Speed for the Sensible

Speed for the Sensible

The 7th iteration of the mother-of-all hot-hatches — the 2014 Volkswagen Golf Mk7 GTI — returns with more all-round goodness



By George Kuruvilla

Published: Fri 20 Dec 2013, 4:56 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:35 PM

The lowdown on the hottest rides in town

The Golf Mk1 GTI did not invent the ‘hot hatch’ yet it is so often and so blindingly associated with the term. It was the common man’s salvation for his thirst for speed at a shoestring budget. In fact, it was so good a car, Sports Car International declared the Golf Mk1 GTI to be the third best car of the 1980s.

This week, we review the 2014 Volkswagen Golf Mk7 GTI, the 7th iteration of the same formula that was showcased at the Frankfurt Motor Show back in 1975. Believe it or not, in the past 37 years, VW has managed to sell 1.9 million units of the GTI only. So with such pedigree and popularity, these three letters must mean a lot to those who know their cars; they would also know that GTI stands for Grand Turismo Injection — the car was birthed at a time when fuel injection was a big deal.

Design & Aesthetics
The 2014 VW Golf Mk7 GTI, like its predecessors, has this seemingly innate yet subtle sportiness blended into its exterior form. It is easy to take any car, throw on some alloys, a hood scoop and a freakishly large rear spoiler and call it a super car — but to do it tastefully is something else. That is exactly what VW have done; they have taken this 5-door family hauler and turned it into a svelte sporting hot hatch, without going overboard like Lady Gaga does with her looks.

The design transformation begins with the front grilles. The GTI gets its signature honeycomb upper and lower grille. Then there is a red strip that runs all the way across the grille; in this model, it extends over the headlamps as well. Both these cues remain true to the original. Centred on the frontal is a large VW emblem, stating it is the “people’s car”. The lower apron gets fog lamps and gill-like black slats on either end, accentuating the sense of aggression.

The top-spec model gets optional bi-Xenon lamps that have a squarish outline of LED day-time running lamps, which were previously round. Playing with both light and shadow on the exterior panels are dual creases on the bonnet and pronounced creases on the door profiles that extend from the front wheel arch to the rear. In the rear end are tail lamps that are slimmer and sharper than that on the model it replaces. They are lit by dark LEDs that are GTI-specific and seem to lend the lamps a life of their own; when lit, they look like bloodshed eyes staring at you in the dark. There is also a rear spoiler that neatly converges with the roofline, without looking like a ship’s mast, as it does on some tuner cars. It helps you avoid tuner-car-owner tantrums too! Beneath all that, the GTI has purposeful dual exhaust pipes on either end to exit all the spent gases.

The skinny tyre-and-wheels combination of the regular Golf has been ditched for meaty 225-section rubber and 18-inch wheels with a 5-spoke design; 19-inchers are optional. Honestly, we prefer the Tornado wheels of the predecessors — they were quite Lambo-esque, but these are almost as pretty. The red detailing continues on the painted brake calipers, which have the GTI lettering on them. Overall, the car has this hunkered down stance, thanks to its widened side sills and sports suspension, which drops ride height by a significant 15 mm. It makes it closer to the tarmac, like a cat on the hunt. After all this purposeful modification, the GTI has become a rather serious but good-looking car. It is indeed the most posh hatchback in town, this side of a Porsche Panamera.

VW have kept with their deep-rooted Germanic approach to designing interiors, retaining its functional black-themed cabin with hints of red detailing. It doesn’t take your attention away from the road, unwantedly. Yet, when you stare into the cabin, you are entertained by the various styling elements and the attention to detail.

The seats are upholstered in signature tartan fabric called ‘Clark’. The red and grey checks give it so much character and no, they are not going Scottish by any means, but this is VW attempting to keep it true to the original Mk1. Just so you know, the optional black ‘Vienna’ leather is equally desirable. The seats are so well bolstered, they remind you of your mom’s hug gave you on the first day of school. You need that sort of reassurance when you are driving hard and fast.

Much of the interior is driver-centric, which means the controls to almost everything in the car is within the driver’s reach or in his line of sight. Kudos to VW for having perfected the steering wheel! The flat-bottomed 3-spoke steering wheel feels right in your hands, and it feels expensive too with its red stitching and metal inlays; it wouldn’t look out of place in a Lamborghini. As standard, the wheel comes wrapped in leather and has multi-function buttons. On the lower centre console is the starter button; there is no turning the ignition switch anymore, just press the starter button and the engine sets off with light rumble.

