A day in the Volkswagen Golf GTI (2016)

The first Golf GTI was launched 40 years ago in 1976. Its bloodline has since extended to seven generations, with nearly two million Golf GTI cars having been produced in Wolfsburg and sold across the world. Jeremy Clarkson owns and drives one. I could stop there, but I wanted to see for myself what it’s all about.

So I did.

First impressions

The styling is aggressive but not ridiculous. Compared to its sixth-generation predecessor, the Mk7 GTI has a longer wheelbase but shorter front overhang. Clad in a carbon steel metallic grey body, the GTI sports red-painted brake calipers housed within 18-inch alloys. The latest generation also bears the distinctive red trim strip across its radiator grille, which now extends into the headlights (much like the chrome strip in the highest trim variant available locally on non-performance variants). The black honeycomb structure of the air inlet screens complete the iconic GTI mug.

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The Mk7 Golf GTI is lower, longer, and wider than its predecessor
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Bi-xenon headlights with separate LED daytime running lights are underlined by the GTI’s iconic red strip
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Dark red tail lights and dual exhaust tail pipes differentiate the Golf GTI from less-powerful variants
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The Mk7 Golf GTI has a driver-oriented centre console and distinctive red contrast stitching
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The Golf GTI’s sports seats were supportive and comfortable

What’s it like to drive?

With a maximum 220 bhp and 350 Nm at your disposal, you’ll run out of road (and possibly your driver’s license) before you come close to exploring the car’s motoring limits in Singapore. The turbocharged two-litre engine responds willingly to your right foot, and despite the seamless cog-swapping of the DSG gearbox, there is just enough snap when upshifting to remind you you’re in a performance car. The sporty exhaust note is audible but doesn’t make you a public nuisance, which also means it doesn’t get on your nerves (or your passengers’) on longer drives.

This new generation is the first to come with progressive steering, which requires smaller steering wheel movement from the driver to achieve the same turning radius. The result is greater agility and more driving fun on roads with lots of bends; the car is also easier to handle in city driving or parking situations.

A second-generation Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) works with the GTI’s driving profile selector, offering a total of five modes: Eco, Normal, Comfort (new in the Mk7), Sport, and Individual. Comfort was my favourite among the default modes, as it made the suspension comfort-oriented whilst retaining the typical GTI properties; I may not be an expertly-trained road tester, but I could feel a discernible difference in the suspension and damping between the modes. It’s reassuring to know that indulging in spirited driving won’t make my spine protest in agony.

Despite its hot hatch credentials, Volkswagen’s Golf GTI is not an intimidating car to drive. Even without much experience behind the wheel of sports cars, I took no time at all to adjust to the Golf GTI’s characteristics. Anyone can take the GTI to the race track, up (and down) a mountain pass, or as their daily drive, without feeling intimidated by the car’s potential – as long as they don’t drive like an idiot.

The car also loses none of the practicality afforded by the more economical Golf – you can still seat five adults in the car, and you have the same boot capacity and an equally refined cabin.

Should I get one, then?

Its only real problem is the MINI Cooper S. For S$400 more, you can own a brand new Cooper S convertible. Put money down for the hard top version and you’ll leave the showroom paying S$13,600 less (as published by www.sgcarmart.com at the time of writing), although you do give up two doors and some practicality. Of course, these cars are very different in personality, but they would nonetheless be the alternatives considered at that price bracket and in the same hot hatch category. For an all-rounded package, though, Volkswagen’s proposition is hard to beat.

Special thanks to Volkswagen Singapore for this opportunity.

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