By Miles Downard
What is it?
This is supposedly the grand-daddy of hot hatchbacks; and I mean that quite literally. The very first Golf GTi is often said to have been the first hot-hatch and by many accounts the best. But for all intents and purposes this facelift Golf 7.5 GTi has as much in common with the original as I have with a goldfish. So let’s disregard any silly comparisons or nostalgic feelings right at the get go and take a look at the facts.
On the outside
When the Golf 7 GTi broke cover I thought, “Well this is actually quite distinct from its predecessors.” Something a lot of people have criticised VW for over the last few generations is a lack effort in this department. The 7 was much squarer, with a bolder presence especially around the nose. The 7.5 follows this ethos with redesigned the bumpers to further widen it’s stance, while popping in new head and tail lights and new wheels. One particularly neat trait of the new taillights is the animated, or ‘flowing’, indicator function. But despite the changes, it’s clean, steely exterior remains subtle; the red accent in the grille, GTi badges along its flanks and those bespoke wheels are the only hint that this is no standard Golf.
On the inside
The biggest change on the inside is the introduction of a larger infotainment screen. The standard system on the GTI was previously a 6.5-inch screen, now replaced by an 8.0-inch version that comes with most bells and whistles, including Apple’s CarPlay, but lacks navigation.
If you want Navigation you need the Discover Navigation Pro version with a massive 9.2-inch display, the entire front of which is spanned by a stylish glass surface. This really does have all the bells and whistles, including gimmicks such as gesture controls. It’s all touch screen, which in the GTI is less challenging than most touch units out there. That’s because the system is equipped with a proximity sensor that enlarges buttons as your hand approaches. Also quick volume controls (louder and quieter) are main menu items, rather than needing to locate the volume slider.
The other major change to the interior is the introduction of the VW group’s Active Info Display which is a fully digitalised instrument cluster. That means your speedometer and all other gauges are now digital and can be customised. You can even display your navigation in between the gauges if you so please.
Aside, the inside is much the same; largely similar to the standard Golf, just with a few reminders that you’ve shelled out R500 000+ on your VW. The flat-bottom steering wheel and bucket seats to name but a few. The ergonomics near perfect and the finish is generally very good. There’s plenty of room too; a must have in any half decent hatch. The only disappointment was the size of the boot.
This is what it all comes down to; because at the end of the day a hot-hatch should be a car that will make you smile on the way home from dropping the kids. And the GTi gets off to a good start with its stats sheet. Up front is a 2.0 litre turbo charged petrol motor that now delivers 7 extra kW at 169kW and 350 torques to the front wheels through a 6 speed dual clutch ‘box. It’ll hit 100km/h in 6.4 seconds and go on to reach 245km/h.
What’s impressive about those figures is the manner in which the Golf delivers them. Peak torque starts so low down in the rev range that you almost always have some available. Then you’re enjoying that torque through to 5200rpm, just when you hit the full force of 162kW which takes you through to 6200rpm. It’s a brutal, seemingly endless barrage of power that comes in wave after wave through the gears.
Now you’d think that with all that power and torque you’d also be met by manic understeer, torque steer and all other kinds of steer you don’t want. But thanks to the electronic differential the GTi will have none of that. Plant your foot in any gear and the Golf tracks straight and true; turn into any corner and the nose darts toward the apex with very little understeer.
It’s not all power-induced euphoria, though. Tone things down a little and you can achieve some pretty impressive fuel consumption figures considering the feverish power that is on tap should it be needed.
My only gripe is with the gearbox. It’s great when you’re moving but unless you’re using launch control from every pull off it is terribly slow to get you moving. The other issue is that these DSG gearboxes break, often. I know a number of people with them in VW’s and Audi’s, and all of them have had issues early on inside the warranty period. I’d hate to know the fear of having a car with a DSG gearbox out of maintenance plan.
Pricing and competition
The new 7.5 Golf GTI is available from R545,900. That’s not chump change by any stretch of the imagination. Competitors come in the form of Renault’s Megane RS (R489,900) which is better to drive than the Golf, but much harder to live with everyday thanks to it’s rigid suspension setup. The Ford Focus ST (R453,000) has more space and is more fun behind the wheel, but far less refined a package. Either way it’s a fair premium to ask over the competition.
So, you’d think this is a wonderful hot-hatch right? I’m not so sure to tell you the truth. If the goal of a hot-hatch is to make you smile while going about your everyday activities; the Golf misses the mark. Everything about the car is too refined, too well thought out and too controlled. VW don’t even give the option of a proper handbrake (should you want to be childish and do a handbrake turn into your driveway for example). The fun element has been lost. My conclusion therefore is that the GTi is a brilliant technological exercise, it’s just not a brilliant hot-hatch in the true sense of the word.