To take some of the austerity off the interior, both the dashboard with its GTI-specific instrumentation and the centre console are embellished with ‘Checkered Black’ inlays i.e. a plastic with self-design. Equally interesting are pedal caps made from brushed stainless steel, mimicking a race car.

The rear cabin is said to seat three with enough space. Don’t expect the lavishness of a mid-size sedan, but it will get your family or friends to places in relative comfort.

Powertrain & Performance
If you were handed the keys to a GTI and told to go at it for a while without knowing which car you were in, you would think there is a potent 6-cylinder under the hood. But… surprise, surprise! This has a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder, the displacement of which is just a little bigger than the mixer on your kitchen counter top. And of course it has direct injection; otherwise the ‘I’ in ‘GTI’ wouldn’t make sense.

The gutsy 4-cylinder makes 217 bhp at 6,000 revs and 350 Nm at 2,000 rpm. Horsepower is only up by 10, but it gains 70 units of torque. Putting things into perspective, this is exactly twice the power of the ’76 original. So the GTI has come a long way, but with great power comes great mass as well — and this one is twice as heavy. That is something the brand doesn’t advertise.

The GTI has been equipped with VW’s super-quick dual-clutch transmission called, DSG. Unlike conventional automatics, it helps you get on the case of shifting ratios rather than letting an electronic algorithm do it for you without loss of power or efficiency. It also has a launch control mode that helps you get from none to ton in 6.5 seconds. That may seem a little bit of the pace of its main rival — the 247 bhp Ford Focus ST, which comes with plenty of poke — but numbers aren’t everything. There are a couple of driving modes to choose from; leave it in comfort most of the time, but if you put it in sport, it grows horns!

The GTI is also loved for the sounds it makes. You will love the light burble on the upshift; it is arousing and slightly intoxicating. As for top whack, this hot hatch can get to a speedy 244 km/h, before the invisible force of the wind becomes a worthy adversary.

Back in 1976, the Mk1 GTI was advertised as ‘The fastest Volkswagen ever’ catapulting from zero to hundred in 9 seconds, leaving many powerful sedans behind. Seems like little has changed in the last four decades!

But what happens when you chuck the GTI around corners? That, my friend, is a story that starts and ends well. The feel from the electric power steering is so precise, you can simply point and place it almost anywhere you want, at any speed. The electronic differential which was developed on the Scirocco GT race car is capable of transferring 100 per cent torque to the outer wheel; it helps you claw your way around corners. I hate to sound romantic, but there is a definitive connection between, tar, car and driver in the GTI and I bet the independent suspension bits have a part to play as well. That said, this is a front-wheel drive car and can’t be drifted around like the Toyota 86.

This is also a good daily driver by the way it negotiates humps and bumps. The variable ratio rack it is equipped with allows for a 2-turn lock to lock, making drives around town and in parking lots easy peasy. Even after that rampaging we did, it still felt like a miser for its gas-guzzling habits when compared to a 
Ferrari or Mustang. This is your answer for sensible speed. It only emits 148 g/km of CO2 and sips only 6.4 litres for every 100 kilometres driven. So saving the planet in on the agenda as well!

Features & functionality
The fact that it fits five adults in relative comfort is a good thing. You also get 380-litres of space in the boot and that number improves with the drop down of the 60:40 rear seats. Moving houses is not impossible in the Golf!

The base model gets a modular infotainment system with 5.8-inch touch screen with a CD player, SD card and aux-in for your various mp3 devices. You get eight speakers, but this system produces mediocre sounds and isn’t in the league of your Beats audio headphones; still, it works. There is an extended option for Bluetooth.

Yes, folks, this car can park itself for you and you don’t even have to call it KITT. To make reverse parking easier, you have a rear view camera that pops out of the VW emblem in the back, giving you a pretty decent view out the back.

We are generally apprehensive about air-conditioning systems in German cars, but this little GTI kept us cool throughout the drive, which is a big improvement from the older models. And Volkswagen, I still don’t get it! Besides a few weeks of winter, when else would we use the seat heater? Be smart and make it seat cooler on the face-lift. Cruise control and ISOFIX mounts for your child seats are worthy mentions.

Verdict
The 2014 Volkswagen Golf Mk7 GTI is a real peach of a hot hatch. The mix of performance, everyday useability and unisex styling makes it a winner. A few might shun the GTI for being a hatchback, but it is undeniably one of the most well rounded cars of our time. It is the cheapest, most fun way to torch the tarmac with other cult followers — a company you will gain on purchase.


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