Review | A swan song to the Volkswagen Golf GTi

Image: Charlen Raymond
Image: Charlen Raymond

The best-selling Golf derivative in South Africa believe it or not is the GTi. So when we received an example to live with over 12 months, that was my aim, to find out why it's the top seller. 

In case you're not familiar with what the GTi offers, let me refresh your memory: power comes from a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 169kW and 350Nm.

That gem of an engine is mated to a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox and power goes through the front wheels. 

It also has a decent-sized boot and seating for five adults, and our test car had a sunroof fitted.  

Is it special enough? 

Yes, is the short answer and let me explain why. The Golf's six-speed 'box made it so easy to live with and such a boon in traffic. 

Admittedly I never switched off the stop/start system that cuts the engine when the car is stationary to save fuel. I never found it intrusive, and it helped greatly to average less than 10-litres/100km. 

It's also practical, boasting a 380-litre boot and the option to fold the down the rear seats thus creating an even bigger load area. 

So, it's easy to live with and doesn't sip as much fuel as you'd think. 

But what's made the GTi nameplate iconic is its ability to play both roles of being a good daily drive but also exciting to push around your favourite stretch of road.

Heck, some okes even use it at track days, although those GTis are probably chipped. 

The seventh-generation Golf has been around for a while, and I've said this before, but it has aged very well. A pair of LED lights and steely daytime driving lights add understated elegance to what most people think is just a Golf. 

The GTi sets itself apart with large diameter twin exhausts, GTI badges front and rear and a red strip that runs from beneath the headlights across the grille. 

Our car had the standard 18-inch wheels which I thought were fine, but some of my friends thought they were too understated. 

The Golf GTi has always been able to be at home outside the swanky 12 Apostles Hotel in Camps Bay, and equally so, at Rands in Khayelitsha, it straddles the world of the middle class but also has a loyal following in Ekasi. Very few cars can do that. 

So, what did I learn about the GTi's performance credentials? Well, the 169kW and 350Nm are a lot more than numbers when you're behind the wheel. 

The car feels urgent when it's dipped when the gearbox is in its sportiest setting, the revs climb, and it pops and bangs. 

I was deeply impressed by how it gets off the line; the launch control system is easy to use and produces perfectly-controlled launches like clockwork. 

It has sufficient power for what most people would need from a car and when the weekend beckons and you head out to Franschhoek or Helshoogte Pass the electronically controlled front axle diff that pushes all the torque to the front wheels. 

The GTi handles superbly well for a front-wheel drive car and offers supreme levels of grip. It's the grip and a lovely weighted steering feel that gave me lots of confidence when driving enthusiastically. 

The GTi is a car that rewards the driver. It's a car that implores the driver to become a better driver and push it further. 

Quality

There were no quality issues in the cabin, all the switchgear held up perfectly and the only time the GTi visited the workshop was for an oil change at 15 000km. 

All in all, I was deeply impressed by how easy the GTi was to live with and how it left an indelible impression on my head and heart.

At R568 600 in base specification, it offers good value, with a solid backing from a company with a long history in this country. 

I see no issue why the MKVIII version won't continue from where this model left off and remain the best-selling Golf model in the country.

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