roads. While the DSG gear changes were instantaneous, the time between flicking the paddle and the actual gear change wasn’t. Also, I found myself flicking the left paddle for a downshift on several occasions without the transmission responding. Hot hatches are never going to be the fastest mode of transportation around but they do indulge their owners in interacting with the various mechanical elements of the car, a manual transmission being a key contact point.

And lastly, despite having the car in Sport mode but using the paddles to select cogs myself, the car kept prompting ‘Eco Tips’ (accompanied by a loud ‘bong’) on the screen within the gauge cluster prompting me to shift up so as to save fuel. While similar tips such as closing the sunroof at highway speeds is a pleasant reminder of how to save a few precious drops of fuel, surely my selection of Sport mode is an indication of my priority not being to increase my range between fuel stops.

 

Verdict

While hot hatches are best known for the smiles they leave on people’s faces, their primary agenda is to fulfil the role of being daily drivers. The Focus ST is feisty and a bargain at AED 95k. It definitely is the best value in our market and arguably more fun due to an extremely playful rear end. But its torque steer and unsettled rear end are as much a novelty as they can get tiresome. The Opel Astra OPC is a brute of a car – a hot hatch on steroids – extremely fast and extremely capable but its also a bit obese and definitely feels it in this company.

The Golf GTI gives you the best of both worlds – being planted even at speeds well into the latter third of the speedometer, and yet can be playful when it needs to be.

Its price, ranging from AED 116k to AED 135k can be significantly higher than its rivals, but its also offers as much, if not more, as a car. The VW Golf GTI is the car that does 99% of the things the others do, and does it 20-50% better.

Despite Volkswagen’s amusing advertisement reading “Often imitated, Never duplicated”, its undeniable that the Golf GTI has its rivals snapping closer to its heels than ever before. But as it stands, it is still the benchmark in this segment and still the car to beat.

Images:

Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Road Test : 2014 Volkswagen Golf GTI

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