“With the Performance Pack, the iconic and evergreen Golf GTi gains a little bit more power & dynamism. Is it worth the premium over the standard GTi model?”
When a car has been around since the 80s, has successfully transitioned through seven iterations and wears an iconic performance badge, there is a heavy weight of expectation, both on it and on whoever drives it. The badge reads GTi and this writer has never driven one. Did I say expectations are high?
Letâ€™s be honest the Golf GTi VII is a far cry from its 80s forbear in almost every regard (bar its designation and hatchback intentions) and having never driven the original, Iâ€™ll try not to get bogged down in nostalgia. The figures though, warrant a closer look in order to put into perspective just how far time has moved on in the land of GTi.
Debuting in 1975 the Mk1 GTi followed a simple formula of adding a performance pack to an existing Golf hatchback. The results spawned what would become a cult motoring icon and since then, year after year has set the benchmark for the now well knownÂ hot-hatchback nomenclature, which it helped coin.
Sporting a 1780cc four-cylinder engine fed with Bosch fuel injection the Mk1 GTi had a respectable 80kW and 140Nm in a lightweight 810kg frame enabling it to blitz the 0-100km/h time in 9 seconds, unheard of at the time.
So whatâ€™s new in 2015?
Letâ€™s be honest, the biggest change for the Golf came with the introduction of the fifth iteration and so too with the GTi. Where the third and fourth generation hot-hatchback had become bloated and underwhelming, the â€˜Vâ€™ brought back performance and visual appeal and wrapped it in an everyday package which couldnâ€™t be matched by the competition.
The evolutionary process in terms of design brought us the 6th generation Golf which importantly was far cheaper and quicker to produce than the 5th. Now in its 7th generation there is a definite â€˜same same, but differentâ€™ sentiment happening, and for many the Volkswagen Golf is flying a little too far under the radar. So too with the GTi.
The recipe over course is the same, take the existing Golf of the time and add a performance pack. Apt then that the revised Golf Iâ€™ve been driving for the week wears the same name after its iconic badge. Officially it is the Golf VII GTi Performance Pack and according to VW it is a standalone product within the Golf performance range which includes the â€˜standardâ€™ GTi and R derivatives.
In terms of power the Golf R sits proudly at the top of the range with its 206kW and 380Nm and 4-Motion all-wheel drive. The performance pack (PP) GTi adds a barely noticeable 7kW to the standard GTiâ€™s 162kW with peak torque output the same at 350 Newton Meters. But, it is in the drivetrain where the changes have been made.
For one, the Performance Pack GTi is only available in DSG guise with Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) and a newly engineered front differential lock also included as standard. Of course, â€˜standardâ€™ is a relative term within the VW group because with these new standard additions the standard price has risen from R412Â 300.00 to R447Â 800.00. Time, and tech, has certainly moved on from 1975!
Thatâ€™s a heck of a lot of money for a hatchback. What does it all mean?
In short, sublime. If there ever was a vehicular execution of the consummate professional, then the GTi PP is it. There is just enough visual drama for it to announce its arrival in your rear view mirror over other vanilla Golfs, with that aggressive front bumper and â€˜side whiskersâ€™ treatment and bespoke grille with red GTi badge. The optional (R10Â 000.00) Bi-Xenon headlights do help.
Optional 19-inch Santiago alloy wheels, red brake callipers and extended side-sills endower the GTi with an aggressive profile, while large twin tailpipes offset by a black diffuser and unique red GTi badge round off the rear treatment. All-in-all while competition brands in the hot hatch segment shout about their abilities loudly, the GTi PP lurks quietly if somewhat menacingly in the background, confident in its ability.
Itâ€™s the GTiâ€™s breadth of ability which is immediately noticeable. With a looming 600km trek to Johannesburg due to be my first encounter with a GTi I was assured of plenty of time to get to know this iconic car. Ensconced in beautifully trimmed, hip-hugging and low set bucket seats, from the get-go I instantly noticed the GTiâ€™s stiff ride and yearning to be let loose, hanging onto gears well into the rev range. A quick cycle through the DCC options via a button next to the gear lever revealed the previous driver had left it in Sport, for my long journey though I settled on Comfort, which enables a softer damper response and a more casual attitude from the dual clutch DSG gearbox.
With a full tank of unleaded, cruise control and speed limiter set to 135km/h and one of my favourite modern day features â€“ high beam assist set to on (I would be driving in the dark), I set off for Joâ€™burg at 5pm and was at my destination by 10pm the GTi having consumed an indicated 8l/100km with 40km tank range left, and with me feeling as good as I did before I set off.
And on the twisties?
Point the GTi at a set of tight switchbacks, select Sport mode and attack them in anger itâ€™ll change personalities from comfortable cruiser to experienced track star quicker than Clark Kent’s transformation to Superman in a telephone booth. With imperceptibly quick changes from the 6-speed DSG â€˜box and almost no noticeable body roll from the dampers in their hardest setting the GTi hangs on in the corners like a hungry greyhound.
The electronic front diff does a supreme job in tight corners allowing you to power out under almost full throttle applying its electronic prowess to each wheel ensuring optimum grip in all conditions. Amazing really! Even for a ham-fisted drivers such as me, exploring the GTiâ€™s full potential is just so easy, no doubt made even more so by the DSG gearbox.
Okay letâ€™s wrap this up.
Are there cheaper, more powerful hot-hatchbacks in this class? Sure, the RS Megane (195kW/360Nm â€“ R389Â 900.00), Ford Focus ST (184kW/360Nm â€“ R394Â 900.00) are both, and will more than satisfy those intent on either brand. The Opel Astra OPC (206kW/400Nm â€“ R496Â 300.00) with its enormous outputs, 3-door layout and (among others) Brembo brakes points at its ambitions to be the most focused and hard-core, and it is, rather bolstering competition for the Golf R than genuine competition inÂ this group.
Not being able to compare the Focus ST and Megane RS in a comparison test means it would be unfair to write-off either in favour of the Golf GTi Performance Pack, however as a standalone option with its superb interior, enormously capable chassis and bulletproof powertrain the original hot-hatchback in my opinion, could very well be the best.
It has that badge
Flies under the radar