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The Top Gear First Drive:First Drive: Volkswagen Golf 2.0 TSI GTI 5dr

£27,185

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Car specifications

Budget
£27,185
Brake horsepower
220bhp
Fuel consumption
47.1mpg
0–62 mph
6.50s
CO2
139g/km
Max speed
151Mph
Insurance Group
29E

So, how far will VW roll the dice this time? From trail-blazing
featherweight 1970s original to bloated 1990s chubster, the GTI is the everyman
prize-fighter that went to seed before getting on the comeback trail. The 2004
Mark 5 version, in particular, remains a Top Gear favourite, the one car above
all others that truly merits that ancient car journalist and almost Confucian
saying, ‘the only car you’ll ever need.’ Well, it is. Or was.

So here’s the party line: ‘New Golf GTI: faster, more efficient
and cheaper to insure’. Hmm. We live in difficult times, but even so, this is
unpromising. A 47.1mpg combined average and 139 CO2s is not the
stuff of fizzy nether regions, which is surely what the GTI is meant to
deliver. On the other hand, spend £980 on top of the £25,845 the ‘base’ model
costs and you’ll get the Performance pack, which wrings roughly 10 more bhp
from the GTI’s 2.0-litre turbo four (to 229), adds bigger brakes, and most
importantly introduces a clever new limited slip diff. The nether regions are,
er, stirring.

Click here for more pictures of the new Golf GTI

We’re at a private racing circuit in the south of France for an
exclusive assessment; so serious is VW about its saucy new diff that there are
more engineers on hand to explain it than there are journalists to listen. ‘The
Golf GTI is a car that everyone, regardless of their ability, should be able to
drive to maybe 90 per cent of its maximum within a few minutes,’ Karsten
Schebsdat, manager of passenger car chassis tuning, tells me. Lots of wavy
lines and pointing to schwimmwinkel
slip angles – certainly suggests that this is a car that can handle a whole
load of abuse. ‘We did a slalom test in the GTI at 140mph, and as you can see
there are no sharp curves on the graph,’ Karsten adds. Slalom at 140mph? Rather
him than me.

The diff in question is an electro-hydraulic set-up that locks up
100 per cent, and uses a multi-plate coupling – 50 per cent of the Haldex
system VW has used for years – on the diff box and right driveshaft. The aim is
simple: reduced steering angle, more precise handling, increased cornering
velocity, sling-shot exit speeds.

Here we go, then. There’s a long, fast straight, wisely
interrupted by a coned chicane, into a longish right-hander. You only have to
look at it to know that this is understeer central, the sort of corner that
murders tyres, lasts longer than a series of 24, and reduces whoever’s behind the wheel to tears of frustration.
The approach to the corner is a good indicator of the GTI’s overall character:
it’s super smooth, completely calm, and plenty fast enough without giving you
any sort of nudge in the nuts. Slice through the cones at 90mph and the
steering needs just a quick flick of the wrist. Not too hard on the brakes, and
the exhaust emits an unexpectedly guttural rasp as you work your way down
through the gearbox, then turn in. Accurate, linear and a little bit – whisper
it – boring…

But mid-way through the corner you can simply stand on the
throttle, then watch all eight seasons of 24 while some torque-shuffling front axle magic hauls you round. It’s very
effective, but you need to give it full beans for it to work properly. The GTI
has never been a car whose back end was particularly mobile, but more than ever
the schwimmwinkelen are hard to
detect. Drive it like a moron and still the Golf hangs on. Personally, I like a
bit of back-end mobility, but it’s clearly no longer the done thing. By working
so seamlessly, the GTI’s chassis architecture promotes an unarguably efficient
but ultimately rather aloof driving style. On the other hand, the GTI with the
trick diff is eight seconds faster round the Nordschleife than a GTI without
it. The computers might have won, but they’re not as much fun to hang out with.  

All GTIs come with Driver Profile Selection (DPS) which allows you
to tweak steering ‘feel’, throttle and DSG shift times (if you have it), but
you’ll need to stump up another £795 for the Adaptive Chassis Control to gain
control of the suspension and damping. On choppy rural French black-top, I
opted for Sport in everything bar the suspension; normal mode is firm enough on
the 18in wheels, and I strongly suspect that will be the case in the UK (bigger
19in wheels are an option, but I wouldn’t bother). The GTI in Performance trim
does 0-62mph in 6.4 seconds and is all done at 155mph, which is quick enough
for most sane beings and even some insane ones. It covers ground more
unobtrusively than a Focus ST, Megane Sport, Astra VXR or fantastically good
BMW 135i, and checks its movements over crests and during unexpected direction
changes with real ease. The brakes are good, too. But is the GTI now too
refined for its own good? Maybe. It flatters the normal driver, which is
obviously the point, but it doesn’t have enough fire in its belly.

Click here for more pictures of the new Golf GTI

Then again, it’s still a Volkswagen Golf GTI. Try as they might,
no one else can craft a car quite like VW. The subtle red grille strip that
arrived with the Mark 5 is now all over the shop: in the bi-xenon headlights,
the brake callipers, and the tasty little GTI wing badge. As ever, the GTI is a
solid looking article, more chiselled in this latest form, but still with the
big wheels and C-pillars and enviable shut lines. There’s red in the doorsills,
on the Alcantara seat facings, in the door rests, and of course in the
long-running Tartan ‘Jacara’ seat trim. There’s a chunky three-spoke,
flat-bottomed wheel, a golf ball gear knob on a curious supporting structure,
black roof-lining, and red ambient lighting. It’s best-in-class stuff, as is
the touch screen multi-media, which includes DAB as standard, and whose sat nav
controls spookily appear as your hand nears the screen.

The system itself is also excellent, though an option. Others
include bigger 19in ‘Santiago’ alloys (the standard wheels are called ‘Austin’
for no good reason), leather upholstery, the adaptive chassis, Park Assist
(ridiculous, but it works, although if you can’t bloody park properly you’re
either a) irredeemably lazy or b) not likely to be buying a Golf GTI), and a
Dynaudio sound system with a 10-channel amp and eight speakers. Prices start at
£25,845 for the 219bhp three-door, rising to £28,895 for the 229bhp five-door
with the DSG (worryingly close to the BMW 135i’s £29,950). Naturally, the GTI
has state-of-the-art active and passive safety systems, and is more rationally
irresistible than ever.

But. It feels a bit uptight. The dice haven’t rolled as far as
they should have. It’s a fine car, and you will never regret choosing one. The
new GTI, then. The hot hatch equivalent of a good accountant. 

Highlights from the range

Title 0–62 CO2 MPG BHP Price
The fastest
2.0 TSI R 3dr DSG
4.9s 159g/km 40.9 300 £32,000
The cheapest
1.2 TSI S 3dr
11.9s 113g/km 57.6 85 £17,540
The greenest
e-Golf 5dr Auto
10.4s 0g/km 115 £31,270

What do you think?

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