I love the Golf. How many times have you heard someone say, “it sounds just like a Golf”, when they hear a door shut? What they mean is, “that’s the same quality as a Golf”.
The 40 edition is Vee-Dub’s nod to a 40-year history dating back the 80kw MK I GTI. The first GTI debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1975 and went on sale in June 1976. The nameplate has been a hit ever since.
The simple thinking for a hot hatch is to take a shopping cart and throw extra performance at it. The formula has been an enticing one. The kinds of people who buy the muscular little hatches are those who probably want a Porker but can’t afford it, right?
The MK VII Golf GTI 40 is a brilliant package that’s hard not to effervesce about. Of course there is the “look at me, I’m a GTI” emblems. They let people know you can blow their doors off any time you feel the urge down inside, especially at the all-important traffic lights.
The 195kw/350Nm 2.0 turbo gets a 10 temporary boost to 213kw/380Nm which is more than enough time to whizz you to 100kph quicker than you can say, “I need new undies”. The 6 speed manual is already sold out, and the 6 speed DSG isn’t far behind. This is one of the very few cars on the market where I’d prefer the automatic such is the speed of gear-change. Under hard acceleration there is a pleasing blip as it changes gears. You get to 100kph in 6.3 seconds, and on to a maximum of 250kph, as if there was anywhere in the country you would dare go that fast. I’m very protective of my remaining points!
There are very sexy set of 19” wheels, and a discrete body kit which, with the performance, elevates a humble shopping cart to legendary hot hatch status in a flash.
Inside you get acres of Alcantara, even on the steering wheel. Although it is man-made, Alcantara brings a more durable touch of luxury. It makes the cabin feel cosy.
The seats adjust with good old fashioned levers and have enormous amounts of support even in overly spirited cornering.
The new Volkswagen infotainment system is a cracker. It has Carplay/Android Auto and a superfast screen response, most of the time. The Satnav input is as fast as you can type in the characters, which is joyous. Equally joyous is the easy to use climate controls.
There are no direct-select buttons for the radio stations which is annoying. You either have to select radio mode on the centre stack, or radio mode on the small LCD between the instrument dials (using the steering wheel buttons) if you want to change channels. The test car was equipped with voice control which required a key to be entered (which we didn’t have). Frankly that is just daft. I like the centre driver’s LCD to display the digital speedo in any car I drive and dislike faffing to go between functions. There is no DAB radio sadly, but you can stream channels via Pandora and other smartphone apps. Carplay allows the screen to mirror your phone so you swipe and press
The smart entry/start means you leave the key secreted about your person and let you fingers do the walking. The door handle senses your hand and unlocks the system. Locking is by touching the grooves where the key hole would normally be. The start button will only work if your foot is on the brake.
The throaty little 4 pot is an absolute peach. It fires into life with a pleasing buzz and feels so well balanced even before you leave the driveway. The DSG is one of those double clutches thingies so the gear changes are extremely fast. Pulling back on the gear lever activates DSG’s Sports Mode. You can further let loose the dogs of doings by selecting Sport Mode in the Chassis controls. If you fancy a brisk throttle, but light steering and a softer ride, you can select User instead. There, you’ll be able to customise your experience in the settings, then save that as your personal preference. It must be said that around town, left in comfort mode, the GTI is like an old pair of sneakers and your favourite trakkie dacks. But, in full sport mode, it turns into the full head-banging driving experience. Sadly, the latter does dreadful things to your fuel consumption. The revs are kept high to keep the sweet little turbo in the zone, and it is so worth it.
After dawdling around town doing “dawdling around town” things, we headed up the M1. I’ve grown fond the Wiseman’s Ferry run but I’ve come to understand the importance of checking that it is not the first Thursday of the month. On that day, a couple of big hunky blokes in singlets and jeans are banging things about, oiling things, and generally getting noisy and dirty. Normally I’d say this is a good thing and well worth the 2-hour drive. However, I discovered that the ferry can’t be in service while all this banging is going on. After pretending to adjust the Satnav for about 15 minutes, I turned around and headed back the way I came.
Fortunately, this is the best part of the drive, so along with the time spent pretending to faff about, I got a double dose of brilliant driving country.
The road surface is abominable. It’s as if the whole thing was laid out by a bunch of drunks over a long lunch, and jerry-built by the work experience kids.
It follows the lay of the land, hugging the riverbank for a substantial part of the way. The corners can catch out the unwary with many of them being off-camber. The culverts act like ski jumps if you take them too fast, and the badly pitted bitumen feels akin to something from a sci-fi movie set.
You’d think that is the last place on earth you’d want to take a hatch with racing aspirations. Not only does the pin-sharp electric steering do a great job of letting you know where the wheels are, but the chassis uncannily feels both compliant and racy at the same time.
Normally I’d go on and on about stats and figures, but nothing really does this car justice. It hugs the road without turning liquefying your organs with bricks as suspension. I’ve been over this road in much more expensive and allegedly sporty cars, and none was as nice. I took the time to switch between modes. Surprisingly, although the harder settings made the ride worse, it didn’t appreciably improve the handling. Left in the customisable User mode, the ride was soft and comfy and the steering super light, but the throttle was beautifully hair-trigger. The DSG auto kept the gears low and frequently shifted down when it sensed a corner coming. I tried the steering wheel paddles for a while but that soon gets very old.
When I stopped for a light fish and chips lunch at the Spencer General Store, I couldn’t help but stare at the Golf from my shady verandah table. The Tornedo Red GTI 40 set against the blue-green of the river looked like something from a movie, or an ad for Golf.
Competitors: Peugeot 308 GTi, Focus ST (not RS as that has AWD), Astra GTC.
Would I buy one? Yes, although I’d drive a Focus RS first which is available for a few extra shekels.
Price $84,990 PLUS on-roads