Paul Healy
Like many involved in this industry one of the first things I do in the morning, after my caffeine fix, is to fire up my RSS reader to find out the latest goings on in the motoring world. Thankful since the advent of smartphones this no longer involves me having a laptop sitting beside my scrambled eggs on the kitchen table – much to my wife’s delight. Alongside news that new car sales in Ireland have topped 40,000 and the launch of the Lamborghini microsite where our well heeled readers can spec up their Aventador was the rather interesting news that South Korean manufacturer, Kia, are set to enter the sports car market. The prospect of a rear wheel drive coupe concept to be unveiled later this year at the Frankfurt Motor Show is not so surprising considering the success of the Hyundai Genesis. Instead it was the news that Kia is to shoehorn a two litre turbocharged engine under the bonnet of the Cee’d and take on the established ‘hot hatch’ market with the VW Golf GTI firmly in its sights. Surely Kia taking on the almighty GTI is akin to Lexus announcing they are going to build a BMW 3 series competitor or Nissan taking on Porsche in the sports car market???

Besides that though does the Golf GTI still deserve the benchmark that has been set upon it by reviewers and manufacturers alike? It suffered from mediocrity for years and has long been surpassed by the likes of the Focus ST and Astra OPC for outright power. It can’t hold a torch to the handling prowess of the Renaultsport Megane and even from within its own ranks has come under attack from the Cupra and RS ranges of its Spanish and Czech cousins. The only thing to do was to bring one for a spin to find out and after a couple of phone calls I had the keys to a GTI in my hands.

Not wanting to mess around with a winning formula VW used the underpinnings from the previous car as the basis for the MkVI meaning that the new car is basically a facelifted MkV. While the visual similarities are obvious there are so many changes to the powerplant, drivetrain , suspension and pretty much every major component that it is more than just a ‘facelift’. The headline grabber is the of course the 2.0 turbocharged powerplant. This is not the two litre TFSI that powered the MkV but instead the two litre TSI from the Scirocco coupe. Power has been pumped from 197bhp to 207bhp and while the torque remains the same it comes in earlier with 280Nm arriving in a big bucketload at a lowly 1,700rpm and finally runs out of puff at 5,200rpm. With all this pulling power on tap from just over tickover the GTI is responsive and takes to overtaking like a duck to water. High levels of sound deadening mean that engine noise is not too intrusive but when you plant your right foot you are greeted with a exhaust roar that lets you know this car means business. Acceleration from 0-100Km/h takes 6.9 seconds and if you own your own private test track you can push the GTI all the way to its 240Km/h top speed.

Despite these power figures the GTI can still be as economical as you want it to be. Cane it around backroads all day long and you will be lucky to see 20 mpg however if you drive a little bit more sedately, using low revs and high gears the turbocharged engine will return a surprising 43mpg. Combine this with a Co2 rating 170 g/km or € 447 a year motor tax and the prospects of running a GTI as a daily driver begin to male more sense especially when you consider that with 220+ g/km both the Focus ST and Astra OPC would cost more than double what the Golf does on tax.
VW’s electronic version of a good oul fashioned diff has been christened XDS and is an uprated version of the ESP found on previous generations. While allowing you to pull away from traffic lights without spinning the front tyres down to their canvas core it is not so obtrusive that you feel you cannot attack your favourite country lanes. Steering is fairly heavy for a power assisted car but this gives you a level of feedback that compares favorably with its rivals.
Adaptive Chassis Control (the system that lets you choose between normal, comfort and sport) is optional but with the sport setting tightening up the suspension and making the steering feel even sharper it might be one box that should be ticked on the options list.

Inside, the car is fitted with tartan ‘Interlagos’ seats that hark back to the seats fitted to the original GTI. These monogrammed are comfortable and supportive without holding you as if you are wearing a straight jacket. The steering wheel is a flat bottomed affair complete with perforated leather that is comfortable to grip thanks to its ergonomic design. There is probably too much silver detailing on the wheel itself, surrounding the switches for cruise control and radio controls, as it can become distracting. The cowled dials are backlit in blue as per VW usual and display all the info you will ever need and plenty more besides. VW’s do have a tendency to light up like Christmas trees if you look at them in a manner not to their liking but this can only be a good thing for an average punter who knows where the petrol goes but little else.

All in all the GTI is everything you expect it to be. It is not the fastest, it’s not the best handling nor is it the best looking in the segment but what it does do is combine all three elements to make a car that is just at comfortable popping around to the shops for a pint of milk as it is going hell for leather around the track. It also adds in the comfort and refinement levels that makes it perfect as an everyday car that can even be enjoyed on a Monday morning when you have a pounding headache after a tough weekend. And there in lies its appeal – a hot hatch must be all things to all men – a load lugger, capable commuter and in those rare moments when the road ahead of you is clear a sports car and the GTI just accomplishes these things better than its competitors. Yes it is still the benchmark!