Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario – In our line of work, we test drive a lot of new vehicles every year. Not to say we get used to it or jaded by it, but we approach it professionally and with a certain detachment; we try it out, we evaluate it, we put emotions aside and we make a decision.
At least, this is the reality of the author of these lines.
However, from time to time, we get a little carried away by a product. Why? Because it manages to seduce us, to amaze us, to transport us. And it’s not a question of power, price or belonging to a prestigious brand. Otherwise, we’d all be stunned by a BMW M8, for example. No, it’s something else.
And that something is striking with the Volkswagen Golf GTI. You know what you’re in for when you climb aboard, but you always find yourself smiling behind the wheel of this creation. And with an eighth-generation on the horizon for 2022, we’re treated to a polished product that gives us even more.
How much better can we make what is already close to perfection? Let’s find out.
Despite an evolving design, the Golf remains “frozen” in time. Another silhouette and it wouldn’t be a Golf anymore. Let’s leave it to the enthusiasts to speculate on the treatment of the new model, especially the height of the headlights. All tastes are in nature. In any case, you don’t buy this model to look at it (well…), but rather to enjoy its driving capabilities.
However, there are some bright colours on the menu, some of them controversial; a Golf that doesn’t make a bit of a mess isn’t a Golf. New wheel designs, performance tires (a first for the Performance version), are elements that jump out at you.
There are three versions in the catalog; GTI ($31,495 and $32,895), Autobahn ($34,995 and $36,395) and Performance ($38,995 and $40,395). And why two prices for each model? Because the manual transmission is still offered, as is the DSG automatic transmission. And if we’re to believe what’s being said behind the scenes, we could be looking at the last Golf with a mechanical transmission. Hell, we might be looking at the last combustion engine editions.
We’ll see, as the other guy would say. Let’s enjoy the moment, though.
In the interest of brevity, we’ll avoid a long list of what each version offers in terms of equipment. It’s generous at the base with heated seats, wireless charging for cellular devices, 30-color ambient lighting, Volkswagen’s Virtual Cockpit, you get the idea. At the top of the hierarchy, it’s all-inclusive with stuff like ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, head-up display and a Harmon Kardon audio system, among others.
Most importantly, right out of the box, you get the VAQ (Vorderachsquersperre) limited-slip differential and a new vehicle dynamics management system that basically improves handling. Everything that could be adjusted to better plant the model on the pavement has been.
Under the hood, the 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that we’re so familiar with from this model is now rated at 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, gains of 13 and 15, respectively. That’s a far cry from the 90 horsepower of the 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine of the first model in 1983.
The GTI’s suspension is also 5 percent firmer up front and 15 percent firmer in the rear. This increased rear-end stiffness tends to make the car feel like a rear-wheel drive model under certain circumstances. We’re in the realm of fine-tuning here, but this is a vehicle whose handling was already close to perfection.
And don’t get me wrong, you don’t feel that way when you’re driving the Golf GTI in full respect of the Highway Code. It’s for, let’s say, the more passionate flights of fancy on some of the more sinuous tracks.
The manual gearbox is in retreat throughout the industry, but it survives with this new generation of Golf. That’s great news. We had the opportunity to measure it, as well as the DSG.
In fact, there’s no bad choice here. It’s really, really a matter of preference. Of course, the ultimate pleasure is found in the three-pedal configuration, but the DSG’s work and speed are nothing short of amazing, whether or not you use the paddles.
As for the mechanical gearbox, it’s disarmingly smooth, as is the clutch, whose stroke is short, predictable and also appreciably smooth.
A flaw? Power starts to get high for this GTI’s front-wheel-drive configuration, so it’s easy to spin the tires and dance the front end in certain circumstances. It’s possible to do better, as Honda has proven with its Civic Type R, whose front end handles a more nervous 306 horsepower more efficiently.
Again, in normal driving conditions, this is not a problem. As for the steering and the feedback it provides, it’s irreproachable. The same goes for the brakes, which benefit from a more massive master cylinder for a better feel. Let’s just say that what you leave lying around on the passenger seat inevitably ends up on the floor.
And who cares? The pleasure behind the wheel is constant. The feeling of being at one with the road is delicious.
Inside, one thing hasn’t changed: the perfect driving position that a Golf GTI delivers. What does change is what’s in front of the driver’s eyes. The digital age has clearly taken over, with almost everything being touch-sensitive. It’s annoying at first, but I guess you get used to it.
Still, I find it unacceptable not to rely on a button to control, for example, the intensity of the ventilation. You have to navigate through the menus and go to the screen. I’ll never be sold on the idea.
Sometimes manufacturers just want to do too much.
The digital instrument cluster is more appreciated, with vivid and clear graphics, though.
And finally, an interesting and amusing note. With the Performance version, it is possible to literally get rid of the leather seats in favour of fabric buckets, the classic and historic presentation of the GTI. The “Leather Delete” option costs nothing and deprives you of leather, seat ventilation and manual adjustments for the driver’s seat. Isn’t that wonderful? And it’s a Canadian exclusive to boot.
The Golf GTI is back better than ever, but not without a few irritants inside. But we’re quick to ignore them because what counts with this car is what you experience behind the wheel. And in that respect, the magic remains intact.
We only mourn the withdrawal of the regular Golf from the catalogue. That’s another story.
- Driving pleasure is always there
- Presence of a manual transmission
- A base price that remains attractive
- Too many touch controls onboard
- A front end that’s easy (too easy?) to spin and dance around