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Volkswagen Golf GTI review (2009 onwards)
What – Volkswagen Golf GTI
Where – Nice to St Tropez, France
Date – March 2009
Price – £22,410 - £24,300
Available – 22 May 2009
Key rivals – Ford Focus ST, Vauxhall Astra VXR, Renault Megane Renaultsport, Mazda3 MPS, Honda Civic Type R, Audi S3, BMW 130i
The Volkswagen Golf GTI is back. With more power and the same great all-round ability we're blown away by a legend that's been reborn better than ever.
We like – faster, more aggressive, yet still so flexible and now more efficient, fantastic composure, a joy to drive at any speed, at home in any social setting
We don’t like – the price has crept up, but aside from that we’re drawing a blank…
GALLERY: Volkswagen Golf GTI
Read more Volkswagen car reviews
The new Volkswagen Golf GTI produces 210hp. That's ten more than the last one - discounting special editions - but not much cop for pub trumps in a hot hatch world currently dominated by the immense presence of Ford's 305hp Focus RS. Even the old Renaultsport Megane has up to 230.But the GTI isn't meant to be like those cars. The GTI is, as the last version demonstrated with such comprehensive authority, the supreme all-rounder. As happy on the school run, or in the country club car park, as it is having the absolute life thrashed out of it on winding B-road.
We could go into the history, talk about how the original Golf GTI was the proto-hot hatch, explain just how much this new car has got to live up to - especially in the afterglow of its predecessor. But probably you know all that already. The GTI is a genuine legend.Rest assured, Volkswagen hasn't dropped the ball. Or, perhaps more appropriately, it certainly hasn't sliced it into the trees. The brand new, sixth generation Golf GTI is as clean, as powerful, as true a shot straight down the middle of the fairway you could possibly hope to imagine. Prepare to want one. Very badly.
Image © VW
Let's talk about that power figure. 210hp - believe us, it's enough. The GTI is adrenaline-spike fast without ever feeling like a bad influence and an accident waiting to happen. It doesn't make you need to overtake everything in sight, but if the inclination grabs you it is utterly capable.Obviously there are quicker point-to-point machines. But the GTI has just enough pace for properly rapid progress, while still leaving you space to enjoy it. You can wring the turbocharger until actually it bleeds - on a public road - and still avoid feeling like a total danger to society.
In terms of raw speed, it isn't shy anyway. 0-62mph takes just 6.9 seconds - 0.3 faster than before - and top speed rises to 149mph, from 146. Yet the GTI revels most in flexibility. Torque peaks at 1,750rpm, and all 206lb ft remains available until 5,200. That's not a plateau, that's the Utah Salt Flats.It means you're rarely caught without thumping right foot response. Attempt a fast start from a standstill in second gear, and yes, it struggles. But in any other circumstance the 2.0-litre petrol is almost completely devoid of turbo lag. Pick the DSG auto and you can replicate that 0-62 time all day.
The trouble with the Direct Shift Gearbox is that it's too damn clever. Like all twin clutch gearboxes you can't help but admire the technical achievement. But if you really want to enjoy exploiting the GTI's full potential, you're much better off saving the money and sticking with the six-speed manual.And that's not just because it feels less like you're trapped in a computer game - although even the engine note seemed artificial in the DSG car we tried (all right-hand drive GTIs will use an electronic 'noise generator', incidentally). Hammer down, the manual reacts with exceptional urgency - it's just so much more alive.
Ride and handling
At this point we'd love to be able to tell you what the GTI feels like on the stock suspension. 15-22mm lower than the standard Golf 6, it has of course been specially tuned for the sporting flagship, gaining new anti-rollbars but otherwise mechanically similar to the last GTI's set-up.However, this is the first GTI to get Adaptive Chassis Control as an option - so naturally Volkswagen kitted out all the launch cars with this new tech. Exactly the same system you get as standard on the Scirocco, this offers a choice of Normal, Comfort and Sport settings, controlling steering weight, throttle fury and damping stiffness.
Image © VW
Normal is apparently roughly equivalent to the regular ride, and it'll do just nicely. The car's firm but never uncomfortable - on smooth French tarmac at least - and body control is brilliantly judged through even the sharpest corners; the GTI will understeer eventually, but the limit arrives with plenty of warning.It's also reassuringly benign when you do step over the edge - that it manages to exhibit such composure without ever risking tedium is testimony to the engineers' skill. Switch the ACC to Sport and hard turns get noticeably flatter, and you can carry more speed - but in isolation the plain vanilla suspension is unlikely to disappoint.
Similarly, select Comfort, and the tension in the chassis drops, but only to the extent tightly honed muscle relaxes. The GTI's steering is perhaps not quite pinpoint accurate but it is beautifully weighted - so while the feedback may not be genuine, the resistance at your fingertips reliably indicates available grip.In the dry there's certainly plenty of that - with the Golf keen to tuck its nose in unless you've really overcooked it. Helping cornering traction are new, standard fit "XDS" electronics, which act sort of like a limited slip differential - albeit an extraordinarily subtle one. We're assured this comes into its own in the wet.Really hard drivers may find the brakes wilting - the middle pedal going soft on us during stretches of downhill mountain hairpin running. But for 'ordinary' fast road use they're excellent.
Image © VW
Interior and equipment
Sprucing up the solid decorum of the latest Golf interior, the GTI again gets a flat-bottomed steering wheel, and comfy sports seats, finished in traditional tartan. Climate control is standard, but get carried away with options and you'll end up with one seriously expensive hatchback. Nothing new in that.Such a good job's been done making the new Golf whisper quiet, however, VW's had to create a special 'noise generator' to enhance the GTI's sporting sound - literately amplifying appropriates engine frequencies to give you goosebumps in the cabin. The exterior gets the usual big bumper treatment, polished alloys, and new double exit exhaust.
Economy and safety
2.0-litre turbo? 10 more horsepower than the old model? Doesn't that mean their engines are largely the same? In fact the unit in new GTI has been substantially revised, with modified pistons, high-pressure fuel pump, better oil pump, and new induction system. All in the name of Euro 5 emissions compliance.No, honestly. The new GTI is quicker and yet also more efficient. CO2 drops from 189g/km to 170, and fuel economy improves from 35.3mpg to 38.7 (the DSG takes a slight hit in both cases, but offers identical acceleration). The Golf has five Euro NCAP stars, seven airbags, and ESP as standard.
The MSN Cars verdict
Priced from £22,400 for the three-door manual to £24,300 for the five-door DSG, the new Volkswagen Golf GTI is considerably more expensive than similarly powerful rivals - close, in fact, to the basic price of the Focus RS.But nothing - not even the RS - offers such a compete package of performance, usability, image and quality. The legend is back - and it's better than ever.
Engines petrol - 2.0 turbo
Power bhp - 210
Torque lb/ft - 206
0-62 mph secs - 6.9
Top speed mph - 149
Mpg combined - 38.7
CO2 g/km/Tax %- 170/22
Rating (specific model)
Ride and handling*****
Fuel economy ****
MSN Cars verdict*****
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