There must be few feelings as rewarding as inventing something entirely new, a light-bulb moment that results in a true gift to the world. Take the late Sir Howard Morrison for example, when the Kiwi entertainer coined the word ‘chur’ decades ago few would have known the significance of that moment. Now, generations later ‘chur’ is used and celebrated by good folk nationwide who share Morrison’s blase attitude towards the Queen’s English.
Volkswagen may have had a greater sense of achievement in 1976 when it launched the world’s first ‘hot hatch’ the Golf GTI. But like Morrison with ‘chur’, once VW did it everyone wanted to try it on for size. Thirty-two years later the GTI has matched twin-cam rivals during the 1980’s, moved to forced induction in the 1990’s and picked up a global legion of fans along the way. For 2009, the sixth installment of the GTI has been released, but can it still dazzle and dance with innovative competence and relaxed grace? Car and SUV partnered a new GTI on the tarmac dance floor to find out.
To call the new GTI new isn’t entirely accurate, beneath the refreshed body lays an upgraded version of its MK V predecessor’s chassis and floor plan. Considering the popularity of the outgoing Golf and the amount seen on NZ roads it makes for a worthy starting point.
The GTI’s styling, while subtle, sets the latest GTI apart from the standard Golf. Up front, a gloss black honeycomb grille connects angled headlights with bespoke inner graphics. The front bumper houses a chunky lower air dam with vertically mounted fog lamps on the corners helping to maintain a low, broad appearance. Along the flanks, black side sills run between the wheel arches and match up with two-tone side mirrors. Further back, a new deep rear diffuser houses twin chrome tailpipes at opposing ends. Our test vehicle was equipped with optional 18-inch “Detroit” alloy wheels that set off the aggressive styling well. Overall the GTI has an understated athleticism to its aesthetic that blends modern class with a smart awareness of its own bloodlines.
Get inside the GTI and you’re greeted with an upgraded version of the standard Golf’s class-leading cabin. The heavily bolstered front seats offer a wide range of adjustment as does the thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel. Style comes from subtle touches that include red stitching on the leather steering wheel, gear shifter and parking brake, brushed stainless-steel pedals and gloss black inserts in the doors and instruments. The general ergonomics are excellent with all switchgear noticeably easy to use and get used to. The boot offers a practical load capacity of 350 litres and comes with handy cargo tie-down points and a net. The four-doors, accommodating back seat and luggage lugging capability all help make the GTI a hot hatch with a family focus. This combined with the sharp interior detailing and high quality materials will quench potential buyers thirsts for both flair and practicality.
Power up the engine, hit the street and the first thing you notice is the flexibility the GTI’s engine can offer, it really is equally happy in urban traffic as it is winding up on the open road. Power comes from VW’s 2.0-litre 16-valve turbocharged ‘EA-888’ motor that’s now in its second stage of development. The engine has received a raft of new components with solid results. An 8kW power increase sees total output rise to 155kW while torque is rated at 280Nm. The maximum torque has an early entry point and is spread from 1700-5200rpm; this helps the GTI dispatch the 0-100kph sprint in 6.9 seconds. Although not the quickest hot hatch on the market the GTI can show decent pace and power is delivered with a linear smoothness. It sounds fantastic too with full throttle up shifts triggering an encouraging “pop” sound. Fuel economy is equally impressive and sensible driving is rewarded with a 7.4l/100km consumption.
The only transmission option available for the NZ market is VW’s 6-speed DSG twin clutch box. This mates up well with the GTI’s power plant and is a smooth operator, changing with lightening speed and diligently drawing out all available power. It has a sports mode that works the engine even harder and offers manual change options in the form of steering wheel paddles and a sequential shift. While the DSG box is a highly advanced and useful piece of kit it’s almost too perfect with its unrelenting efficiency removing some of the GTI’s fun spirit. It may not appeal to those who like to really muscle their hot hatches around in a fashion that can only be accommodated by having three pedals. That said, when driving around town or on regular duty the DSG is an absolute gem.
Twisted roads have always provided the arena for the Golf GTI to show its pedigree and it’s where the Mk VI excels. The ride is firm but not jarring and remains comfortable on all but the most broken of NZ roads. For the new GTI, VW have added a trick differential named XDS, this is an electronic limited-slip diff that predicts when one front wheel is breaking traction and tells the ESP system that immediately applies braking force to eliminate under steer. The results are impressive and gift the GTI excellent road manners and allow it high handling limits even when pushed hard. Steering is sharply precise and feedback through the wheel is positive especially on the open road where it gains weight progressively.
Safety features extend further than the ESP program and now include a driver knee airbag to work in with the front, side and curtain airbags. There’s also ABS braking with Brake Assist, daytime running lights and front passenger airbag deactivation. These features have helped the GTI achieve a 5 Star EuroNCAP safety rating.
There’s very little not to like about the new Golf GTI It’s retained the innovative nature and fun spirit of the original and combined it with a range of modern technology and safety equipment. The taut chassis and overall handling is class-leading and could probably cope with more power, but neck-snapping grunt isn’t what the Golf is about. It’s a stealthy all rounder that takes pride in it’s practicality and its understated style that’s less extroverted than its hot hatch rivals. The Mazda3 MPS and Ford Focus XR5 may be cheaper and offer more kick, but in terms of class they’re steroid-fed donkeys where the Golf is purebred stallion. Although only Howard Morrison really knew what it meant, chur Volkswagen!
What we like:
- Classy styling inside and out
- Handling dynamics and balanced chassis
- Trademark blend of power and practicality
What we don’t like:
- No traditional manual option
- Could handle increased power
Words and Photos: Adam Mamo
VW Golf GTI (2009) – Specifcations
Engine type GTI
Cubic capacity, litres 1984
Max. output, kW at rpm 155kW @ 5300 rpm
Max. torque, Nm at rpm 280Nm @ 1700 – 5200 rpm
Gearbox 6 Speed DSG
Min. unladen weight 1339 kg
Top speed, kph 238
Acceleration, in seconds from 0-100 kph 6.9
Fuel consumption, litres/100 km
CO 2 emission, g/km 173